July 14th, 2010
Cross-country skiing in North America lives on the fringe – a sport below the radar of mainstream media, and much of the general public. This presents many challenges as athletes and programs struggle to find funding and support, not to mention recognition of accomplishments.
Yet the low-profile nature of the sport is part of what makes it so great. I’m not saying that we don’t need to increase the visibility of skiing, and to try to generate funds to support elite athletes and development programs, but it is important to recognize the positives of what we currently have.
Any person who even casually peruses the sports section is likely aware of the recent spectacle that NBA star LeBron James created to announce his choice of team. (In case you missed it, James, a free-agent, orchestrated a one-hour ESPN TV special.) Such examples of narcissism, arrogance, and just a good old total lack of perspective permeate American sports, and the celebrity culture that the US embraces is at the root.
Skiing is too small for that. As a general rule, our athletes are humble, and rarely is there any sense of entitlement. They work extremely hard, and they are driven by their passion to succeed. Without the constant media attention garnered by celebrities, we can trust that when athletes give back, they are doing it for the simple reason that they truly care about the sport.
Chandra Crawford’s and Kikkan Randall’s work with Fast and Female, Kris Freeman’s visits to diabetes camps, Andy Newell’s many school visits – these are just a few examples of some of the best athletes in the world stepping up and trying to make a difference. And while I’m sure their sponsors are happy to see such things, there is so little publicity around the non-competitive areas of these skiers’ lives that the marketing value is often minimal.
The tight-knit community of cross-country skiing and the nature of the sport mean that kids see their heroes out on the local trails. They can race in the same races, lift weights in the same gym. Elite athletes are real role models because we can actually know them, not just some glorified image.
Hopefully, we can continue to grow the sport in North America – so that we can see more children scrambling over snow banks to ask their favorite skiers for autographs, and so that we can support those same athletes who dedicate their lives to the pursuit of excellence.
And while we do that, we should try to hold on to the advantages of being a small-time sport.
Taking on the celebrity culture may seem a bit ironic given that FasterSkier, along with a gaggle of Norwegian press, traveled to Las Vegas to cover Petter Northug and Marcus Hellner in a poker tournament and rather silly rollerski race. But the event was a novelty, and hence its appeal. We so rarely see such things in cross-country skiing, and for that it was newsworthy.
There is no obsession with such things here, and it seemed many people viewed the show for what it was: a humorous diversion, appropriate for midsummer. Ultimately, we care about the pursuit of excellence: the racing, the training, and the lifestyle that the pursuit of the sport brings – be it as a recreational skier, or an Olympian.