What’s in a Naming? A lot when it’s an Olympic Team

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1988 Olympic womens ski team
1988 Women’s Olympic Ski Team (minus McKinney, Madsen and Krone), all dressed up and ready to march.

Cue the dramatic music and the tear-jerking commericals, because the Olympics are coming! For many of us Racers Ex this time of year dredges up memories and references to the 1984 team, or, in reality, half team. Recently an article in the Aspen Times by Roger Marolt entitled Vacancy at the Olympic Village discussed the sensitive issue from a personal perspective not yet considered (by me at least). Roger is the nephew of Bill Marolt, the man who enforced the decision to not fill the team. The article itself offered revelations from someone with competing allegiances to family and friends and elicited two particularly illuminating letters that also ran in the paper.

The first, A Bad Decision,  came from then US Ski Team coach John McMurtry who supported the decision and in fact helped create the policy that enabled it, but then came to regret it. The second, The Cruel Awakening from an Olympic Dream,  came from US Ski Team veteran Mark Taché, an athlete who suffered the full, devastating brunt of the decision. (Other similarly affected athletes not mentioned in Taché’s letter are Eva Twardokens, Karen Lancaster, Andy Chambers and Mike Brown. Only Twardokens went on to future Olympic competition.)

Both letters are worthwhile reads for any ski racing or sports fan, and both sparked a lot of conversation on the Internet. Taché’s in-depth response, outlining specifics about the events and conditions leading up to the Olympics left readers, whether in the know or not, with some heartbreaking images (like coming down to an empty breakfast table and realizing only then he had been left behind) that reveal the personal toll of that fateful decision. As Taché summed it up: “To this day, I struggle with how that final 24-hour period was handled by the U.S. Ski Team staff and can only sum it up as heartless and cowardly. They left us, under the cover of darkness. We gathered ourselves up for a long sad journey back to the States on our own (I still thought maybe we’d get to Zurich and plane tickets to Sarajevo would be there) and some deep soul-searching on what would be the next chapter in our ski-racing careers.”

McMurty, in addition to revealing his own role in the drama and expressing his ultimate regret, admitted the long term negative impact the ’84 decision had, not only on individuals but also on the entire US Ski Team. In McMurtry’s words, “Later on I would also learn, as I was directing athlete development and as [US Ski Team] Alpine Director, that the Sarajevo decision probably set us back for two Olympic cycles.” (Incidentally, the way this scenario unfolded is amply covered in Shut up and Ski.)

At the Albertville Olympics with Eva Twardokens who would have filled out the slalom quota with a full team in 1984, missed 1988 due to injury, then finally marched (and ripped) in Albertville.
At the Albertville Olympics with Eva Twardokens who would have filled out the slalom quota with a full team in 1984, missed 1988 due to injury, then finally marched (and ripped) in Albertville.

Not coincidentally, this all started circulating widely on social networks days before the Olympic Team was named. If there is an upside to the 1984 debacle, it is that the US Ski Team has recognized the damage wreaked by one decision, and seems committed to not repeating it. Doing so would create an uprising, an Alpine Spring of sorts. In all, a full quota of 20 athletes were named to Sochi, compared with 11 who went to Sarajevo (Super G has added spots, but still no more than four athletes can compete in any single event).

Nevertheless, there is controversy. The downside of filling a quota when much of the team missed the objective criteria, is the inherent imperfection that accompanies discretionary selections. This time the controversy surrounds the decision to load up on speed spots while not filling the GS team with the next best candidates in the discipline. That is the long way of saying that guys like Robby Kelley—who proved his mettle at Adelboden, in the Hahnenkamm of GS racing,  and seemed a logical 4th man in GS—didn’t get the nod.

My heart aches for Robby and I know I am not alone in hoping that he sticks around, building strength, speed and experience for another four years to get his chance. The US Ski Team can help make that happen by massively fortifying their stated commitment to long term athlete development: by incentivizing athletes to keep competing longer and helping cultivate strategies to make that affordable; by allowing, even encouraging them to go to college, to rehab fully from injuries, to grow physically and technically into their primes; by creating and maintaining clearly defined entry ramps on and back on the team at every level of competition.

This is nothing new. But beyond a spectacle, the Olympics offer a chance to work towards getting it right, to reflect and to take stock of what the Olympic team can and should look like the next time it gets announced. Until then enjoy these Games. Just like the lead up, you know they’ll offer us plenty of surprises.

12 thoughts on “What’s in a Naming? A lot when it’s an Olympic Team”

  1. Good insight here Edie and interesting information on selection criteria and the inequities that occur. Sue Haywood of mountain biking fame had a whirlwind tour of the world to try to meet selection criteria. Through a technicality she was eliminated from the Athens Olympics and was heartbroken. Litigation followed and Sue has a bad taste in her mouth for these arbitrary rules and decisions. The Olympics are too important to so many athletes to allow this type of behavior and selection. Very illuminating post. Thank you

  2. Edie,

    Also Karen Landcaster and I were left off that team and I am pretty pissed to this day. We just were not as squeaky as Mark. There were 2 slots left open for the women’s slalom that we could have competed in.


    • Good point Eva. The beauty of a blog is that I can go right back in and add it! Thanks for reading and commenting. And I am glad you got your shots later, even though I suppose you could have been a four time Olympian without politics and injuries.

  3. Edie,
    Thank you for your post. Please allow me to comment: The whole selection criteria baffles me. During my time on the Ski Team the Freestyle Team was the most dominant in the world, therefore we had the most difficult criteria to be named to the Olympic Team, while other disciplines; Alpine and Nordic had less stringent criteria. In 1998 when the O team was named, the US Team left 3 spots unfilled for freestyle because not everyone met these high standards. Some athletes had to take a legal route, myself included, to be named to the Olympic Team. We participated in the Games as uninvited outsiders who had to sue our way onto the Olympic Team, most of us with prior World Cup wins. It seems that not all lessons were learned in ’84 and that history did indeed repeat. Perhaps this was not the case in Alpine, but it was in Freestyle. Thank you again for writing about this topic which obviously cuts pretty deep for some.

    • Thanks for writing Evan, and for your perspective. I am continually surprised at the revelations
      I have even about alpine and my own teammates when this topic and others come up. And there is SO much I don’t know about other disciplines. I do remember your story though, and I am glad you shared it. It’s tough stuff to relive but good to get it out there so (hopefully) it won’t happen as much or as badly.

  4. Edie,

    First off, I truly enjoy your writing from this blog to your book. Now on to the Marlot’s.

    Roger wrote: “My Uncle Bill is a good man whom I admire.” Admire?!?! Nice thought from a nephew but being from CO and having a friend who skied for the US Ski Team well, I have a bit more insight. Here is just one of numerous articles about what Uncle Bill, the rules sticker, actually tolerated; http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1126580/1/index.htm . Want to talk about the GPA of his players? I didn’t think so. (I was recruited by CU as a punter in 1982.)

    Roger wrote about his feelings/opinion of Uncle Bill of which he is entitled to, but he is not entitled to his own facts. Uncle Bill ran a football program full of hooligans that ought to make us look back on his tenure as nothing short of shameful. He decimated the CU program and it has yet to rebound.

    As the Austrians friends I have say, with 330 million people it’s no wonder you can find a few good ski racers (in spite of Uncle Bill).

    Keep up the good work…

    • Indeed, you learn something new every day! Thanks for reading and commenting Don. As I am learning, this topic has a lot more to it that I knew, and sparks plenty of interesting discussions! Enjoy the Olympics and I hope winter in Colorado is panning out well.

  5. Robby Kelley is the youngest US male skier to score WC points both last year and this year in the tech events (SL & GS). He jumped from a 20 pt GS racer to scoring in WC races after 1 season on USST…something that is very seldom done…can you name the last young American male skier to score in WC races their 2nd year on the team? Try these names…Bode and Ted! Robby could be the future of our team, yet we selected DH racers to the Olympic team that are not even guaranteed a starting spot (we only have 4 start spots but 6 have been selected) ….. some things never change, this has to be one of the all time worse omissions in the past 20 years…unbelievable!!!!

  6. I just need to plug for Kelly here. My son suffered a devastating ski accident last winter. He received a stunning amount of support. From grassroots effort at our local mountain to NFL players sending care packages, we were inundated. What was his most treasured item? A US Ski Team coat sent from Robby Kelly. I am so sorry to see he was not named to the team.

    • Thanks for sharing that story. I am so sorry for what your son and you had to go through and am glad you got so much support. Hopefully hopefully in four years Robby will have an Olympic coat!

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