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For First Time in a Decade, Freeman Left Off U.S. Ski Team in 2014

Freeman leading Ulsund and Newell. Photo: Mark Nadell/MacBeth Graphics.

Kris Freeman en route to winning the 50 k classic at U.S. Distance Championships last week at Royal Gorge. This week the 32-year-old found out he was not renominated to the U.S. Ski Team for the first time since he was first named to the squad in 2002. Photo: Mark Nadell/MacBeth Graphics.

Kris Freeman, three-time Olympian in cross-country skiing and member of the U.S. Ski Team since 2002, was not renominated to the national squad for the 2013-2014 season. As Freeman recently wrote in his blog, USST coaches called him this week to say he would likely represent the U.S. at the 2014 Sochi Olympics in February, but “little probability” of his earning a medal meant he would no longer be a year-long member of the national team.

Reached by phone on Tuesday morning, Freeman said the news came “totally out of left field,” and that he, personal coach Zach Caldwell and his team at Maine Winter Sports Center were in the process of figuring out how to move forward as he makes plans for the upcoming Olympic year. Off the team for the first time in a decade, the 32-year-old didn’t immediately know his new status would affect his future World Cup starts next season.

“I will still most likely be competing on the World Cup,” Freeman said. “I don’t know the details. I can’t really say whether that’s going to happen. Basically, I don’t know where I’ll be racing next fall. Nobody’s told me anything.”

Freeman went on to say that he would continue to “work with USSA on what starts I do and don’t get” on the World Cup and would fill in the rest of his schedule with SuperTour races in the U.S.

The full list of 2013-2014 U.S. Ski Team nominees has not yet been made public, though several athletes have already confirmed their team status this week. Noah Hoffman wrote on his blog on Sunday that he was renominated to the B-Team, and Holly Brooks wrote in an email to FasterSkier that she was back on the team again, but declined to discuss her standing in further detail. Tad Elliott, reached at home in Colorado on Tuesday morning, said he would rather wait to discuss his situation until the USST made a formal announcement.

USST head coach Chris Grover said that team nominations would be released some time next week, as the list of athletes has yet to be approved by USSA Vice President of Athletics Luke Bodensteiner and CEO Bill Marolt. Grover declined to comment on Freeman specifically.

“I want to be respectful of the people not renominated to the team and give them time to figure out what their next move is, and process it a little bit and be able to talk to the media on their own terms,” Grover said.

In general terms, Grover indicated that financial constraints were a factor in this year’s team nominations. The cross-country team’s increasing competitiveness on the World Cup has not been matched at the same rate by growth in its operating budget. As U.S. Ski Team’s directive is to produce medals, Grover said they had to focus on supporting athletes they consider to be potential medal-earners in 2014 and 2018.

“Our strength has increased and the funding that is available to all USSA teams isn’t growing exponentially, it’s growing incrementally,” Grover said. “As a cross-country program we’re growing fast, so we have limited resources just like every team. And we’re tasked with using those resources to fully support athletes that are on their way to medals.”

Grover wouldn’t specify how big the team will be next year, but said “the team you’ll see coming is lean, for sure.”

“We can only provide support for very select few,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t many athletes that are on the path to excellence, but the range of our direct financial support is pretty small. That’s why we rely on our critical club partners to do the excellent work in the development area.”

Maine Winter Sports Center, Freeman’s domestic club for the past year, will continue to support him for the upcoming season.

“Maine Winter Sports Center has been very supportive and very generous, and since getting the news have insisted that we’ll make this work,” Freeman said. “There’s going to be some headaches and unwanted stress to figure out how we’re going to do this.”

Freeman’s exclusion from national team will have immediate impact on his own finances. A Type-1 diabetic, he told FasterSkier that one of his first tasks is to find a new health insurance provider.

“My health coverage was dependent on [USST] support, so I get thrown into the real world and have to figure out my health coverage now,” Freeman said.

Moving forward, he plans to begin training with MWSC again in May with a new plan he and Caldwell have come up with, which inclues a shorter list of races than he started this past season.

“We’ve already been brainstorming why World Championships went as poorly as it did, and we came up with some satisfactory answers and we’ll make some changes,” Freeman said. “I feel good about what we identified as problems with my training. We think I raced on the World Cup too much. Trying to chase points in the Tour de Ski, it was a huge mistake for me given the consequences of changes countries and venues every day. Basically we’ll be racing an abbreviated schedule trying to target races more.”

Freeman represented the U.S. at World Championships in 2001 and was originally named to the USST in 2002. Twice in his career he has came within striking distance of a podium at World Championships, placing fourth in the 15 k classic in 2003 and 2009. After an up-and-down 2012-2013 campaign, in which he was 10th in the Canmore skiathlon but only cracked the top-30 on two other occasions, he won his sixteenth career national title in the 50 k last week at Royal Gorge.

“I fully intend to race at the Olympics,” Freeman said. “I’m still the same guy, I’ve still done the same things I’ve done in the sport, just for whatever reason the U.S. Ski Team no longer believes in me.”

This article was updated on April 16, 2013, at 2:30 p.m. EDT to include comments from Chris Grover.

 

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated that Freeman’s most recent 50 k win was the fifth national title of his career. It was actually his sixteenth national title, and his fifth in the 50 k distance. We apologize for the mistake.

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. Martin Hall says:

    This is the “RED TEAM” if you earn this designation with the FIS you’ll be on the USST—more then half of your yearly expenses are then covered by the race organizers on the WC circuit—just pointing out the fact as to how little money the USST XC team has for its program. The only skier to slide under these criteria will be Jessie Diggin’s because of her and Kikkan’s team sprint gold medal at the World’s this past winter or as I think about it, is a top 10 finish enough to get you on the team.
    I’d be surprised if this program has more money than the programs I ran for the USST in the 70s and if they do–it’s not by a lot. It might not be fair to say that, as economics are not the same today as they were then. Both programs were and are poor.
    It amazes me how these guys do so much with so little.( maybe they should offer their services to the US Gov’t)

  2. JimGalanes says:

    For years the US Ski Team has not funded XC because it had no medal potential. Now, there is clear medal potential and the XC program is not being funded on an equitable basis. It is open to debate whether Freeman has medal potential, but I believe the USST needs to look at the sport in total, the medals available and the potential of the team to garner medals! ( Not just individuals)Looking only at individuals like Freeman, rather than as a team, I believe is risky for the long term sustainability of high performance.

    I believe there is a big value in having a team with veterans who are treated well and with respect as their careers wind down. Their experience, mentorship, and leadership are important to the sport and the upcoming athletes on the team. I am not suggesting funding athletes who are not competitive, but those that are on relative par with other members of the team have a place in the team. I know the mentorship from people like Gray, Gallagher, Elliot, Rockwell and others in the 70′s provided great leadership and mentorship for the success in the 80′s

    In some ways the stingy funding from the USST has been, at least partially, the cause for strong and well coached programs to rise through out the country,. The community has stepped up though NNF and other organizations to fund the sport and development. Collectively, these programs pour substantial resources into the athletes and the sport. While the USST staff has done a great job, the success we see today would not have occurred with out the tremendous grass roots programs and support. My point, it is time for the US Ski Team to come to the table and support XC skiing fairly with other sports.

  3. tclaynm@juno.com says:

    Hmm, that is strange considering the timing. While I understand the shift of focus to the up-and-coming strong young talent pool (which is considerable, I’ll admit) for future development, etc., it is still clear that Freeman is still tops for the distance side. No one is a serious medal contender yet, and it is arguable that he (and Hoffman) is still the best chance we have. Things will likely change in the next year or two, but with the Olympics next year, it seems like they should have waited just one year, or at least kept him on “B Team” status (I’m don’t know how that works).

    From my expert arm-chair POV, I think it’s a mistake to take him off for this coming season. I think there is a sort of chemistry that has been built and the USA men’s distance team was on a tipping point. Now the others won’t have his presence for USST training, with all of the competitiveness that he brings and all of that.

    I also wonder about Torin Koos’s status. He kinda brought an ‘A’ game when he went to Europe and showed he is still a force to be reckoned with. I think they should have put both those guys on the team and kept the young ones fighting for the other spots, at least for one more year. Very strange direction to take at this point in time. This sort of move would have made more sense after next season…

  4. I think it is CEO Bill Marolt that should be the one that is dropped from the USSA. As CEO he should be securing the funding, especially corporate funding, required to support the needs of the nordic team instead of just collecting his six figure salary!

  5. corysalmela says:

    It’s difficult to second guess these decisions. The staff wants this team to win as much as anyone and you need many options to win during those two weeks in February. It’s tough to win medals with one or two medal contenders; you need several. I can’t imagine this decision was taken lightly. From the outside it seems Freeman, managed correctly still has a podium in him. The management part of it could be the issue. Maybe this move will be the motivation for Kris and his support team to get it right this year.

    On the budget and equity issue I have no idea how the USST comes up with how they divide the pie. The USST is performing well across all disciplines, however these results probably aren’t driving up revenues for the organization. I work with advertising organizations in NYC and the direct-to-consumer budgets across brands is shrinking and shifting to digital marketing solutions. Without Government funding the USST lives in this advertising/marketing universe and can only grow their budgets through accessing corporate marketing dollars. New and innovative solutions need to be employed to maintain and grow budgets and attract these dollars. It is great to see the NNF going strong through the support of the skiing community. Getting the attention of the corporate marketers and the Olympic watching populace is a good first step, and there is a good chance Diggins, Randall and the women’s team will have one of several spotlights of the US press going into Sochi. Medal winning performances are an excellent second step, and the USST marketing folks knowing how to plug into corporate marketing initiatives will be the key to increasing the XC team’s budget.

  6. tclaynm@juno.com says:

    I see the point made about the issue of procuring the funds from corporate sources. Obviously, the sport is not “main-stream” enough to really garner the bling dollars that the Alpine side, for example, can garner. That is a challenge, and certainly one that should be a focus of the USSA administration because the Nordic side of the USST is coming on strong, despite the second-rate (or less, even) status it’s been in all these years. It is sad to see so many good athletes and programs that have been developed not really have a solid goal at the top. I hate to be an arm-chair criticizer when I don’t know all of the issues, but it seems to be a bit of a failure on the part of the USSA that the USST Nordic program can’t sustain a viable pool of world cup level athletes.

    Perhaps calling it a failure is too harsh. Obviously there have been some positive things that have been achieved and they should be applauded. Let’s call it a very weak point and a BIG opportunity for improvement. It is becoming obvious that the Nordic side should be more of a focus in terms of support. They (USSA) also need to work harder on procuring more air time on US network media. I think if people actually saw our athletes in action, even if it was one of those cheesy American-style programs, which might even work better, there would definitely be more support. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the skiers on the USST all have an image that would help sell the support.

    Interesting issue. Apologies for the rambling rant…

  7. Tim Kelley says:

    After getting cut by the USST, it seems that perhaps the motivational power of redemption brought back Koos’ A-game. Hopefully the same will prove true for Freeman. Change is usually a good thing. And it’s often something you look back at later in life and are glad that it happened.

  8. tclaynm@juno.com says:

    Koos’s results were impressive and it seems he did find the strength to bring himself back into the fold without the help of the USST. That was just an amazing thing. Like you said, Tim, hopefully the same will prove true for Freeman. I think if things line up just right, he is capable of an amazing result in something like the 15km classic. I’d also love to see him in the lineup of a breakout USA performance in the relay. I think a lot of USA Nordic fans are REALLY rooting for him to finally have that performance that he deserves and is capable of despite his physical challenges with diabetes. Go Kris!

  9. I think this is a disgrace. The only acceptable reason for this would be if the budget was so drastically cut for next year that they could only field 5 athletes total and wanted to have a 4 woman squad for relays and Andy Newell for Sprinting. However, I’m sure this is not the case. I understand the team focusing their limited funds on the development of up and coming athletes, but at the cost of removing the best skier in the nation, is ridiculous. Who exactly has a better chance at a medal in a distance event for the men than Kris Freeman? Apparently being the best skier in the US is no longer good enough for the US Ski Team. The team has clearly decided to sacrifice Kris since he is in the latter part of his career in hopes that by focusing on the younger skiers it might pay off some day. This is just wrong for so many reasons.

  10. 5 skiers have earned A-Team status by being in the year-end FIS Red Group (Andy, Kikkan, Liz, Ida, Holly). Jessie will likely get discretionary A-Team status. It may be that they are limited to 6 total A-Team slots as was the case this year (3+3).

  11. FlintHillsXC says:

    I wonder if Liz and Ida aren’t the key here … with their surge into the top-30, the USST may have less money to spread around than is expected. But really this decision is atrocious for all the reasons discussed above. Freeman is not done. And with Hoffman improving dramatically, and Newell continuing to improve at distance, the U.S. has a legitimate — albeit not a high — chance at a relay medal next year. Anyone watching them lead the WC relay into the third leg knows as much. So the USST is basically telling Freeman: “Hey, sorry to leave you without health insurance after being at least 50% of our team for the better part of a decade, but thanks for the memories and we’ll see you in Sotchi when you’ll be on the Olympic Committee’s dime.” Seriously outrageous. Raise some money already. Pick up the phone and call Lindsey Vonn and get Tiger Woods to fund the whole program for 5 years at the Swedish level with what he earns in a week. I vote for a protest at USST headquarters.

  12. mountainmums says:

    I’m not from the US nor even from North America, but there’s one thing I don’t get. As I understand it, there are several levels of funding within the USST, with only A team members being funded in any important way. Why couldn’t Freeman be named to a lesser funded B or C team? Might not change much on the direct funding front but could certainly help with the health insurance and sponsor search part… Am I missing something ??

  13. Like the poster above, I am not American, but if Freeman has no income because he’s not getting USSA funding for the following year, wouldn’t all his health care coverage be covered by the state (US). I think Freeman is even faster than he was when he was fourth at world championships and he certainty has his ups and downs, but no health insurance whatsoever for a guy who dedicates himself to represent the largest economy in the world seems a bit weird. If I were Freeman, I would start public speaking about my experiences with health and become a national speaker on health care, a well known public image goes a long way. Aren’t cross country skiers generally more wealthy than average people in this world, maybe all the American cross country skiers should start a fund supporting skiers like Freeman, also, not sure if they already have a pension fund for athletes, but if not, USSA should get on it, when you ski to 30, 35 and have nothing else in life, to already have 15 years paid into a pension fund can go a long way. Anyways, when your a fit, good-looking, charming, inspiring, athletic guy like Freeman, University can be quite pleasing for a guy in his thirties. And maybe, go to a skiing country that offers free education, and health care?

  14. campirecord says:

    If billy boy get off the moonshine and start working it for other than his xdrive, maybe the kik can also have her free vulkswagon with her globe. Billy boy to busy having parties in iz tugz manzion and burning up hiz 800k salary bonus fur creating wealth from kut backs. Billy boy is the Bainz Capital of skiin, he show you how to jack up iz bonus, not the medalz.

  15. Everyone claiming that the USST needs to magically go out and find more sponsorship dollars needs a reality check.
    Nordic suffers from a trifecta of issues that make it difficult to procure sponsorship dollars on the domestic level. Bear with me.
    1. It is not spectator friendly, so there are no revenues to be made on selling tickets to races.
    2. There’s no value proposition in the eyes of the sponsors. What’s in it for them?
    3. The amount of FIS-Homolagted venues is around 4 last I checked (arm-chair quarterbacks i’m looking at you for this stat) making it difficult to host world class events and bring international talent to home soil.

    So first, there’s no money to be made on the sponsor dollar side, or by selling advertising revenue at the venues because the sport is simply too small. All other things being equal a firm will allocate its marketing and advertising budget to the most cost-effective avenue possible. Given that the available alternatives are far more effective (i.e Adwords etc…) and cheaper, why would any business not related to the industry devote precious dollars to our sport when they could get a better return. Free-market capitalism at its finest folks.
    2nd, Look at it from the eyes of the sponsors. Our sport requires a massive amount of money to support it, and if a sponsor is going to drop money on it, what are we giving them back in return? Typically advertising costs are negated by increased sales. We need to begin to look at how we can provide a benefit and value for every dollar of sponsorship and then we will be an attractive advertising platform. Look at Nike and their sponsored athletes, Jordan is still a cash cow even in retirement, talk about value-add.
    Lastly, we have 3 or 4 venues in the entire country who might, and I’m not even sure if this is true, be able to host a world cup. If we can’t get the best skiers in the world on home soil to create an exciting event and increase exposure, how do you expect potential sponsors to view us? I hope everyone read the excellent article about the Quebec WC organizers dilemma with fundraising.

    So how does this relate? The USST has to split pennies to operate their staff, fixed costs and finally athletes. It might not be fair but the organization has to allocate its funds to the avenues that are most productive. Sure Freebird might be the top US distance skier but when you’re working with precious few dollars as it is, faced with the choice between say Liz and Ida in the top 30 overall and doing a great job of getting our sport noticed, it’s an unfortunate sacrifice.

    Instead of getting pissed and criticizing the USST, figure out a way to add value to the sponsors bottom line and create a mutually beneficial relationship. This is the heart of being entrepreneurial, we know the problem, so lets find a creative solution for it. Find a way to return $1.10 for every $1.00 spent and you will have more sponsor dollars than you know what to do with.

  16. Cuttsy, is it not Bill Marolt’s job to do exactly what you are suggesting. Also, in an Olympic year there is more corporate sponsorship dollars available due to all the publicity that the games receive.

  17. teamepokeedsbyn says:

    All other nodic teams of any signicants field and fund their own teams, and do not rely on lift serve sports for funding, as they are, other than sharing industry equipment companies, totally disimilar sports. It would be as if soccer and basketball were under the same “team” because they share the same corporate ball and shoe makers. There is no logical reason why cross country skiing in the u.s. Does not have it’s own national association or NGB.

    Unless some of these athletes are willing to publicly disclose in interviews that they are unhappy with the team management, stpo throwing out pleasantries, and willing to make a stand, and even resign a team position and go independent, to have Nordic sports support their own sport and world cup team instead of relying on alpine sports for funding and management, they really have no standing to complain about not receiving an Audi or about being cut due to budgetary reasons.

    I believe kris freeman received a cover photo in the major publication outside magazine last Olympic year, so he has brought about as much exposure to the sport as any other skiers who raced to a podium a world cup this past season. I suggest mr Freeman join forces with some of the other athletes who were cut/left off, perhaps join one of the exuding programs such as the seemingly well funded craftsbury team, draw on wealthy friends and family, and continue to race.

  18. tclaynm@juno.com says:

    I understand the issue with market-ability of Nordic skiing being a challenge for procuring funds. Therein lies the challenge to the USSA/USST administration. That *IS* something they should be working on, and something that I’m saying is a big opportunity for improvement on their part. They are not doing a good job at bringing the sport to the American people. The USSA is a corporate entity. If there were such a failure in a real corporation, someone would be called to the carpet to answer for the short-comings.

    I’m sure that bringing some good coverage and some background shows (ala NBC Olympics style) would do wonders for support for the sport. It may start out on network channel like ESPN-8 (the Ocho!), but it would grow a market. I don’t know how much bringing a world cup race to USA soil would help at this point; maybe in the future.

    For example, when I was a kid, cycling was still a very alternative non-mainstream sport in the USA, but it only took watching the 1985 Paris-Roubaix and Tour de France on CBS Sports to make me want to do it. Here I am now, 42 yrs old, still a cyclist (former 2x national champion and Pan Am Games gold medalist), coaching kids and everyone in between 4 yrs old and 84 yrs old and seeing lots of new faces getting into it all the time. That was unheard of when I was a kid.

    I believe there is market-ability for Nordic skiing. I think those NBC-style programs for the Olympics are great and have had a ripple-effect on the skiing youth of this country. We’re on the brink of something great, but the USSA/USST needs to do something to build on the momentum. It seems like they’re dropping the ball.

    Bottom line on all of this is that Freeman should not have been removed from the USST. I’ll just come out and say it: it is a disgrace. He brings so more than just a medal hope to the team. One more year would have made more sense. But, as was mentioned before, this may be the kick in the pants he needs to think outside the box and find that extra something. At least that’s what we all hope. The reality is probably something different for him…

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