Muonio, Finland–Far above the arctic circle in Lapland this past Saturday, Ben Koons, of Sidney, became the first Mainer to achieve an Olympic qualifying standard in Nordic Skiing for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Koons, who holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and New Zealand, raced to a 103rd place in the men’s 15km classic at the Olos resort. Initial calculations indicate that it was good enough for a 99.54 point FIS race, and good enough to drop his international point profile below 100 points–the qualifying standard set by the New Zealand Ski Federation.
Koons, who skis for the Maine Winter Sports Center, traveled to northern Finland with the MWSC XC squad in hopes of earning his first Olympic start. An upper respiratory infection nearly stopped him in his tracks.
“We traveled well, and everyone seemed perfectly healthy,” said MWSC Coach, Will Sweetser. “Then Ben came down with something just two days out from the race. We crossed our fingers and hit it with everything we had.”
It may have been just enough. Koons sat out the classical sprint race on November 13, in order to gain another day of rest. While he was still clearly sick at the start line of the 15km classical race on November 14, he had just enough in the tank to push through with the result he needed.
“That wasn’t the finish I was hoping for, but it got me what I needed,” Koons said. “I’ll take it.”
Indeed, despite being forced back to bed on Sunday, the one race Koons managed will likely take him all the way to Vancouver. The next steps in Koons’ Olympic journey depend on FIS ratification of the weekend’s racing and on the New Zealand Olympic Team naming process. Currently, Koons is the only New Zealand male skier who has achieved the sub 100 FIS point standard. The team will be named on January 19.