Post by Laura (Lori) on Nov 13, 2012 9:56:19 GMT -8
Catching Up With: Eva Rodansky
The recent grievances filed against US Speedskating by about 1 dozen skaters brought attention to a book that was originally published in 2010, “Winter of Discontent: An Athlete’s Experience of Speed Skating in America”, by long track speedskater Eva Rodansky.
Interest in the book was revived after the grievances were filed, but we started hearing from those who wanted to purchase it that it was nowhere to be found. So, I inquired directly from Eva as to why - the short story is that there were some who wanted it to ‘go away’, and so it has. I was fortunate enough to have purchased an e-copy just before it went off the market - it IS a good read, very eye-opening, and it’s no surprise that you might hear crickets chirping at the mention of the book amongst the USS ‘elite’…
That inquiry inspired this interview. Many thanks to Eva for taking the time to share with us…
How ‘bout we start by having you tell us a little about your background in speedskating.
First of all, I'd like to thank Rocker U/Boots & Blades for inviting me to answer a few questions. Thank you for your support of the skaters, especially in this difficult time.
I started speedskating with the West Michigan Speedskating Club, which was started by Mark Jastrzembski in 1988, after he had watched the Olympics and was inspired to start a club. I was one of the original 6 members, and because we knew nothing about the sport, we learned a lot by trial and error. We were helped initially by Doc Savage, from Milwaukee, a longtime volunteer who has been dedicated to development of the sport. He sent us a box of speedskates to try, so we could get started.
Even though we only had short track ice, I knew I'd eventually change to long track, which meant I'd have to figure out where to move so I could train for long track. What drew me to long track was the purity of the sport: I believed that it was just "me against the clock," nobody would take me out or get in my way, and the results were purely objective. Long track was all about how much you could push yourself in training and racing. There were a lot of different sports and other activities I did, growing up, but once I got serious about long track speedskating, that was when things got interesting.
What were your greatest accomplishments in long track - how far did you get in the sport?
My best finishes, internationally, were podium finishes in Division B, in the 1000 and 1500 meters, in February 2005. The way the World Cup events are skated, the top 20 skaters compete in Division A, and the rest are in B, until they can qualify to move up (by finishing in the top 2 in the B group in the prior event). The 2004-05 season was when I really had a breakthrough; I'd just started working with coach Boris Leikin, who taught me a lot about training for the sprint events. We worked really hard, so my peak didn't come until late in the season, and that's when I finally got on the podium of the B group. My 1000 meter time in the World Cup Final placed me 16th overall, with combined results from Groups A and B.
What I really consider my greatest accomplishment, though, was in the first year of my comeback in 2001-02, when I went on leave of absence from grad school in January of 2001, moved to Salt Lake to train, and made my first World Cup team by the end of October. So, in 10 months, I went from being a somewhat fit student, to a World Cup speedskating competitor. Not bad for someone whom the onetime president of the NGB called a "no-talent troublemaker!"
Okay, you 'troublemaker' (hehe) - as anyone who has read your book knows, eventually you became disillusioned with politics within the sport and within USS. Can you explain a little about what happened?
I was first invited to train full-time at age 15, in 1992. Mike Crowe, who was working with a group of senior National Team-level skaters in Butte, Montana, was looking for up-and-coming juniors. He recruited both me and Amy Sannes from the Junior Girls division at the nationals that year. Amy went to train with Crowe's team, but my parents didn't let me go.
The following summer, I went to a camp in Lake Placid with a bunch of other skaters from Michigan, and that's where I met Stan Klotkowski, former Polish National Team coach, who was coaching there. Stan picked me out as a skater with potential, and, probably because it was a cultural thing (my parents are of Polish and Ukrainian descent) they trusted Stan and let me go. I spent 4 months in West Allis and Lake Placid with Stan in 1993-94, and the following year, when he was moved out to Salt Lake City, to start kids' development programs in preparation for 2002, I moved there with his group.
The 1994-95 season was my senior year of high school. I stayed with a host family in West Valley. That fall, it became apparent that the oval would not open in time for the season, and Stan stopped working with our team of 7 skaters who'd moved to Utah to train with him. Stan was also starting local clubs and then abandoning them without saying a word to the parents. He just stopped showing up.
So, I trained on my own, without ice (other than a couple weeks in Butte), but still made Junior Category 1. After my racing season, I learned from my host mom, who was also the president of the speedskating club in Kearns, that Stan had abandoned their club and they were planning to write letters to USISA to let them know what happened to their Utah development programs. I decided to write to them, also, to let them know what happened to my team. All I wrote was, "I moved here to train with a USISA coach who abandoned my team. We had no ice to skate on, and I trained alone, and failed to reach my competitive goals."
In response, the president of USISA (which, by the way, is the organization in charge of elite competition before it and the ASU were combined into USSPEEDSKATING), took offense at what I had written. His name was Bill Cushman, and he was a coach from the powerful and influential Midway club of Minnesota. Cushman called my host mom and said to her, "Eva Rodansky is an over-emotional no-talent looking for someone to blame for her own failures."
Of course, I was upset. I was only 17 years old, but I knew my future in the sport was at stake. I did find out later that my name had been brought up in meetings, and that I'd been blackballed as a troublemaker.
Three years later, after being away from the sport, I tried skating a weekend time trial at the Pettit National Ice Center, and the officials remembered my name. They were nasty to me, and used a selectively-enforced time standard to kick me out after the 500 meters - a rule that I found out later they did not apply to everyone, only to skaters they didn't like. The race official pointed his finger in my face and shouted, "You, OFF!"
It's kind of a long story, but basically I was blackballed for bringing a problem to the attention of the leadership of the NGB, and had to spend several years in exile from the sport.
With the current turmoil within USS, do you see any similarities between the problems now and those that were present when you were skating?
Lori, I see lots of similarities, and I believe it is because the same core group of people is still in charge. Upon information and belief, there is a group of 4 individuals who, over the last 20 or so years, have been recycling themselves through different positions in the leadership of USS, sometimes as volunteers or Board members, and sometimes in no official capacity whatsoever, but still influencing control of the federation through various decisions regarding coaches and athletes.
In my opinion, and from my experience, these 4 individuals, and those who support them, have as their main goals their own VIP status and treatment, along with suppression of dissent or anything that might make U.S. Speedskating look bad. Sure, they want Olympic medals, but I believe that their system of athlete development and support is neither fair nor competent.
There are almost exact parallels between what I went through with USS, and what the APTE skaters are going through right now. I'm talking about what happens when a problem comes up. First, the athlete or group of athletes reports a problem. USS's initial response is to pretend that there is no problem. Eventually, when forced to deal with the problem (because it has finally gotten completely out of hand), they place the blame on the athletes, and attempt to smear the reputation of the skater or skaters who brought the problem to the attention of the leadership.
Just as Bill Cushman called me an "over-emotional no-talent looking for someone to blame," Jack Mortell called Levi Kirkpatrick a "coward," which is exactly the opposite of what Levi was, when, at age 19, he alerted the USS leadership to the issue of coach-athlete abuse.
Just to clarify, Bill Cushman passed away last year and is not in that group of individuals I'm currently holding responsible for the state of USS, but his philosophy of running the sport fit in with that group, and helped to influence those who are currently in power.
There are many problems in U.S. Speedskating that, in my opinion, have resulted from the inappropriate control over our sport, by a handful of individuals with wrong motives. The one that bothers me the most is the subjectivity of their selection criteria for Olympic teams and residence training programs. Secondly, there has been a failure by the USS leadership to promote the sport (especially short track) to the general public. Thirdly, USS has failed grassroots development of the sport by forcing out volunteers who really cared and were doing a great job, and by making so many of their former elite competitors hate the sport so much (because their experience in it was so unfair) that they don't want to come back and contribute to the sport in any way. Fourth, USS has lost major sponsorship because they signed misleading sponsorship deals with companies that made promises they couldn't keep, because the USS leadership never consulted with the athletes before signing.
You mentioned selection criteria - what are your thoughts about U.S. Speedskating's team selection process for the Olympics and other events?
If I could share just one thing with American Olympics fans about speed skating, it is this: "Did you know that the process of making an Olympic team in speedskating is not called QUALIFICATION, but rather NOMINATION?" That's correct: In a sport where athletes race the clock, the Olympic Team decision comes down to a committee vote.
With the way U.S. Speedskating wrote their selection criteria for the 2006 Olympics, which was the last Olympics I tried out for, they intentionally worked as much subjectivity as possible into the criteria, which were about 100 pages long. What it boiled down to was this: "You will race a series of World Cups in the fall, and then the U.S. Nationals in December. Once these results come in, a committee of 5 men, all of them U.S. Speedskating insiders, and a majority of them paid to work directly with U.S. National Team athletes, will go into a room and vote on their interpretation of these results."
This is so much different than a sport like track and field or swimming, where there is an actual Olympic Trials competition, and the athletes know they have to show up on that day and perform, and for every "X" number of spots, the top "X" number of athletes on that day, make the team.
In my experience, the U.S. Speedskating team selection process is rife with conflicts of interest and has been abused to the benefit of U.S. Speedskating's favorite athletes. Also, the fact that the rules have been written in such a subjective manner has basically prevented skaters from winning arbitration in almost all cases. I have seen so many rulings where the arbitrator finds the athlete's case un-winnable because USS didn't do anything against their own rules, but then the arbitrator criticizes U.S. Speedskating on the unfairness of their own rules and says that USS should rewrite their rules to be more objective. This is where change MUST come in the sport. U.S. Speedskating needs to rewrite its rules so that this sport is fair and objective, as it should be. Until then, they should not pretend that the sport is fair and objective, when it really is not.
You were a Long Track skater on the National Team - how does your individual story parallel that of the short track APTE skaters?
Again, when I look at my own experience training with a USS National Team program, I see similarities between my experience and that of the APTE skaters who left the National Racing Project. Skaters who qualify for the National Team and are invited, tend to choose that option for a number of reasons. First, because their coaching and ice time are paid for, and second, because of the assumption that the National Team offers "the best" of everything: That is, the best coaching, best training partners, etc. Thirdly, there are all the additional benefits that come along, such as physiological testing, massage, nutrition, training camps, and sometimes additional equipment, that other qualified skaters who don't choose the National Team option have to forego. When I chose to train with USS's Allround program for long track, in 2003-04, these were factors that influenced my decision.
That season with the National Team ended up being the worst season of my 5-year comeback. Half the team fell "off the edge" of overtraining that year, and severely underperformed because of it. At the end of the season, our coach told us that he, and the "Performance Enhancement Team" of scientists and doctors looking over our training data, had seen it happening, but (in his own words at the Sports Science meeting at the end of the season) the coach said, "We were not interested in individual results, but in collecting data on a whole group of individuals." In other words, without our consent, he trashed half our team in the interest of collecting data, while knowing that we would fail.
From that experience, I can say that the National Team option is not always best. When you have coaching staff who don't care about the athletes and treat them as expendable, or abuse them to the point of injury, there's something seriously wrong, not only with the coaches, but with the leadership of the federation that allows this to go on.
Is there one thing you wish you knew going into your comeback to speedskating that would be useful to share with skaters today - something that would have made the difference between success and failure?
The one thing I wish I knew, when making a comeback to speedskating, is this: HAVE YOUR OWN RESOURCES. Skaters, you cannot count on U.S. Speedskating for anything, if you are serious about reaching your full potential.
When I made my comeback, I trained as hard as I could for 9 months, fueled by rage and a desire to prove something to a bunch of people who had written me off. However, I had no idea that once I broke into the level of international competition, I would, on the one hand, be getting basically NOTHING from U.S. Speedskating (a joke of a monthly stipend: $150 per month!), and on the other hand, would be expected to continue along the same trajectory of improvement, or be thrown away.
It takes time, consistency, and careful planning to develop a speedskater who is competitive internationally. Having gone from barely fit, to skating World Cups, in less than a year, I destroyed my body and was in no shape to perform. I had a chiropractor who was massaging my legs tell me that they were a solid mass of scar tissue. And, meanwhile, the clock was ticking.
After that first season, I started working in a biotech company across the Salt Lake Valley to support my skating. It was at that point that I really hit the wall, and my improvement hit a plateau. "You were just on the bubble for too long," one USS leader would later say to me. Oh, yeah? Well, who else tries to cure cancer while training for the Olympics? Of course I had to work a real job in my real career field while trying to train. The amount of funding a World Cup skater gets is nowhere near what the public thinks we get, so it was impossible for me to find sponsorship.
Anyway, what I think you'll see going into the 2014 Olympics, is that those skaters who had time to develop, and who had the resources to train and recover properly, are going to be the ones who will be doing well. These are the skaters who didn't necessarily count on U.S. Speedskating to have a coach and a training program that would work for them, but had the means to pay for a coach who was really knowledgeable and believed in that athlete. They are the skaters who could focus 100% on their sport and do not have to work while training.
As we move forward during this troublesome time in the speedskating world, what do you see as the biggest hurdles USS must overcome in order to gain back the trust of both the athletes it serves, and the fans it hopes to attract?
First of all, there are certain attitudes on the part of the leadership that have to go. Every once in a while, you'll hear about some comment made by an official, like, "Some people just aren't going to get disqualified," or failing to explain a questionable team selection decision by simply saying, "Go file a Grievance," or likening the athletes in the sport to "inmates in an insane asylum," or saying to the fans, "Apolo isn't competing, so why are you 'fans' still here?" That kind of attitude is so elitist and disrespectful to the athletes, the fans, and the sport itself. It should have no place in speed skating. I firmly believe that the few involved individuals who hold and act on these elitist attitudes should be removed permanently from the sport, because their involvement is purely selfish and they do nothing but cause problems. Specifically, because these individuals have historically maintained control over speedskating whether they hold a position in the NGB or not, I and several of my allies believe that it is not enough for them to be simply asked to “resign” from their position, but that each of them should get a lifetime ban from involvement in speedskating.
Another warning sign is when a USS administrator starts saying that the athletes are acting spoiled or entitled, and that "We had so much less when I was competing." USS should not compare itself to its own past, but rather should keep up with, and try to surpass, what the other speed skating countries are doing.
In order to promote the sport to potential participants and to the general public, USS first has to take a critical look at its image and its real place in the world of sports, and then work with its advantages. They have to be open to new ideas and new people coming in trying to help. For example, they should welcome people like John Carr, who is trying to make this movie, "Anthem," about short track speedskaters in an elite training center. Not only that, USS should go back and take a second look at all the ideas for development of the sport that people brought up over the past 20 years or so, but they rejected without consideration.
Most importantly, the leadership of USS needs to have open, two-way communication with the athletes, to let them know that their voices are being heard and being valued. The skaters need to know that they can bring up a problem without fear of retaliation. The skaters need to feel safe, and they need to feel that the federation cares about them.
As I said in the introduction, this interview actually came about after I asked you why your book is no longer available. What can you tell us about that - and do you anticipate it being sold again in the near future?
In mid-July, I received a letter in which I was threatened with a defamation lawsuit from one of the USS officials I wrote about. What I wrote about this person was primarily related to his bias against skaters other than me, but I felt it was important because it pointed out the extent of the abuses of power that USS tolerates within the ranks of its leadership.
I hope that I will be able to have Winter of Discontent available again soon, but in a way, no matter what ends up happening with the book, I feel that it has already served its purpose. I never intended to make money on this book. I just wanted it to help skaters and their families understand the culture of U.S. Speedskating; to know that they are not the first to experience it, and that they are not alone. I wanted to explain it to them, and to help them find the words to argue against this system.
Unfortunately, I can't give any estimate as to the date when Winter of Discontent will be available again, but wouldn't it be great if I could put it out right around the time when people start getting interested in next season's Winter Olympics?
Thank you, Eva for taking the time to talk to us. We advertise ourselves as a fan group, though we realize that our reach has extended deeply into the skating community. We accept that there are vast differences of opinion on various aspects of the current situation within USS. We want only the best for our skaters. They are our heroes, and the one constant is that we will always hold ‘feet to the fire’ on their behalf. When the current turmoil is nothing more than a distant memory, our hope is that the skaters as a whole will be better for it.
Please let us know when (or if) your book becomes available again - though my hope is that it will be merely a reminder of what USS ‘used to be like’…
"Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, champagne in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out & screaming “WOO HOO what a ride!”
And thank you Eva for sharing what had to be very painful and difficult experiences for you. I have Eva's book and for those of us who are long-time fans of speedskating, it is very revealing yet not surprising in view of what our own experiences have been.
My hope is that those "in control" see this present divide as an opportunity and not a time for recrimination. I use the term "control" loosely as this organization cannot be run without the understanding that it is a stewardship, to be carefully managed for the future generation of skaters - and with the absence of personal agendas. The present culture and reputation of USS rests with those most closely associated with it in the last 10yrs. What does the present day situation say about the people behind it? What legacy will you leave? This is an opportune time to rebuild and reconnect to the skating community.
I'd like to thank Lori, mtnme, gasp and everyone else who has contributed regularly to this board. I'm sure the new skaters coming up are excited to know that speedskatiing really does have fans! It's not just about Apolo.....I'm pretty certain a man made that comment. Jealousy? This is a great great sport and I hope that more people will give it a try.....but knowing the realities of skating at the elite level is absolutely necessary. How sad to see talented people spending years, and their own money, to excel when the NGB should be spotting this talent and developing it. Never having been accused of being "quiet" or "docile" it's hard to see how anyone could keep quiet! Thanks especially to Eva.....and remember, truth is a defense to a charge of defamation.