When Bill Marolt inherited the U.S. alpine ski team last month he took over more than a fair share of headaches.
It was bad enough that he took control just when the squad was preparing to gear up for the biggest event in international skiing - the Olympics.
"Sure, basically you have to work with this team in an Olympic time frame," he said. "When one Olympics is over, your new people start pointing to the next one."
Marolt had to accept the pressure of skiing's biggest event in his first year at the controls.
That's rough. But it's doubly bad when the top male skier in the nation is hobbling around on crutches, the second best is just getting over knee surgery and one of the top females has casts on both legs after twin knee operations.
Marolt agrees it's precipitous to take over in an Olympic year. But Hank Tauber, the alpine ski director for the last five years, had said he wanted out May 1, 1979, and he stuck to his plan.
Enter Marolt, who coached University of Colorado skiers for 10 years, leading them to seven national titles, before becoming U.S. director of development in 1978.
One of Marolt's first orders of business is to rehabilitate Phil Mahre. Mahre is the top U.S. male skier. He had excellent prospects for winning international skiing's prestigious World Cup last season.
With only three weeks left on the tour, he crashed in a race on White-face Mountain, scene of next year's winter Olympics.
He didn't get up.
Mahre broke a weight-bearing bone in his ankle. That was in February. Only now is he beginning to walk on it again.
Mahre is America's best competitor in two of the three Olympic events - slalom and giant slalom. But his training this year will be delayed to the extreme.
U.S. aspirants began working out last week on snow in Bend, Ore. Mahre is not likely to join them until August, and, even then, his work will be limited.
Still, Marolt is not overly dismayed. "It's always a blow when your top athlete is injured, but he's at a point now where he's back on his feet. He's already got full range of motion and that's pretty amazing. This type of injury is less worrisome than knee surgery. With that you never know how it wil turn out."
That is the No. 2 man's problem. Phil's twin brother Steve, the nation's second-rank slalom skier, was operated on for removal of knee cartilage after the season. Marolt expects to see Steve on the snow later this month.
Then Marolt has to worry about the women. Abbi Fisher, whom Marold calls "one of our top gals," had double knee surgery over the winter and still is hobbling around in casts. In fact, she started running quarter miles on crutches recently.
Fisher, who won a World Cup event in Italy last season, "is bound and determined to get in shape," Marolt said.
Still, here injury presents " a much bigger question than either of the Mahres," Marolt said. "Will she be stable? We just don't know. We hope to get her working out on a mechanical deck by August," but her preparation time will be cut by at least three months.
The United States will send its top four competitors in each event to the Olympics in February. Men and women race the same events, though the courses differ. The downhills is the traditional highlight for its stunning fast pace.
Downhill is a straight top-to-bottom plunge and racers refer to the line they have to follow as "the ragged edge." The closer to that edge the better the time.
The giant slalom and slalom are more technical events. The giant slalom in recent years has been the indisputable province of Sweden's incredible Ingemar Stenmark, who looms as about as close to a gold medal favorite, barring injury, as there is. Marolt regards U.S. chances as respectable for a silver or bronze, if the Mahres return to form or if Kerry Adgate or Pete Paterson excel.
Marolt says GS is the American men's second-strongest event. He likes U.S. chances in the slalom even better, with the Mahres, Patterson and Billy Doris likely to compete.
Stenmark is hard to beat in slalom, too, but his dominance isn't as overwhelming as in GS.
Downhill is not one of the U.S. men's long suits at this point. Most of the hopes lie with some aging (for skiing) competitors - Carl Anderson and Andy Mill, both 26, are likely competitors, along with youngsters Doug Powell, who also had knee surgery last season, and 18-year-old Mike Farny.
Cindy Nelson is the strong hope among the women. Nelson took a bronze in women's downhill in 1976 at Innsbruck and continues to rank as one of the world's top female alpine skiers. She is strong and healthy.
The other U.S. women's hopeful in downhill is Holly Flanders, who took two 10th-place finishes on the world circuit last year.
There are hopes for women's giant slalom. The U.S. women finished 1-3-8 in GS at a World Cup event in Italy last year, but the winner was Fisher, who is busy running around on crutches. Tamara McKinney was third that day and ranks as another contender along with Heidi Preuss, Kristin Cooper and Nelson.
The same names apply for U.S. women slalom hopefuls. "Across the board," said Marolt, "we have women who are capable of scoring well."
One factor that has to be regarded as a plus for the troubled alpine team is the location of the games. White-face Mountain was widely hailed by American skiers during the World Cup competition last February.