In case you weren’t there or didn’t tune in, US Ski & Snowboard Association (USSA) athletes killed it at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games. They took home 21 medals—the best showing the Park City–based US Olympic governing body has had in its 100-year history. And by all indications, USSA is poised to fare even better at the Sochi Olympic Winter Games this February.
Credit for this resounding success is most often attributed to Bill Marolt, USSA president and CEO. Much of Marolt’s sport-focused career has been with USSA, first as an athlete (he competed in the 1964 Winter Olympics) and then as director of the US Alpine Ski Team. The Aspen native left the team in 1984 to act as athletic director for the University of Colorado, but he returned as CEO in 1996—at a time when US skiers rarely made the podium. Under his watch, USSA athletes have enjoyed successes exceeding those of any previous era.
“He creates huge goals and then sets the wheels in motion to ensure they are accomplished,” says Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation President and CEO Colin Hilton. “Having such an accomplished leader and respected sport governing body here makes us all work a little bit harder and set our own goals a little bit higher.”
Marolt will retire from USSA following the Sochi Olympics, but he’ll remain involved with fundraising efforts and as a member of the International Ski Federation and US Olympic Committee boards. Here he talks with Park City Magazine about how USSA’s Best in the World philosophy began, why he thinks it took so long to add women’s ski jumping to the Olympic program, and what it takes to realize the Olympic dream.
What prompted your return to USSA in 1996, especially at a time when it was in a state of flux, having had five CEOs in five years? I came here to make a difference. I asked, “What are we: An events company? A fundraising company? A marketing company?” USSA is all of those things, but what we really are is a company about kids and young men and women chasing their Olympic dreams. The excitement for me was emphasizing athletic focus and seeing how far we could take it.
How did the Best in the World vision come about? I sat down with the staff and asked, “Where do we want to go with this organization?” Out of those meetings came Best in the World. We defined it as winning more medals in skiing and snowboarding than any other country. We kept stressing it every day, and over time you start to hear it come back to you. It set us in the right direction, and we have ultimately stayed the course.
How does the Best in the World vision translate into what happens on snow? When I first started, I knew we had talent in this country. It was up to us as a staff to lead and manage so that talent could manifest itself in great performance.You have to have focus. You have to have a committed staff. And then you have to create the infrastructure for the support. We made a commitment to fully develop our performance plan—sport science, sports medicine, coaches’ education, materials. It’s all in one department: High Performance. We have made tremendous progress there.
Why do you think it took the IOC so long to allow women ski jumpers an Olympic platform? We were disappointed when women’s jumping didn’t make it in for 2010, but we also understood that the sport had not yet had a World Championships event by the time the decision was made. We were confident in its acceptance for 2014 and also saw the level of athleticism rise dramatically in that time.
In 2009, the USSA Center of Excellence, a world-class training and education facility, opened. What has it meant to the teams? This is the heartbeat. Whether it is our elite teams, development programs, USSA Team Academy, sales and marketing, or fundraising, it all comes out of here. We had never been under one roof, and being under one roof now creates a team. It helped change the culture to one of excellence.
Tiger Shaw, Global Rescue’s former senior director, takes over as USSA CEO when you retire in February. What makes him a good fit to lead USSA into the future? To do this job you have to understand our core business: kids and skiing and snowboarding. Tiger brings that. He grew up in a ski resort town; he was a competitor; he was a coach; his kids have been involved in programs; he’s been involved with our board; and he has a good business background.
What advice do you have for kids who are just getting the Olympic twinkle in their eye? You can’t be good at something unless you really enjoy it. Make sure that when you commit to it, you put your heart and soul into it, because the payoff is extraordinary. What you take away in terms of the experience adds to your life: it makes you more aware, more accountable, and a better person.
What are you going to miss the most about being involved in USSA’s daily operations? Day-to-day contact with the athletes and our staff team, which is dedicated to helping the athletes achieve their Olympic dreams. It’s a very invigorating environment that helps breed the success we’ve had as a team.