With limited funding, chasing a Nordic combined dream is expensive
January 27, 2013
Nordic combined skiing in the United States is in an interesting predicament like few other sports.
In addition to being a niche sport that attracts little U.S. attention outside Olympic years, almost all Nordic combined competitions — and all of the elite-level World Cups — take place overseas.
It immediately puts the U.S. team at a disadvantage.
"The game is played there," U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team coach Dave Jarrett said. Other countries "can make their dollars go further just because of geography. But we're not feeling sorry for ourselves. That's the way it is."
To get to the best competition, however, Europe is where the U.S. team has to go. While the skiers on the A Team have it a bit easier, the developmental athletes are the ones who struggle the most to keep up. Consider the Continental Cup, which represents the step below the World Cup.
Of the nine competitions scheduled for this season, eight take place in Europe. In contrast, on the Alpine NorAm circuit — often a feeder to the Alpine World Cup — all nine of this winter's events take place in North America.
The estimated annual cost for each athlete to compete in the Continental Cup as well as overseas is $35,000 to $40,000. Most of that cost is from air travel, hotel rooms, competition fees and meals. Team members often partner with gear sponsors to lower those costs.
"That's what it takes," said Kerry Lynch, who oversees the Nordic combined branch of the National Nordic Foundation.
The foundation helps fund U.S. Nordic and Nordic combined efforts by soliciting donations to pay the way for athletes.
Last year, Lynch created the Drive for 25, hoping to raise $125,000. The group raised more than $64,000 and has bigger plans in the future.
But the cost is burdensome.
When fundraising efforts come up short, parents often are the ones to pick up the financial slack.
"The NNF helps out a bit," said Steamboat's Matt Gantick, whose son Aleck is competing on the Continental Cup. "But on average at this level, a Europe trip costs $2,000 to $3,000. When you add it all up — the coaches fees, the club fees, etc. — you are talking a college education."
The U.S. Nordic combined team has a pair of fundraisers ahead, including a VIP trip to Oslo, Norway, for the final World Cup of the year. The trip includes behind-the-scenes interaction with the team for a week. A VIP trip with the U.S. Nordic combined team to this summer's Tour de France also is in the works.
For families like the Ganticks, the success of fundraising efforts and financial backing from the U.S. Ski Team will play a significant role in whether an athlete continues with the sport.
"I am sure there is an attrition rate due to money," Gantick said. "Time will tell with Aleck, but I hope not. Hopefully the U.S. Ski Team and NNF will provide enough support. Ironically, these athletes don't peak until (their) late 20s and early 30s. If the financial support isn't there for the younger athletes and we lose them because of that, we are potentially losing some Olympic medals."