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Racer-Chasers have gained astonishing influence on the circuit. "I choose all the waxes for my racers," said Gérard Rubaud, chief Chaser for Rossignol skis. "I have my own instruments for testing the snow, and I do not consult about wax with the racers or their coaches." In the dear dim days past, serious racers refused to let anyone else even touch their skis—let alone share in the mystical secrets of choosing wax. Nowadays, kids simply drop their skis off at dusk with the cheerful Chaser, who then slaves far into the night, laboring over a hot pot of wax like a well-paid Rumpelstiltskin to prepare the skis for the next day.
During race starts the mountainsides simply swarm with manufacturers' representatives. Their sheer numbers are stunning enough. But it is also as often as not a man from a boot or binding factory who whispers last-second instruction and inspiration to a skier—not the skier's coach. Chasers claim they stay away if a team coach insists, but there is often a clear conflict of influence around a team, especially since many of the factory agents are ex-coaches. During part of the World Cup tour last month the U.S. team was snarled in a difficult situation in which the official coaches for this season—Don Henderson for the men and Dennis Agee for the women—were outnumbered by 1968 U.S. coaches who now represent commercial concerns—Gordi Eaton, Chuck Ferries and Hank Tauber. Each of them quite openly advised and coached members of both the men's and girls' teams.
Perhaps all this commercialism on the slopes wouldn't seem so bizarre if everyone would speak right out and admit what it means: open exploitation of the sport by manufacturers. Some do. H. Kent (Bud) Stanner, marketing manager of Head, is an outspoken sort of salesman and he declares quite flatly: "Every move we make—including our contracts with skiers and the promotions we can generate out of them—is designed to make a profit."
Billy Kidd, America's fine gold medalist at Val Gardena, now turned pro, says, "What I am afraid of is that young kids might become confused and hurt themselves by the decisions they are forced to make with all these temptations around. When a manufacturer tries to get you on his skis by offering a few thousand dollars more, you have to keep it in perspective. You have to remember that it's only a few thousand bucks. You have to remember that you are skiing to win races, because skiing is your life and it's all you know. And, after all, a few thousand bucks can't be enough to buy that from you."
The FIS does not like to put things quite so boldly. Marc Hodler now prefers to define the situation as representing "new principles of amateurism"—which is as gutsy a bit of euphemistic acrobatics as anyone has failed to get away with in a long, long time. To compound the absurdity, Hodler speaks wishfully of a day when a "strong professional ski circuit" will come along to "skim off our older amateur champions to make room for younger men at the top." Well, Bob Beattie, tireless promoter and former U.S. ski team coach, has just launched what he hopes will become precisely that kind of pro circuit. Though Beattie has the essential support of ABC-TV, the project has not come without pain. He is quick to perceive the ironies inherent: "Isn't it a hell of a note when you have to work like a dog to make a professional sport out of a professional sport?" It happens that one of the possibly immovable obstacles to a viable professional ski program is the fact that Beattie may have trouble raising enough money to guarantee pro skiers as much as they have become accustomed to earning as amateurs.
Perhaps as sensible and lucid as anyone on the ski scene is Dr. Amos R. Little, a doughty general practitioner from Helena, Mont. For nine years he has been a U.S. delegate to the FIS and he has watched this situation grow from its beginning. Dr. Little puts it this way: "It's a mess now, I'll tell you that. But in the FIS we have turned our backs on reality almost as much as the IOC has. We go around calling them names, but we have passed the buck to the national federations and let them set eligibility standards we should set ourselves. Sure, we're facing a schism. Should we be in the Olympics because of their beautiful tradition and beautiful idealism? And do we have to stay in this condition of hypocrisy and self-delusion to do it? Or do we stand up and be counted? Look: the only reason the FIS won't declare what we're doing as 'open racing' is because we're afraid of what the IOC will say. It looks like a confrontation is inevitable...and I really don't think we should try to avoid it any longer. Maybe we'll end up with something like FIS amateurs and Olympic amateurs and we'll just ask everyone to declare themselves before they race. I don't know what we should do. Except there's no point in letting all this hypocrisy go on."
True enough—even if the price is the Winter Olympics of 1972.