Out on Her Own
Estranged from the U.S. team, Kristina Koznick is still its best skier
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 them."
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 (www.koznick.com).
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 front-runner.
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."