Published in The Enterprise, 2-23-98

The Olympic Spirit: Maximum Participation by Our Nation's Finest

In 1984, the United States sent an alpine ski team comprised of less than the maximum number of potential contestants to the Olympic Games. That was the first time in the history of our nation's participation in the Olympic Games that we sent less than a full ski team to the Olympics. The outstanding athletes who were left behind will live the rest of their lives battling the inevitable resentment, frustration and anger of knowing they were among the finest skiers in our country but were denied the opportunity of competing in the Olympics simply because their coach, Bill Marolt, decided they would not be able to win medals.

Until this year, 1984 was an aberration. However, with Bill Marolt now serving as President and CEO of the United States Ski and Snowboard Association (commonly referred to as the Ski Association), the United States Olympic Committee was prepared, on the recommendation of the Ski Association, to leave several empty spots on the United States freestyle and alpine ski teams headed to the Nagano Games.

Why, one is compelled to ask, would we send less than a full team to compete in the Olympic Games, particularly when so much is demanded of, and given by, so many tremendous potential Olympic competitors - and when there have been so many upset victories in Olympic history?

I recently had the privilege of getting to know Jim Moran, one of the top mogul skiers in the world. Jim has devoted his full time, talents, and attention to the United States Ski Team for six years. Since 1994, Jim has won two World Cup events, placed second three times, and finished third-through-tenth on 13 other occasions. At the 1997 World Championships in Nagano, Jim placed sixth - the top American, ahead of this year's Gold Medal winner, Jonny Moseley - on the same course on which the Olympic mogul competition was held two weeks ago.

Jim is the personification of the Olympic ideal. He is a dedicated, disciplined competitor, whose exceptional character is immediately evident to all who meet him. He is a young man who has accomplished a great deal through hard work, sacrifice and no small measure of personal risk. For Jim, participating in the Olympic games has been a lifelong goal - an experience that he would cherish until his last breath.

But Bill Moralt and those who serve under him at the Ski Association were going to leave Jim and two other exceptional athletes off the United States Olympic Freestyle Ski Team - while leaving three slots empty. Why? Because a few people predicted these world-class competitors would not win Olympic medals.

I represented Jim Moran in his quest to be added to the 1998 United States Olympic team. Because of the delay in the Ski Association's selection announcement, we were forced to proceed with emergency arbitration. What I learned during the course of the arbitration was simply astounding - and appalling.

According to Bill Moralt's testimony, the goal of the Ski Association is to win medals. Never during the entire arbitration hearing did Mr. Moralt mention participation - the opportunity for our best athletes to compete - as a value to be pursued in our Olympic endeavors. Likewise, the head coach of the freestyle ski team, Wayne Hilterbrand, testified that whether athletes were likely to "podium" (a noun-turned-verb meaning to finish first, second or third in competition) is the only relevant consideration. According to Hilterbrand, none of the three athletes who were parties to the arbitration were likely to "podium;" therefore, there was no reason for them to participate in the Olympic Games. (Hilterbrand's predictive capabilities were called into serious doubt when, later the same afternoon, Evan Dybvig, the other men's moguls skier involved in the arbitration proceeding, finished second in the World Cup event held at Breckenridge, Colorado, just behind Jonny Moseley.)

Something is terribly amiss when only winning matters - and the value of full participation by our best athletes is entirely disregarded. Those who call the shots in amateur athletic competition in the United States have strayed a far distance from the wisdom of Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic movement, who observed: "The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part. The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

The arbitrator ruled that the Ski Association abused its discretion and that the three athletes should be included on the U.S. Olympic team. Although they did not "podium" in Nagano, Jim Moran and the others had the opportunity of competing as Olympic athletes. Having attained that goal, and by competing well, they will always be champions in a fundamental sense that should be comprehended by all who work with our young athletes.