American skiers and snowboarders are checking out the slopes in Sochi while officials back home use high-profile athletes including the injured Lindsey Vonn in a late fundraising push to meet surging Winter Olympics expenses.
The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, which receives no government funding, is seeking to raise $200,000 via the RallyMe.com website to meet the higher-than-expected costs of taking part in the Feb. 7-23 Winter Games.
“It costs millions of dollars for our team to participate,” USSA spokesman Mike Jaquet said in a phone interview. “It’s the last 5 to 8 percent of what we’re actually going to be spending that we’re hoping to raise.”
The group of 94 skiers and snowboarders is by far the largest contingent in the 230-member U.S. Olympic team in Sochi. There are also 120 staff members to support the athletes, including coaches, trainers, nutritionists, chefs, technicians and physiotherapists.
“Some of these we’re bringing last minute,” Jaquet said. “So it’s mostly about last-minute visa expenses, last-minute lodging switches.
``Whenever we’re faced with a decision of ‘Will this help us win another medal,’ we go with that decision,” he added.
Alpine skiing is one of the most expensive Olympic sports because athletes have to follow winter snow around the world to remain competitive. Most U.S. skiers have to pay some of their travel costs, typically $20,000 per year, according to USSA spokesman Tom Kelly.
Sponsorship has been hard to come by partly because Comcast Corp.’s NBC won’t be broadcasting races live from Sochi, according to David Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians.
The USSA launched the crowdfunding campaign Feb. 2 and is using Vonn and other athletes to drum up support. It is seeking donations of either $20.14 or $50.
Vonn, who is missing the Olympics following knee surgery, is featured on the USSA’s fundraising website, along with participating athletes such as Alpine skiing gold medalists Julia Mancuso and Ted Ligety.
The campaign is also leveraging athletes’ ties with their hometowns, Jaquet said, with about 25 mountain resorts adding their support to the fundraising. Colorado’s Vail resort, where Vonn learned to ski, and Powder Resorts in Utah’s Park City, where Ligety grew up, are examples.
“We’ve built a kit of assets which includes photos, sample text, logos and everything they’d need to construct either their own e-mail blast, or inclusion in a newsletter that they’re already sending out to their databases,” Jaquet said.
The USSA started its campaign close to the start of the games on purpose, to avoid the hype surrounding last weekend’s Super Bowl.
“This entire run-up to the Sochi Olympics we’ve been battling with the NFL and the other major leagues for attention,” Jaquet said. “We feel like timing’s pretty good right now. It’s a 30-day campaign and we’re at about 10 percent of target after two days.”
Freestyle skiing and snowboard qualification events start tomorrow in Sochi, a day before the opening ceremony. The Alpine skiing events begin Feb. 9 with the men’s downhill.