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.