At the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association skiers had a rough start. Hannah Kearney faltered in women’s moguls, not so much winning a bronze medal as losing a gold. Then Bode Miller missed the podium in men’s downhill after he had dominated the training runs.
That was a hard one to watch, confessed USSA president and CEO Bill Marolt, because he knew how hard Miller had prepared.
“That’s the hard part of competition,” said Marolt. “You don’t always get what you shoot for.”
In Marolt’s case, he did get what he was shooting for. At USSA’s helm for 16 years, he established the “Best in the World” vision and achieved it in almost all the ski and snowboard disciplines that fall under USSA’s expansive umbrella. In Sochi, U.S. skiers and snowboarders won 17 Olympic medals, and four years earlier, they took 21 in Vancouver. In the past decade, Americans have also won world championship medals in every discipline from cross-country skiing to slopestyle skiing. Of the 95 Olympic medals won by U.S. skiers and snowboarders since the first Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix in 1924, 70 were earned under Marolt’s tenure.
Best in the world, indeed.
Sochi was the last Olympic Games for Marolt. As of March 3, 2014, he retired as president and CEO of USSA. Over his 50+ years in skiing — as an Olympian, coach, athletic director, and head honcho — he has created a remarkable path of success.
Born in Aspen, Colo., Bill Marolt was the youngest of three brothers. He learned to ski during the sport’s post-World War II boom, then took his ski-racing skills to the University of Colorado, where he won four individual NCAA titles from 1963-1966. While skiing for the CU, he also made the 1964 U.S. Olympic Team. Competing in giant slalom, he finished 12th — the second American behind Billy Kidd in seventh.
After retiring from racing, Marolt coached the CU ski team from 1969-1978. In that time, the Buffaloes went from also-rans to seven-time NCAA champions, and Marolt’s leadership style began to show. He expected his athletes to work hard, and he would stand by them.
In an interview several years ago, Mike Porcarelli, a four-time NCAA champion, said Marolt’s biggest challenge as coach was keeping the ski team boys in line.
“We had a tendency to get ourselves into hot water,” Porcarelli remembered.
At the 1972 Western regional championships, Marolt had to use all his political savvy to save his two top skiers from disqualification. Training for downhill, Porcarelli and teammate Tim Hinderman decided to race each other. University of Denver coach Willy Schaeffler saw the two fly by and advocated tossing them from the race.
“Bill’s smooth talking kept us in,” recalled Porcarelli. “I don’t know how he did it.”
In dry-land training, Marolt demanded an all-out effort. A typical workout started with calisthenics, then stadium stairs, followed by a game of soccer. Then Marolt would say “Green Mountain,” and the team would run from the stadium to the top of Boulder’s Green Mountain and back — a total of 3,000 vertical feet and six miles round-trip.
“The bottom line was we knew that there wasn’t anyone tougher than we were,” said Porcarelli.
From CU, Marolt returned to the U.S. Ski Team. With Marolt as alpine director, U.S. skiers claimed five Olympic medals at the Sarajevo Games in 1984, including three golds.
Marolt then returned to CU as athletic director. His goal was to make his alma mater into a top-tier Division I competitor across many sports. He added three new women’s sports (soccer, golf and volleyball) and championed construction of the Dal Ward Athletic Center. And six years after Marolt extended Bill McCartney’s football coaching contract, the Buffaloes claimed a national football title (1990). During Marolt’s tenure at CU, the Buffs also won two more NCAA ski championships.
“I learned a lot from working with Bill McCartney,” Marolt told Ski Racing Magazine in Sochi. “And one of the things that McCartney said was, if you’ve got a goal, you’re not really committed unless you’re willing to write it down and put it on the wall.”
In 1996, Marolt returned to USSA, this time as president and CEO. He had a goal in mind: Best in the World. Reeling after several turbulent years of financial problems and frequent turnover, USSA needed to gain solid footing first.
“The organization through the years had been a lot of things, it had thought of itself in a lot of different ways,” Marolt told Ski Racing. “Sometimes, they thought of themselves as a marketing organization, a sales organization, an event organization. And what we really are is an organization about kids. We’re an athletic organization.”
Returning stars at the time were Picabo Street and Tommy Moe, and a deep pool of talented skiers was rising through the ranks — in alpine and Nordic skiing, as well as snowboarding, which made its Olympic debut in 1998. Marolt recognized that the U.S. could only top the Olympic medal charts with improved Nordic results. At the time, the Nordic combined team was so underfunded that their coach, Tom Steitz, housed them at a mental institution in East Germany during a summer training camp because it provided room and board for only $14/day.
With Todd Lodwick breaking onto the world cup podium in Nordic combined in the mid-1990s, Marolt channeled money toward the program.
Since 1996, USSA athletes have won Olympic medals in every discipline except ski jumping.
“When I began my role as president and CEO in 1996, I emphasized a complete focus on athletes,” Marold said on the eve of his retirement. “I’m most proud of the fact that we’ve maintained that focus — from parents to clubs to our elite teams. The athletic achievements in Vancouver and Sochi are a testament to our entire USSA family never losing sight of our primary purpose: to support athletes.”
“Bill brought a very focused, very specific message about performance, about helping our very best athletes, making sure they have every chance to succeed,” said Alan Ashley, who was USSA’s vice president of athletics before joining the United States Olympic Committee as chief of sport performance in 2006. “That message never changed, and everything was built around it.”
In addition to advising USSA’s new leader, Tiger Shaw, Marolt will continue working as a board member of the International Ski Federation, the USOC and the 2015 FIS Alpine World Championships in Vail/Beaver Creek, Colo.
"Bill is one of a kind," said USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun. "The whole USOC family really owes a huge debt of gratitude to Bill. One of the great combinations that we can have in our business is somebody who was an athlete, a coach and an administrator, and a fundraiser. He's moving to Boulder, so he'll be close to Colorado Springs, and I told his wife, Connie, we're going to put him to work for the USOC."
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies