Last week the US Ski Team announced announced nominations to the 2009-2010 US Cross-Country Ski Team. Assuming all candidates accept nominations, the Team will decrease in size from 18 athletes to 11. No new skiers have been added, though several have been promoted from the B Team to the A Team. The decrease in team size was not financially motivated.
Athletes can qualify through objective criteria or be added as discretionary choices. The objective criteria are as follows:
– Attain top-50 ranking in the 2009 final World Cup overall or FIS distance points list
– Attain top-30 ranking in the 2009 final World Cup sprint ranking list, FIS sprint points list, or 2009 final World Cup distance ranking
Four skiers qualified under the objective criteria – Andy Newell, Kikkan Randall, Kris Freeman, and Torin Koos. Newell was ranked 4th on the FIS Sprint list and 15th in the World Cup Sprint rankings. Koos was 24th in the World Cup Sprint rankings and Freeman was 45th on the FIS Distance list and 50th in the World Cup Distance rankings. Randall finished the season at 25th on the FIS Sprint list and 26th in the overall World Cup Sprint standings.
Liz Stephen and Morgan Arritola have both been promoted to the Women’s A-Team, joining Randall. This is the first time in many years that there have been multiple women on the A-Team.
Nine of the eleven nominees scored World Cup points last season
Athletes who have been dropped from the US Cross-Country Ski Team:
Gelso, Brennan and Turzian are all collegiate skiers. Head Coach Pete Vordenberg writes on TeamToday, “By a process of examining who on our team was making the most progress and who wasn’t, we began adjusting the team and program structure to match the pathway most of our athletes are taking.” The USST is now encouraging serious skiers to train full-time for two years following high school, and then decide whether or not to go to college.
Vordenberg told FasterSkier that the lack of collegiate skiers on the team was not an intentional step. “The change in philosophy came second to the evaluation of the team and the athletes.” The athletes dropped form the team were not making sufficient progress and/or not participating in required activities.
Said Vordenberg, “College did not enter the conversation until we looked at how the athletes were doing and what pathway they were on.
“It is very important that one understands we are talking about the USST program – not qualification to JWC or U23 or the Olympics. The US Ski Team is a team and has to set and follow a pathway and develop a program that we believe will lead to success. It doesn’t make sense for the team to do something it doesn’t believe will work. That doesn’t mean we are telling people not to go to college. Our athletes in residency can and do take college courses in the summer. The main point to what was published on Team Today is that those skiers who want to win internationally take time after high school to train for at least a year and even better for two years.”
The official selection contains provisions for the removal of athletes from the team. “Athletes remaining on the Team for three years without measurable and appropriate performance improvement will not be chosen to the Team without specific approval of the USSA Nordic Director.” Zimmerman, Dehlin and Cook have all been on the Team for three years, and while all three have some success during that time, none of them have taken a significant step up from the results that got them named to the Team initially. Valaas has had only two years on the team, but like the previous three, has not shown forward progress internationally.
Vordenberg points out that many athletes have been given three or more years after initially showing promise of international success and that such a time frame may in fact be too generous. “I have come to believe that in most cases three or more years is too long to be off track – something is going on that isn’t working. The thing is that removal from the team is not the end of a career, or it doesn’t have to be, or it won’t be if the athlete is truly motivated.”
Provisions are made for injury and all athletes are evaluated on an individual basis. But ultimately it is about winning. Concludes Vordenberg, “Athletes need to show that they are on track to win internationally. That is the bottom line.”
Lindsay Williams remains on the Team despite two injury marred years, and will have the opportunity to realize the potential she has demonstrated in the past.
The TeamToday post also notes that the USST coaches reserve the right to add additional “rookie” members to the Team in the fall. This is part of the overall development plan and is a potential stepping stone to a Junior National Team. Focus will be on talent identification, not merely results.
Vordenberg again: “We need to expand our notion of how to recruit athletes and how to decide who, and even how, we develop youth and junior athletes.”
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.