Ahem! The fat lady has not yet sung. This is only an intermission to the ski-racing season. The third and final act is about to begin. It's hard to switch gears, to put the Olympics behind and get back to business. But for fans and racers alike its time to move on. Believe it or not, once we dry our eyes-both from the schmaltzy made-by-TV stories and the vision of Bode skiing out in the slalom-we have a lot to look forward to. The post-Olympic world is a world of opportunity. Nearly three weeks of ceremonies, competitions and the glare of constant media attention, is enough to make anyone want to crawl under a rock. Everyone wants and needs a break, but those who can suck it up for one more month without breaking stride, can reap huge rewards.
Miller and Koznick can concentrate on winning their respective slalom titles, and the rest of the team can go back to quietly building their results resumes. The Olympics, while disappointing as a whole to the Alpine team had bright spots in the performances of unheralded athletes like Thomas Vonn, Marco Sullivan, Tom Rothrock and Lindsey Kildow. For them, the glimpse of Olympic glory should be the confidence boost needed to post strong late season results. That momentum can be especially effective considering the typical post-Games meltdown syndrome.
Historically, things loosen up a lot after the Olympics. For some that means a total systems breakdown...physical, technical, emotional or otherwise. For others the structural erosion is liberating and makes this the ideal time to make a move up the ranks. Quite simply, in this stage of the competitive cycle athletes who left Salt Lake with something yet to prove can skulk out of Salt Lake with their tails between their legs, or use this as an opportunity to hit 'em when they're down.
U.S. Ski Team skiers would certainly fall into the category of having something yet to prove. In reality we did about as well as should have been expected. We were let down when Bode didn't deliver gold in the slalom, but he surprised us with his bonus silver in the GS. A medal for Koz seemed in the cards, but wasn't to be. Other than that, nothing--least of all the dearth of medals--should have been a shock. The good news is that Miller, Schlopy and Rahlves all plan to stick around until 2006. On the women's team none of the top athletes have shown any intent to quit. If they are in it for the long haul there is no time like the present to start.
Sure it's understandable and even expected that people are burnt-out and off-guard. But last time I checked every race counts the same. Now, during the post-Olympic hangover is the perfect time to nab some results, and thus head into the off-season with enough confidence and motivation to get through the long hot summer.
It's also a good time to step back and recalibrate. In an Olympic year it's hard not to get sucked into expectation inflation. With four full years stretched ahead, the coast is clear to set realistic well-defined goals, and then keep raising them. Ten medals for the USST--the goal set and attained for these Games--sounded lofty. But let's be honest. The fact that five of those came from snowboard athletes--most of whom do not even consider themselves part of the team--does not make 2002 an unqualified success.
Merely proclaiming ten as the magic number doesn't address the challenge. Instead of pinning medal hopes on shoulders that can't bear them, it's time to admit we have a long way to go and get back to work. Not very dramatic, to be sure. But then nobody ever accused Lasse Kjus or Kjetil Aamodt of being anything but talented, hard working and systematic and look where it got them.