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Countdown to Val di Fiemme: Team Naming Speculation

The U.S. women after placing third in the Gällivare, Sweden, relay, the first World Cup relay podium in the history of the program – Kikkan Randall, Holly Brooks, Jessie Diggins, and Liz Stephen. Photo: NordicFocus/Felgenhauer/Fischer.

The U.S. women after placing third in the Gaellivare World Cup relay, the first relay podium in the history of the program – Kikkan Randall, Holly Brooks, Jessie Diggins, and Liz Stephen. Photo: NordicFocus/Felgenhauer/Fischer.

The 2013 World Championships begin on February 20th in Val di Fiemme, Italy, and if you think this has been an exciting season so far, think again. Against the dramatic backdrop of the Dolomites, the season will reach its high point in every way possible in a few short weeks. Stakes. Emotion. Nerves. Expectation. The title World Champion has a ring of absolute finality to it, and here in 2013 Americans seem to have a greater chance at taking one home than it’s had in recent memory.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, the U.S. Ski Team has yet to select the lineup of athletes it will send to Italy in the first place. Luckily the wait is almost over — on Monday, the window of time for VdF hopefuls to turn in worthy performances ended. USST head coach Chris Grover told FasterSkier he hopes to finish running the numbers on the National Ranking List in time to announce the team by the end of the week.

The suspense! Friday is three whole days from now and nobody wants to wait that long, so just for fun let’s take a look at the criteria and figure out who the shoe-ins, likelies and long-shots are.

Here are the selection criteria, paraphrased from USSA:

  1. Up to four (4) U.S. athletes may start in each event and up to eight (8) athletes per gender will be named to the team.
  2. Athletes who rank in the top 60 in the World Cup overall will be named to the team
  3. Athletes who rank in the top 50 in the World Cup sprint or distance standings will be named to the team.
  4. If items 2 and 3 result in a team larger than eight athletes, ties will be broken firstly by whomever has the most World Cup points in distance or sprint, secondly by lowest current FIS points.
  5. If additional athletes are selected to the team (‘additional’ being those who don’t have a full resume of World Cup starts), the USST will go down the National Ranking List from the last twelve months to do it. (The list is developed from competitors’ best four USSA-scored races, sprint or distance, from within the selection period.)
  6. Discretion is allowed.

Right. That all sounds very mathematical and complex, but at the very least we can figure out who has definitely made it based on the top 60/top 50 thresholds. The lists below show where every American athlete with World Cup points ranks on the relevant lists as of January 14. Asterisks (*) denote athletes who meet the criteria.

 

Overall:

Women

3. Kikkan Randall *

21. Liz Stephen *

33. Holly Brooks *

37. Jessie Diggins *

39. Ida Sargent *

70. Sophie Caldwell

78. Sadie Bjornsen

93. Becca Rorabaugh

Men

29. Andy Newell *

45. Noah Hoffman *

60. Kris Freeman *

124. Simi Hamilton

125. Skyler Davis

133. Tad Elliott

 

Sprint:

Women:

1. Kikkan Randall *

21. Ida Sargent *

36. Sophie Caldwell *

46. Jessie Diggins *

51. Holly Brooks

52. Sadie Bjornsen

62. Becca Rorabaugh

64. Liz Stephen

Men:

4. Andy Newell *

72. Simi Hamilton

73. Skyler Davis

 

Distance:

Women:

5. Kikkan Randall *

18. Liz Stephen *

24. Holly Brooks *

41. Jessie Diggins *

49. Ida Sargent *

67. Sadie Bjornsen

Men:

30. Noah Hoffman *

43. Kris Freeman *

73. Andy Newell

86. Tad Elliott

 

According to Grover, who has the final say in team naming, objective qualifiers will always take precedence over discretionary picks. Based purely on those first two objective criteria, then, the U.S. World Championships team should begin like this:

Women: Kikkan Randall, Liz Stephen, Holly Brooks, Jessie Diggins, Ida Sargent, Sophie Caldwell

Men: Andy Newell, Noah Hoffman, Kris Freeman

 

Pretty straightforward. The secondary factors that go into qualifying start to confuse the process. There are as many as two more spots on the women’s squad and five more on the men’s to bring the athlete count up to eight, but Grover has already said he won’t simply bring as many athletes as he can. The team will consist of six to eight athletes per gender, and athletes beyond the automatic qualifiers need to prove they can be competitive in order to go.

“Our goal is not simply to fill start spots,” Grover wrote in an email in December. “Yes, we get four start spots per race per sex, with the exception of the Team Sprint, where we get two starters per sex. Rather, our goal is to be successful. We have our sights set on a medal in VdF. This Championships will not be an experiential or development project for us, and the Team that is named will reflect that fact.”

Given the differences in depth of field between the men and women in the U.S. at the moment, that means different things between the two genders. On the women’s side you don’t necessarily have to look outside the U.S. Ski Team to fill the roster, if it will even exceed six people. As the top American performer last weekend in Liberec, Czech Republic, and the winner of a sprint and distance race at U.S. Nationals, Sadie Bjornsen is the most obvious first addition. Becca Rorabaugh is the only other American that exists on the World Cup ranking lists but was outperformed at Soldier Hollow by several women, including title-winners Rosie Brennan and Jennie Bender. This is presumably where tie-breakers, the National Ranking List and discretion will come into play, but again, we don’t know if the team will even consist of the maximum eight people.

The men’s team clearly needs more than three people on it. Simi Hamilton is a guaranteed addition; you need two people for a team sprint and he’s next on the sprint list after Newell. This brings the tally of obvious men’s choices to four. You also need four distance guys for the relay, and Elliott is the fourth man on the World Cup distance list.

Men’s results from U.S. Nationals upset a bunch of things, however. Torin Koos and Erik Bjornsen, among others, both beat Elliott in the 30 k. Koos also makes a strong sprint candidate, as would Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess, but U.S. Nationals is not the only race being used to fill those additional spots. The criteria say that the USST will use a year’s worth of domestic results to pick additional team members, but the discretionary clause also allows for giving more weight to recent improvement in results.

It should be mentioned that the lack of absolute clarity is kind of unavoidable. The U.S. has more athletes than ever who stand a good chance of doing well, and in line with its stated goals the national team wants to focus its resources on ensuring that someone like Kikkan Randall has the support she needs to podium before it considers maxing out the team quota. For the domestic skiers hoping to take one of those maybe-additional spots, however, it makes for an uncertain qualifying process. After he won the freestyle sprint at Soldier Hollow we asked Blackhorse-von Jess whether he knew what it took to get named to the team and this is what he said:

“When I was at the World Cup (in Quebec) I asked what do I need to do, because the objective criteria don’t apply to very many of us and after that it’s sort of up in the air. And it makes sense, but it’s hard to figure out how do I do it. The short answer is win. Win the qualifying, win the races was sort of what I was shooting for.”

In the end, winning is all anyone was shooting for. With the selection period now over, everyone just has to sit tight and wait for the nominations to come out.

 

 

About Audrey Mangan

Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.

Comments

  1. Why not name a full team? It seems incredibly short-sighted not to do so. Young racers need the exposure and experience; that’s how you breed the next generation! It’ll help them prepare for the Olympics next year. The US Ski Team has been too short-sighted for far too long. It doesn’t have to detract from support for Kikkan and the top skiers with the best medal chances. Hell, if I qualified or was taken on discretion, even if I had to pay my own way and wax my own skis, I’d be on it posthaste! Obviously the budget is limited, but NNF is stepping up. Grover, name a full team of both 8 men and 8 women; these people — Koos, Erik Bjornsen, Tad Elliott, Sadie Bjornsen, Sophie Caldwell — deserve to race.

  2. zimborst, I think you’ve misunderstood – the minimum to field a “full” team is 4 men and 4 women as this is the maximum that any country can field in each World Championship race. Why should they bring 8 men and 8 women if they know that only half of them are going to get starts?

  3. I second that. I think a full team supports our goal to make nordic news across the world by exposing as many athletes to top level racing, an important tool to drive the bar up! It is extremely important that the US coaches show support to our athletes trying so hard to show Europe what they are capable of. Give as many the opportunity as possible. Opportunity may surprise you. All listed above are great candidates for success. Name a full team!

  4. Jake, you misunderstood; a full team is 8 skiers of each gender, and that is the maximum allowed. 4 skiers are the max any country can start any one race, although host countries usually get more starts. Since there is significant specialization between sprinters and distance skiers (with some notable exceptions like Kikkan), it makes a lot of sense to take as many skiers as possible to field the best sprinters and the best distance racers for each race, with a full complement of 4 skiers each race. There’s always a risk of illness, e.g. Simi Hamilton who has had a tough winter missing several races due to sickness. So taking a full team of 16 skiers is good insurance as well as an opportunity for many of those skiers to get their first World Champs starts. It’s highly unlikely that even Kikkan will start every race; most skiers want to focus on particular events that they feel most confident in. If we only take 4 men and 4 women, we’ll probably have a hard time fielding a relay team much less filling each race’s starts. Go big, Grover!

  5. sportalaska says:

    The World Championships and Olympics are NOT the place to send people just to fill out a team. If there are skiers who need international experience but have not proven themselves at the World Cup level, then they would be much better off spending time at OPA Cup races, or an equivalent level in Europe or Scandinavia, getting experience and, one would hope, learning how to travel, how to deal with the aggravations (andn pleasures) of racing and traveling in foreign countries, and how to fight to the top of the result list.

    A skier who has not proven himself or herself at the World Cup level is unlikely to produce any kind of meaningful results at the World Championships or Olympics. They’d get a nice uniform, and it would be something nice for their resume, but it might not help them develop as a ski racer.

    Furthermore, every additional athlete on an Olympic or World Championship takes that much more of the limited resources (time, energy, wax) available. Unless you have been a coach at an Olympics or World Championships you have no conception of how hard those guys work. When they are working that hard and the staff is small (compared to many other “major” nations) it’s important to be able to make every effort count – and that means focusing on the skiers who have not just the opportunity, but the likelihood, of doing well.

    What that means is that when selecting a team you should take the skiers you know will perform; if there’s any space left after that, you take a small number of additional skiers who are highly likely to perform. Other than that, there is little to be gained by taking additional skiers.

    The US has several skiers who have the chance of performing at a very high level at the World Championships in Val di Fiemme: one or more medals are a real possibility, as are top 10 finishes. With those possibilities, I want our coaching staff and waxing team to be focusing all their efforts toward the skiers who are likely to be performing at that level – those are the skiers who should be in Val di Fiemme. I want to see great results, and having the “right” skiers there increases the likelihood of great results.

    I’m not saying who should or should not make the team. I don’t know who should be on it or who shouldn’t be on it. The US Team staff knows these skiers much better than you or I do, and they are in a much better position to select a team with a good chance to perform at a high level than are you or I.

    The World Championships aren’t about participation. They are about performance. Skiers who have proven they can perform should be there. Those who are still proving themselves are much better off going to events at a level appropriate to their stage of development. Filling a team to fill a team doesn’t accomplish any meaningful development objectives. Take the skiers who can perform, whether that’s five, eight, 12 (or even 16). But don’t take a full team just for the sake of taking a full team.

    John Estle

  6. Fantasy US World Championship Team: This is just for fun!
    Women: Kikkan Randall, Liz Stephen, Holly Brooks, Jessie Diggins, Ida Sargent, Sophie Caldwell, Jennie Bender, S. Bjornsen Men: Andy Newell, Noah Hoffman, Kris Freeman, Simi Hamilton, Erik Bjornsen, Torin Koos, Tad Elliot

    Races:
    2/21 – Women – Classic Sprint: Randall, Sargent, Bender, Bjornsen
    Men – Classic Sprint: Newell, Koos, Hamilton, Bjornsen

    2/23 – Women – 15K Skiathlon: Randall, Stephen, Diggins, Brooks
    Men – 30K Skiathlon: Freeman, Hoffman, Elliot, Koos

    2/24 – Women – Team Sp. Free: Randall/Sargent
    Men – Team Sp. Free: Newell/Hamilton

    2/26: Women – 10K Free Individual Start: Stephen, Diggins, Caldwell, Bjornsen *Let Randall Rest!

    2/27: Men – 15K Free Individual Start: Freeman, Hoffman, Bjornsen, Elliot

    2/28: Women – 4X5km Relay: Sargent, Diggins, Stephen, Randall

    3/1: Men – 4X10km Relay: Newell, Hoffman, Bjornsen, Freeman

    3/2: Women – 30km Classic Mass Start: Randall, Stephen, Sargent!, Bjornsen

    3/3: Men – 50km Classic Mass Start: Freeman, Hoffman, Elliot, Koos!

    Comments:
    1) Racing schedule is light for Caldwell and Bender, but it’s valuable having them there since Bender is a classic sprinting beast, Caldwell is rock solid reliable, and you never know who will be sick/injured/off form.
    2) I included Koos in everything that involves classic and mass starts. If he can hang in the pack who knows how many places he can pick off in the sprint. I’m tempted to throw him in the relay as well…that 4th guy is a 3-way toss up (Bjornsen, Elliot, Koos), or even the Team Sprint if Hamilton is off form.
    3) It’s really hard to pick which race to rest Randall, she’s just so darn good at everything!
    4) I hope Holly Brooks can rest up and come out firing on all cylinders! She could be thrown into many of those races and kick butt.
    5) Goodluck to whomever gets to race!!!!

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