(Host) Commentator John Morton reports that U.S. Nordic Ski Racers are finally making steady gains on the international competition circuit.
(Morton) Until recently, Nordic skiing fans in America haven’t had much to celebrate. There have been impressive, individual performances: most notably Bill Koch’s silver medal at the 76 Olympics, followed by his overall, first place in the 1982 World Cup. But while the Scandinavians, Central Europeans and Russians routinely place athletes on the podium, American Nordic skiers have made barely noticeable gains on their international rivals. This discouraging situation is the result of several issues, including the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Prior to the 92 Olympics in Albertville, American Nordic skiers faced only four Soviets in each event – in addition, of course, to four Norwegians, four Swedes, and so on. Following the unravelling of the Soviet Union into fifteen independent states, American skiers have lined up against four Russians, four Latvians, four Lithuanians, and so on, all of whom had been part of the former Soviet sports dynasty. In a bizarre paradox, our athletes have actually been closer to the leaders in terms of time, while placing further down the results. Few journalists, spectators or potential corporate sponsors have understood this dilemma.
A second challenge has been financial. Success on the ski trails is a virtual guarantee of future career security for most European athletes. In contrast, U.S. Nordic racers must constantly evaluate how much longer they can afford to pursue their Olympic dream, before economics forces them to quit racing and get a real job.
A third, insidious challenge is illegal performance enhancement, or doping. It is now clear that doping is far more extensive than most people ever suspected.
In spite of these challenges, the future appears bright for American Nordic racers. A best ever, 5th place finish in the Men’s Cross Country Relay at the Salt Lake Olympic Games, thrilled the huge crowd at Soldier Hollow and inspired the U.S. Team to even better results in Europe last winter. Dartmouth graduate Carl Swenson finished a phenomenal fifth in the grueling 50 kilometer event at the 2003 World Championships, while Nordic Combined skier Johnny Spillane, out-sprinted a pack of Europeans to win gold in the Nordic Combined relay. Kris Freeman of Andover, NH, dominated the field by almost two minutes in the 30 kilometer event at last winter’s World Juniors, then finished fourth in the 15 K at the Nordic World Championships.
Stay tuned, the Torino Winter Olympics are just around the corner.
This is John Morton.
John Morton designs trails and writes about sports. He spoke to us from our studio in Norwich.