Still, whatever the American men manage to do this season they will find themselves in an enormously classy arena of world competition. They must face Patrick Russel, Jean-No�l Augert and Alain Penz of France, Gustav Th�ni of Italy and Bernard Russi of Switzerland and—here he comes again—Karl Schranz. It is true: though the incomparable Austrian declared his retirement last spring after he won his second straight World Cup, he has jauntily announced from his pension in St. Anton that he is planning to compete once again.
But the current fortunes of Karl Schranz have not yet affected the world of Willy Schaeffler and the U.S. ski team. For the moment Willy is in a struggle to rebuild from the shambles of morale and performance left by some of his predecessors. For a time the USSA was run by an assortment of Major Hooples. That period seems to be over now that a bright IBM executive named Charles Gibson is the new USSA president. But there is precious little money for the team to go racing on, $201,910 to be exact, the smallest budget in several seasons.
Still Schaeffler is philosophical: "We are trying not to leave out one damn thing to make the kids ready for the season. Unless it costs big money. Then we leave it out."
Beyond the usual summer conditioning at Mammoth Mountain in California, at Portillo, Chile and at Thredbo in Australia, Schaeffler has instituted an intensive battery of psychological tests for the kids. If nothing else will improve, at least their vocabularies will, for the entire team is talking casually these days of kinesiology, aerobic and anaerobic organisms, of cardiovascular readouts, agility quotients and psycho-cybernetics (a kind of Zen for technocrats). Willy also has deep-think detailed letters from each team member's parents and ex-coaches, outlining observations about the kid's motivational drives, psychological hang-ups and habits, good and bad.
Schaeffler has injected a sense of firm control all right. As symbolic of the change as anything is the software-goods revolution around the team. In 1969-70 a full snafu set in over the question of uniforms. The team wound up traveling the World Cup circuit dressed like—well, as Schaeffler puts it, "They looked like they were all refugees from a Greek earthquake." Not now. The racers have been practically inundated in stylish piles of clothing—much of it pieces they have designed themselves, then have had tailor-fit to order. They have travel sweaters and training sweaters and events sweaters, Stars-and-Stripesy warmup suits, a one-piece racing suit with a muted wet look, red-white-and-blue hats, white racing gloves with blue stars on the knuckles and party pants suits for the girls.
Win or lose, U.S. skiers will look nice and, with the tough Willy Schaeffler around, maybe a few of them may even learn that it really iss fun to vin!