John Russell's sports column appears Tuesdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs Caroline Lalive doesn't want to sound bitter. She doesn't want to be angry, and she doesn't want to feel cheated.
But nobody would blame the Alpine skier for having a chip on her shoulder. She has spent 12 years with the U.S. Ski Team and more than six months rehabilitating her left knee. But just days before she was scheduled to attend a U.S. Ski Team training camp this spring, she learned that she had been dropped from the team. When the bids came out in May, her name was not on the list.
She's the first to admit that her career has been filled with ups and downs, thrilling success and crushing defeat and injuries that would drive a rodeo cowboy to retirement. But when she left skiing two years ago, she was ranked in the top 10, and she still is in the top 30 in the world.
But she has battled a series of bad breaks that started in the days leading up to the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy. She suffered a knee injury in a training crash that ended her season. She spent more than a year working to get back, but suffered another serious injury during a training run in Austria in October 2007. This time, it was her left knee.
But these days, it isn't an injury standing in her way - it's a ringing phone.
"They said that I had been injured too much," Lalive said.
They said they didn't want Lalive to get hurt anymore, and that maybe she should think about retiring. The news was devastating shock to Lalive, who just started free skiing in March. The news came as she was preparing to leave for a skiing camp.
"I didn't really expect it," Lalive said. "The way they handled it was pretty unprofessionally."
But Lalive says she isn't ready to retire.
She wasn't mad or bitter. But as an American, I feel cheated.
I'm not saying that the U.S. Ski Team should keep veteran skiers based on their past success. It's a competitive sport of skiing, and cuts are just a part of the game.
But it just doesn't seem fair that Lalive, 28, will not be given the chance to prove herself. It seems, well, un-American.
This isn't the first time the Ski Team has made unpopular decisions or dropped veteran skiers to make room on the team or in their budget. This time, five skiers got the boot as the team prepares for the 2008-09 season, including veterans Libby Ludlow (who retired), Dane Spencer (returning from an injury), Bryon Friedman, Erik Schlopy and Jake Zamansky. The athletes have taken notice. Lalive said the men's team started a successful golf and skiing fundraiser last year to support non-funded athletes, and despite losing equipment sponsors, coaching and the help of technicians, Lalive still is hoping to find support for a return to skiing. After watching Lalive ride the ups and downs of ski racing, I wouldn't expect anything less from her.
She's a true champion.