Small U.S. cross country team competes with minimal funding |

Small U.S. cross country team competes with minimal funding


CANMORE, Alberta ” Wendy Wagner carefully applies a new coat of wax to her skis before heading out for a World Cup training session.

If Wagner were competing for Germany, Norway, Russia or even Canada, there would be a technician to handle the job. Such is life as an American racing cross country.

“Get cranking, sister!” training assistant Chris Grober said to Wagner.

Heading into the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, Wagner was among 12 athletes on the U.S. cross country team. This year, funding cuts left only five official spots on the national team, which all went to men.

Wagner and others have to pay their way to races in hopes of qualifying for the Turin Olympics.

For the 32-year-old Wagner, the Olympics in February likely will be her final major event, even though she’s having one of her best seasons. She can no longer afford the financial demands of a sport she’s participated in since strapping on skis at 3 in her native Utah.

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“It adds up for sure,” Wagner said recently in the U.S. wax hut. “When I race domestically, it’s more important for me to win to afford to keep racing than because I love winning. I hate that part of it.”

Wagner rarely eats out and sometimes stays with the parents of former racers to cut costs. She will have spent approximately $15,000 of her own money between October and April ” a big chunk considering she doesn’t have an income. She worked as a wedding caterer for a brief time last summer, but found it too difficult on top of her rigorous training regimen.

Her skis and poles sponsor has given her some money to get to events, and The Utah Nordic Alliance has helped her get to consecutive World Cup events in Canada.

Lindsey Weir, a 21-year-old fourth-year skier at Northern Michigan University, is tired of asking her parents for money to get to races.

“I just feel bad sometimes,” she said. “But they’re happy to give it to me.”

That’s not the way it should be, according to U.S. head coach Trond Nystad. He believes too much bickering between the United States Ski and Snowboard Association and the skiing community has led to less support for the national team.

“The U.S. loves winners and we can be winners,” Nystad said. “We’re in a little bit of a slump for the women right now. It’s a project and hopefully something we can get done before the next Olympics (2010 in Vancouver).”

Nystad is operating on an annual budget of about $550,000, for travel, salaries for three coaches, two full-time technicians, team manager and secretary. The largest individual donation to cross country this year was $2,000. It will take more money to get beyond top-20 performances.

“There are plenty of affluent people in this sport,” said Sten Fjeldheim, a former coach who is waxing skis for Americans at the recent World Cup event in Canada.

The cross country team receives some help from alpine sponsors. So, when Bode Miller does well, that makes Nystad’s life a little easier.

“The cross country culture is not very good in the United States,” said American sprint coach Vidar Loefshus, who grew up in Norway. “That’s just the way it is. I hope it will change in a few years.”

While Wagner might hang up her skis next spring, she tries to be optimistic about the future of cross country.

“Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better,” she said. “I really care about cross country skiing and I hope it’s not forgotten.”