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Road to Sochi: Inside the U.S. Alpine Team

U.S. Ski Team Alpine Director talks the strength of the team, vets vs. rookies, and how to make it to the Olympics.

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Heading into Sochi without ski team star Lindsey Vonn may sound catastrophic to some people, but the strength of the U.S. Ski Team goes beyond the famous blonde. Having one of the best speed teams in the world, we caught up with Patrick Riml, the team’s alpine director, to find out about the racers and the team as a whole.

Talk to us about the strength of the team this year.

We have unbelievable athletes—we have five top stars. We have some guys on the men’s side, like Marco [Sullivan] and Steven [Nyman] and also the young ones, that have shown over the years that they are very competitive. They had great seasons last year, but I think they are still in the building process. What we saw last year was a good step in the right direction, and I expect a lot, and even more, from those guys.

I think we have a very strong downhill team on the men’s slalom side. Ted [Ligety] is skiing unbelievable right now in slalom. We’ve got some younger athletes too that are moving up, closing the gap, and making good progressions.

And on the women’s side: The women’s speed team has been the best speed team in the world for a long time. We’ve got six girls runningspeed, and they’re all on the podium. There’s Mikaela [Shiffrin], and there’s not much to say about her. She’s just incredible. We’ve made a good step this year in GS, and we saw that in Soelden. Resi Stiegler is coming back and doing a really good job.

I think we have a strong team. It’s not as big as some European teams, which is fine. I don’t think we need a big team like that, but we have a strong crew and an amazing coaching staff, and they are all working really well together, which is important to me. As soon as you have a strong and cohesive coaching staff, that’s when you can make changes, and that’s where you can have a lot of success. That’s working really well right now, and it’s pretty impressive.

What do you expect from the veterans that you don’t expect from the younger team members?

It all depends. With downhill, you need experience. Not just on the women’s side, but especially on the men’s side. When you look at the past winners at world championships or the Olympics those athletes are in their 30s, and you see that experience is the key for success in those big events. With that, for the younger members, it’s very important for them to build that and get their feet a little bit wet. But it’s important to know the courses, learn the courses, and the experience helps a lot when things are not going the way they are supposed to: schedule delays, weather changes, cancelling training runs, or maybe only getting one training run and then having to go for it. That’s the benefit from the veterans.

What advice do you have for young racers who want to become a part of the U.S. Ski Team?

We’ve made a couple of changes the last couple of years, and our emphasis and our focus starts with the under 10 division, like eight and nine year olds. We know we have to build a strong base. Good racers need to be very fundamentally sound skiers, have good central position, and good movement in the legs with a calm upper body. If you build that base, then the doors open to the very top. Some people try to take big steps too early instead of taking care of the fundamentals, and, again, you need to build that strong base and then everything is possible.