With the end of the World Cup period 1, and US Nationals just days away, it is time to revisit Olympic quotas.
In November Nat Herz provided a good picture of the quota issue. At that time the US had only 7 spots (men and women combined) in cross-country. This low number was due to a new quota system instituted for the first time for the 2010 Olympics. Only two countries were impacted in a significantly negative way – Kazaakstan and the US.
Over a month has now passed and a new quota list has been released. The good news is that the US has picked up another spot, and now holds a total of eight. And it is not out of the question that with some strong skiing another spot could be gained.
And as Nat discussed, countries like Norway, who have the maximum quota of 20 spots, will likely not bring a full contingent, allowing the excess to be redistributed to other countries. So once January 18th roles around, and the final accounting is done, the US could end up with a solid 10-12 Olympians.
According to USSA Nordic Director, John Farra, this change in the situation has come through hard effort, and a willingness to help out.
“Everyone in a position to help out, has. Athletes and coaches alike have stepped up,” Farra told FasterSkier.
This effort has mainly come through increased sprint starts by top US distance skiers. And to understand why this is important, an explanation of the quota system is necessary.
Nat covered the basics in November, but the following contains the nitty gritty.
– A total of 310 and spots are available.
– All countries are awarded a minimum of one male and one female.
– Each NOC with at least one skier in the top 300 of the distance or sprint FIS points list receives an additional spot.
– An additional spot is awarded for each skier ranked in the top 30 of the overall World Cup standings, up to a maximum of two men and two women.
– The remaining spots will be allocated based on the following protocol.
1. All skiers in the world are ranked on the current FIS points list. A new list is calculated four times per year, and coincides with the end of each World Cup period.
2. The men’s and women’s lists are combined, with ranking determined by points.
3. The top 500 skiers in the World are then assigned points. 1st place gets 4000 points, and 500th gets 1 point.
4. This process is repeated done for both sprint and distance rankings, and points added to gether for each athletes. This creates the final ranking list.
5. Quota spaces are then allocated off this list until the maximum of 310 athletes is hit.
The quota list only determines total spots for the Olympics. It does not impact qualifying. So an athlete could be ranked 50th on the quota list, gaining a spot for his country, but not qualify for the Olympics based on his country’s criteria.
Sprinting the Culprit
The quota list gives equal weight to both sprinting and distance. This is one of the reasons the US ended up in such a tough position this fall. Many of the top US distance skiers rarely, if ever, entered sprint races. This includes domestic racers as well as World Cup athletes. So until this World Cup period, Kris Freeman, despite being ranked as one of the top 20 distance skiers on the World Cup, did not gain a quota spot for the US.
Kris never started World Cup sprints, and only raced the occasional domestic sprint. So he was ranked 551st in the World. Now you may remember that Kris won the US National Championship in the sprint last year. But that was one of his only FIS sprint starts. When FIS points lists are created, an athlete must have at least 5 points races, or they are penalized.
If you have only one result, your points are multiplied by 1.4. Two results – 1.3, three results – 1.2, four results – 1.1.
So Kris, with just the one sprint result, had lousy sprint points, and received no quota points in sprinting.
And he is only the most prominent example. According to Farra, there were a number of 0’s on the board last season – skiers in the top-30 in the US who had no FIS sprint results. That has changed dramatically, with people like Freeman, Noah Hoffman, Lars Flora, Morgan Arritola and many others, starting sprint races. This has greatly improved sprint points, and has helped to gain an additional Olympic spot for the US.
Kris started a number of sprints on the World Cup this fall, and had strong results, including a 32nd, moving him up the list, and he is now scoring a quota spot.
Sprint starts was the short term strategy for improving the US position points-wise, but long-term USSA is also approaching the issue in other ways.
The increased cooperation with Canada at the fall SuperTour and NorAms is one such effort. The SuperTour schedule is also setup to encourage athletes to travel to Europe for OPA Cup events, and USSA provides incentives, in the form of World Cup start positions, to encourage international athletes to race in SuperTour events.
Ultimately, the best thing is for skiers to race fast, and to do so against the best competition possible. And both sprinting and distance starts need to be on the schedule.
The good news is that the the situation is improving for 2010, and with continued focus, should be even better in 2014.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.