Friday, November 25, 2011

Dreams of Olympic gold: Six at Sochi

Sun Valley exists because of skiing.


Alex Sundali is the development director for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation.

By ALEX SUNDALI

In 2005, the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation created its Olympic Development Team to financially assist qualified athletes who had risen "through the top" to become the less than 1 percent who compete at the international level. With the support of donors, three foundation athletes competed at the Vancouver Olympic Games in 2010.

In 2011, we have a new name, Gold, and a new goal, to send six athletes to the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014—"Six at Sochi,"

The Gold Team's mission is to provide select elite athletes from the foundation with the necessary support, both financial and through elite training and development programs, to compete and succeed at the international level and to become members of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Teams. The foundation recognizes that the financial demands to compete at the highest levels are beyond the reach of most aspiring Olympians. The U.S. Ski Team does not fund its athletes 100 percent, and for athletes in the "gap"—who are striving to make the team but are not there yet—there is no financial support.

"Six at Sochi" is a lofty goal, yet a realistic one given the current Gold Team pipeline. Tanner Farrow, who began his Olympic dream as an 8-year-old with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, was just named to the U.S. Alpine Ski Team. Simi Hamilton, one of our three Olympians in Vancouver, just began his second year on the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team. Kaitlyn Farrington, an athlete who began her Olympic quest as a 12-year-old snowboarder with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, is on the U.S. Snowboard Team, and Shane Cordeau, local boy and foundation athlete since second grade, is beginning his third year on the U.S. Freestyle team.

Annually our program directors (alpine, cross-country, snowboard and freestyle) establish nomination criteria for their Gold Team programs. The Gold Team criteria for each program are distinct and specific for the development cycle of their discipline. The common thread through each program's criteria is automatic nomination for athletes on the U.S. Ski and Snowboard teams and the parameters for nomination for those athletes in the "gap." The "gap" athletes are those who are just below U.S. team criteria but have a high probability of making the team with continued high-level training and competition. Maintaining Gold Team membership is not automatic, and in the past six years the rosters have changed repeatedly. Athletes must continue to improve and move through the national team hierarchy to qualify for Gold Team membership.

Sun Valley exists because of skiing. We are a ski town with a unique and vibrant history, and our winter sports stars are as much a part of Sun Valley as Baldy is. These stars' last names are well known, so we simply refer to them as Gretchen, Pete and Susie, Christin, Picabo, Reggie and Zach, Graham, Morgan, Simi. They represent our community when they compete and as a community we cheer them on. They are Sun Valley and we love them. They represent why we live here and what we love about this place we call home.

This past summer, the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation hosted its first Six at Sochi community event in Ketchum Town Square. The objective was to raise awareness about the Gold Team, introduce our community to this year's roster and build a sense of community awareness around the Six at Sochi goals. We are now reaching out to those individuals and foundations that are able to help support the Gold Team through their generosity. To make a donation, please go to www.svsef.org.

Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation 2011-12 Gold Team: Morgan Arritola, Tanner Farrow, Simi Hamilton, Teagen Palmer, Tai Barrymore, Kaitlyn Farrington, Shane Cordeau, Chelsea Holmes, Kipling Weisel, Matt Gelso, Mike Sinnott and Alexa Turzian.




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