Marolt: Season great for U.S. Ski Team

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There are four cornerstones that the U.S. Ski Team is built upon: elite athletes, the development of future athletes, sports science and coaches' education. U.S. Ski Team President Bill Marolt said he is pleased with all of them and the state of the organization overall.

The ski season was successful for American athletes in all disciplines, but the challenge for the U.S. Ski Team is building upon the podium finishes from veterans and newcomers as attention shifts to 2005 and 2006, an Olympic year.

"Clearly, we have set some huge goals for ourselves, but we have built a good track record and a good platform to launch forward," Marolt said. "Sitting down with coaches, I consider them equally excited, and that says something, considering they've just come off the road."

Marolt delivered his summation of the 2004 season via conference call Thursday and praised the work of the coaches and athletes at the elite level, including Alpine skiers Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves, freestyle skiers Jeremy Bloom and Toby Dawson, and Nordic combined athletes Todd Lodwick and Johnny Spillane, both of Steamboat Springs.

"If you look at this program from 2002 to 2003 and 2004, it has been an outstanding three years in the history of our team," Marolt said. "A lot of the work we did prior to 2002 and the success of the Olympics (in Salt Lake City) has carried forward. As you look at 2004 ... we really had some amazing results."

But Marolt was equally excited about the emergence of some younger skiers and snowboarders in 2004 as the importance of developing depth in all disciplines becomes increasingly important.

"For the first time in all the years I've been involved, we have a legitimate partnership with our local clubs," Marolt said.

After running down the highlights of the Alpine, freestyle and snowboard season, Marolt turned his attention to the Nordic combined and special jumping programs.

"Todd Lodwick had a terrific year," Marolt said. "He's backed up with Johnny Spillane, and we still have a No. 3 guy in Bill Demong. We don't know who the fourth will be, but we think that will be a team we can count on as we go forward in the next year."

This season, Lodwick captured the German Grand Prix Championship within the World Cup Tour with three podiums, including a win in Schonach. He also put together a string of 13 consecutive top-10 finishes en route to placing seventh overall in World Cup points.

Spillane came back from an early season illness to finish among the top 10 five times in the final seven World Cup events.

Steamboat Springs' Clint Jones was the one-man U.S. special jumping team in 2004, but Alan Alborn's recent decision to return should provide a lift not only to the team, but to Jones, as well.

"Both of those guys have competed at the top, so we like what's going on with the program even though it's small," Marolt said.

In addition to discussing the success of the U.S. Ski Team in 2004, Marolt addressed the growing concern of its financial status and the direction it plans to take in the next two years.

The economy was thriving, and the interest in winter sports was high before the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Since then, the economy has fallen on harder times and interest has shifted toward this summer's Olympics in Athens.

"We are managing our way through difficult times," Marolt said. "The money part is always a challenge, and I don't think you'll talk to anyone that will say they have enough. Our philosophy is that we manage to what we have, not what we don't have."

In an effort to market and promote the U.S. Ski Team in the upcoming years, Marolt said people likely would begin to notice ads on television or in print featuring the sport's most recognizable athletes that possess the perfect combination of success, charisma and public appeal.

"Our country loves its stars," Marolt said.

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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