Out on Her Own
Estranged from the U.S. team, Kristina Koznick is still its best
Kristina Koznick didn't act like a skier without a country at
America's Opening, the season's first World Cup event, in Park
City, Utah, last Saturday. After finishing 12th in the slalom,
the racer met a mountain of autograph hounds. "Could you sign my
flag?" one asked. "Sure," said Koznick, turning the banner
around before signing. "Stars to the left. Can't have the flag
backwards." At a time when the country's best female skier has
chosen to train apart from the U.S. team, she doesn't want
anyone questioning her patriotism.
Koznick's career started veering off course last spring, in the
midst of her best season. She won her last two races and ended
the year as the world's fifth-ranked slalom skier. With 503 World
Cup points, she had 289 more than any other female U.S. racer.
But at the end of the season U.S. Skiing axed women's assistant
coach Dan Stripp, who had been with the team for three years,
because of what the organization said was his "negative influence
on team dynamics." That divisiveness is thought to be a result of
the close ties between Stripp, 39, and Koznick, 25, who have been
dating for some time, though both insist that their relationship
began only after Stripp was let go. Says her former teammate Alex
Shaffer, "They meant more to each other than any of us meant to
Koznick's relations with team officials became more strained
when, she says, they denied her request to train for three weeks
in Europe so she could scout her top rivals. Koznick left the
team's training program last May, coaxed Stripp into coaching her
full time and, after a stint in Europe, rejoined the World Cup
circuit this season. "Dan was the first coach who didn't [just]
tell me what to do," says Koznick, explaining Stripp's importance
to her. "We earned each other's respect."
Koznick must now pay her own travel expenses even though she
still has to wear the USA uniform, including logos of team
sponsors from whom she receives no money. (She receives funding
from her personal ski and equipment suppliers and from the
long-distance phone company Sprint.) She and Stripp have a
one-year contract that, Stripp says, pays him "more than U.S.
Skiing did." To help raise the $300,000 she'll need for two
years' expenses, Koznick also sells T-shirts on her website
When Koznick joined the team, at age 15, she kept a St.
Christopher's medal in her pocket and always wore the same
unwashed, pungent Joe Montana T-shirt. "Five years ago I
realized skiers win races, and I got rid of those things," she
says. Still, nerves remained a problem for her as she skied off
course at both the 1998 Olympics and at the '99 worlds. Now,
however, she has her sights set on a podium finish at January's
world championships in St. Anton, Austria. "I never felt sure
about myself around the slopes," she says. "Now I do."
USOC to Name New CEO
Bean Counters Need Not Apply
In search of closure on the brief but stormy Norman Blake era,
the U.S. Olympic Committee might name its permanent CEO as soon
as Dec. 3, when its executive board meets in Washington, D.C.
Scott Blackmun, the USOC's former general counsel, who took over
as interim chief after Blake's resignation on Oct. 31, is the
Blake, who ran the committee for less than nine months, was a
former CEO of hospitality, insurance and finance companies and
had no background in sports. He tried to impose a business model
on the USOC, which had previously relied on a consensus of its
115-member volunteer board of directors and the national
governing bodies (NGBs) of the 45 USOC-affiliated sports. Last
April, Blake announced that the USOC's budget, which reached
$110 million this year, would be allocated according to a
money-for-medals policy--i.e., the sports that had won the most
medals in recent Olympics would get the largest shares of the
pie. Blake further frightened leaders of smaller, cash-poor
sports by saying that some sports were "not indigenous" to the
U.S. and "not really a concern to the American public."
Blake also fired 40 of the USOC's 500 staff members and consulted
few colleagues in making decisions. "He had a flawed premise that
the USOC was in disarray, going bankrupt," says swimmer turned
sports agent Bill Stapleton, chair of the USOC's Athletes
Advisory Council. "He looked at the portfolio of NGBs as if it
were a portfolio of investments."
Rick Abrahamson, team handball's representative on the USOC
board, worried that under Blake's plan the handball federation's
annual budget of $600,000 would be cut by 25% by 2004. (Neither
the U.S. men's nor women's handball team qualified for the Sydney
Games.) "Where Blake was headed, we would have had to sacrifice
either development or support for our national teams," Abrahamson
says. Blackmun, who has won backing by encouraging NGB input,
foresees allocating funds according to how a sport is likely to
fare at future competitions, as opposed to Blake's "backward
allocation" based on medals already won.
Though many within the committee supported the general idea of
streamlining, any future USOC boss will need not only the
financial acumen of Andrew Carnegie but also something Blake
lacked: the people-wooing skills of Dale Carnegie.
A Safer Vault?
A Horse Is No Longer a Horse
During the Sydney Olympics the International Gymnastics
Federation approved a radically different vaulting apparatus that
officials hope will increase safety. The redesigned table, which
the federation plans to introduce in competition at the Artistic
World Championships in Ghent, Belgium, next October, slopes
downward at the takeoff end, like an extended tongue. The design
provides more surface area for gymnasts' hands.
Both men and women will vault over the length of the apparatus.
(Women traditionally vaulted across the width.) Some officials
wonder, however, whether the new table, which has been tested
only by elite gymnasts and only in a handful of countries,
including the U.S., is really safer for females. Junior Olympic
Program director Terry Gray says, "I don't believe it will
change the safety, because the design is not a lot different,
but there is more room for the hands, which gives a larger
margin of error." The traditional horse is 35 centimeters wide;
the new table is more than three times that in length.
Modifications may be needed, but it is good to see gymnastics
trying to take a great leap forward.
COLOR PHOTO: CARL YARBROUGH After a tumultuous off-season, Koznick opened the World Cup campaign with a 12th in Park City.
COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF JANSSEN & FRITSEN
COLOR PHOTO: HENRY ROMERO/REUTERS World half-marathon champ Tergat says he's ready to go all the way.
The World Anti-Doping Agency recently declined USA Track &
Field's bid to have WADA take over its embattled testing
program. WADA instead chose to play an oversight role and is
said still to be miffed that USATF has not released details of
what the agency says are 10 positive doping cases, which became
an issue during the Sydney Olympics....
The International Cycling Union, which had planned to destroy
frozen urine samples taken from riders during the 2000 Tour de
France, said last week it will preserve them after all, pending
a more reliable test for the performance-enhancing hormone EPO.
If illegal substances are discovered later, riders could face
Norwegian cross-country ski hero Bjorn Daehlie, whose 12 medals
are the most of any winter Olympian, will be out until at least
March with a bad back. Daehlie missed most of last season after
he suffered a training fall while on roller skis....
Though no Kenyan has won an Olympic marathon, Kenyan
men this month established the record for the most sub-2:20
marathons run in a year by a single nation (268, by 171
runners). The old mark of 267 was set in 1983 by--surprise!--the
U.S., which still holds the mark for most individual runners
(193) under 2:20 in one year....
Paul Tergat, Kenya's Olympic silver medalist in the 10,000
meters and five-time world cross-country champ, who on Nov. 12
won his second half-marathon world title, has said he will make
his full marathon debut in London next April....
The IOC, which includes shooting as one of its summer sports,
has shot down the Salt Lake Organizing Committee's bid to name
an official gun sponsor of the 2002 Games, saying that handguns
do not mesh with the Olympics' mission of peace. The company SIG
Sauer had agreed to provide $150,000 in funding and
commemorative sidearms to police officers who volunteered during
Deeming several tunes inappropriate for the occasion, an SLOC
official insisted America's Opening ski organizers stop playing
Tina Turner's The Bitch Is Back, Lou Bega's Mambo Number Five
and the Bob Weir version of Salt Lake City as the women competed
in giant slalom races last Thursday.