OUT OF THE GATE
Making the Cut
Sasha Rearick’s new criteria resulted from coaches’ studies.
There is no more hated a task among ski racing coaches
than telling an athlete he or she has been cut. It’s even less
fun if you don’t believe the measure is deserved.
“We never take these decisions lightly,” says U.S. Men’s
Head Coach Sasha Rearick of the coaches’ meetings held
at cut-time. “Discussions can become quite passionate and
In some sports, athletic progression and its relationship to
potential are easy to read. In ski racing — not so much. Get
five ski coaches in a room and you can get five different opinions on an athlete’s potential. In an attempt to get a handle
on this situation, Rearick handed out assignments. A couple
of years ago he had his posse of coaches conduct research
projects with the endgame being a definition of performance.
“We looked at racer management; we looked at when they
scored their first World Cup points, their first Europa Cup
points,” says Rearick. “We had about 10 studies; there was
one on injury and how that affects the progression. So at the
end of the 2008-09 season we had all these reports, but we
needed to put it together so it made sense.”
The research uncovered some serious problems. USSA Vice
President of Athletics Luke Bodensteiner put it pretty bluntly. As they studied the development periods of athletes who
have had World Cup success, coaches found that USSA had
a tendency to cut ski racers out of the program too quickly,
Bodensteiner says. “And, in some cases, to keep them in too
long,” he adds.
The most obvious problem, the studies showed, was that the
entire development system was based on FIS points, essen-
tially on a world ranking system. That, says Rearick, is just
“If they were high-ranked or low-ranked at [age] 19 or 20
wasn’t really a determiner,” says Rearick about the studies of
top 30 World Cup performers. “Before we had used an aver-
age line. And it wasn’t right.”
They found that there just might be a correlation to the drop-
out rate, which, among the men, peaks at about the same
time. Other factors play a part, too, as Rearick points out. “We
have a very high dropout rate [among men] between [age]
19 and 22,” says Rearick. “Why? Because it’s a tough sport.
It takes talent, it takes hard work, it takes heart and it takes
great training. …until we can find a way that we can really, re-
ally identify talent, we need more numbers.”
Rearick is proposing a 12-person men’s team at the World
Cup level. The statistics show that this plan would require
having 28 athletes at 17 years of age, 24 at 18 years and 20
at age 19.
The call for more numbers in the pipeline, and progression
markers other than world rank means a radical departure of
the status quo for the entire USSA development system.
“We’re basing the whole alpine program on a new founda-
tion,” said National Development Director Walt Evans. “Clear-
ly, we have a challenge in reforming competition nationally,
regionally, at the state level and even at the club level.”
Evans’s expectation is that some form of skills-assessment
criteria will be established at the Junior Olympics with ad-
vancement based more on peer group competition with less
emphasis on world rank.
All well and good, but for decades criteria has been based
on FIS point rankings and changing that mind-set is no easy
New selection criteria means a major change is in store
for young racers in the USSA pipeline BY HANK MCKEE