Here’s a safe prediction: The U.S. Ski Team will like
Vancouver better than Calgary BY EDIE THYS
My claim to fame, should I ever be desperate enough to want one, is that
I was the best U.S. skier at the 1988 Calgary Olympic Winter Games. That
achievement is better remembered in less flattering terms as, “the best the
U.S. could muster,” because the U.S. Ski Team was coming off its most successful Games a mere four years earlier. Recently, I told my sister I wanted
to write about the ‘88 experience and wasn’t sure what to call the article.
“How about ‘Loser?’” she brightly suggested.
I’m pretty sure there was more to it than that, but I am still trying to figure
out how one team went from winning five medals in Sarajevo to being the
only group of American skiers in the past 34 years to win no medals. It
wasn’t talent — six of the athletes in Calgary won Olympic and World Cup
medals in their careers. Many of the coaches, too, had previous or future
success. Did we not train hard enough? I have the pictures to disprove that.
Was it money? Again, the ski team coffers were much fuller in ‘88 than in
‘84. Our demise wasn’t the consequence of any one thing, but rather a combination of circumstances — a perfect storm on all fronts of bad luck, bad
decisions and inexperience.
The summer before the Calgary Games, we still considered our medal
chances to be pretty good. Sure, the big guns from the early ‘80s had retired, but we still had World Cup overall winner Tamara McKinney and
gold medalist Debbie Armstrong. After two disastrous (and, we later realized, critical) years of athlete mismanagement and coaching blunders
nearly caused a mass mutiny in 1986, a good crew was in place beneath a
respected, experienced coach from the golden Eighties era. Relations with
the equipment companies, badly damaged in the two-year leadership vacuum, had been mostly repaired.
Meanwhile, we relative youngsters were coming up slowly, and a few
— like Eva Twardokens and Diann Roffe — had come up very quickly. The
alpine director of the moment (we went through them like Chapstick) re-
ferred to us as a “young inexperienced team.” He never further explained
that our inexperience was a direct consequence of a ski team policy in place
well before 1984 that had effectively decimated the entire tier of B team
athletes. But that’s another story.