I have a confusion to make ...
- Nov 14, 2015
What a great little opinion piece. It deserves a bigger audience.It's been a long road from the Harald Schönhaar days of a deep team that had multiple potential winners in each race, especially on the women's side. When you had a team consisting of McKinney, Cooper, Armstrong, Nelson, and Flanders the chances of good results were fairly good. Add Roffe and Twardokens to the mix shortly thereafter and it was quite strong.
On the men's side you had the Mahres dominating in tech, Johnson's flash-in-the-pan 1984 season followed by the rise of Lewis in 1985, and then... a lot of crickets for years. Some occasional brilliance but by then HS had left the USST system.
But it's true that the athletes who often excel within the modern USST system are Teams of One™ like Shiffrin, Miller, and Vonn. At least the latter two eventually gave a bit back to the team by training with the rest of the squad. I can't see the management of Team Shiffrin doing that - "it's giving away trade secrets!"
It's obvious looking at the USST social media that the rest of the women's tech team other than Shiffrin train, travel, and race together. The women's speed squad also has the same trait, as do both men's squads. The women's tech team, with Moltzan taking a leadership/mentoring role, is definitely doing well in spite of having The GOAT® train separately. That's awesome and, yes, an outlier in terms of USST mechanics.
There are a lot of things that aren't healthy about the USSS/USST development system. The exorbitant costs, the focus on ski academies and boutique resort programs, the search for the next Chosen One™, and the politics of everything simply conspire against holistic and accessible athlete development. I try to keep my mind free of the "what if?" mentality regarding how many potential USST stars never got the chance because of externalities they couldn't control (e.g. family finances, geographic location) as well as the lure from other sports that are more accessible and garner more overall attention from the media and the culture-at-large. I'm sure it's a non-trivial number.