U.S. Nordic combined program loses funding, leading to an effort to revive the sport


The United States Nordic combined program has lost funding for training and coaching, sending the men and women who compete in the sport scrambling to revive it with a new nonprofit.

USA Nordic Sport announced Thursday that it informed its Norwegian counterpart it did not have enough money to extend their partnership this upcoming season, ending a deal two years into a four-year agreement.

The sport of Nordic combined encompasses both ski jumping and cross-country skiing.

The Park City, Utah-based organization hosted a virtual meeting with affected athletes last week to deliver news they feared was coming after falling short of a $150,000 fundraising goal.

“They basically told us that they didn’t have the resources to fund our team,” Stephen Schumann, who was part of the U.S. Olympic team in 2022, said in a telephone interview between training workouts in Lake Placid, New York. “It felt disrespectful because we had a good season, in fact better than the other side of the organization they’re still supporting.”

USA Nordic Sport was created in 2007 as a leadership organization, aiming to support Nordic combined and ski jumping and to ensure the survival and success of both sports.

Tom Bickner, chairman of the group’s board of directors, said extending the partnership with Norway would have pushed USA Nordic Sport into bankruptcy.

“The board agreed to split the disciplines financially,” Bickner said in a telephone interview. “We love those Nordic combined athletes, they’re some of the most talented in the world, but the sport doesn’t have a big following on TV so it isn’t attracting sponsors and revenue that are needed.

“It was a tough decision. No one wanted it, but it was the right thing to do because it was putting the organization in a position where it couldn’t fund anything.”

Bickner said USA Nordic Sport will provide some non-training funding, such as paying for the director who works with U.S. Ski & Snowboard, the sport’s national governing body, and insurance costs.

Bill Demong, who became the first American to win Olympic gold in Nordic combined at the 2010 Vancouver Games, three-time Olympic medalist Johnny Spillane and four-time Olympian Taylor Fletcher have teamed up with parents of current athletes to form a nonprofit, Nordic Combined USA, to revive the sport.

The organization plans to raise funds and awareness for its mission in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, during the 4th of July Ski Jumping Extravaganza.

“It feels really great to be backed by people who really care because sometimes, it has not felt that way in the past,” said Alexa Brabec, who, like Annika Malacinski, can compete in World Cup events but not on the world’s largest stage because Nordic combined is the only Olympic sport without gender equality. “I’m super hopeful that we’ll be able to figure it out so we can keep skiing.”

The worldwide Nordic combined community, too, is hoping the Americans can rally to continue competing in a sport that could potentially be cut from the 2030 Olympic program.

“It is of great importance for FIS to have the USA participating in Nordic combined in all levels,” said Lasse Ottesen, the Nordic combined race director for the International Ski and Snowboard Federation. “With the possibility of the Olympic Games coming back to the U.S. in 2034, we will be in cooperation with U.S. skiing to support the future development of Nordic Combined in the U.S.”

And if the U.S. athletes can’t secure funding to continue training with the Norwegians, they want to find a way to make the partnership work.

“We need the United States to be in the Nordic combined family for the Olympics,” Team Norway sport director Ivar Stuan said. “This really is a pity to be in this situation because they did a good job last winter, improving and reaching personal bests, but we still have trainers and coaches ready to raise the level for the United States skiers.”

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AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games



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