US Gains Olympic Quota

Topher SabotDecember 31, 20099
Marit Bjoergen is helping Norway to the maximum 20 quota spots (Photo: Nordic Focus)
Marit Bjoergen is helping Norway to the maximum 20 quota spots (Photo: Nordic Focus)

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.

The System

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

Andy Newell has been getting it done in both sprinting and distacne this year (Photo: Nordic Focus)
Andy Newell has been getting it done in both sprinting and distacne this year (Photo: Nordic Focus)

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.

Petra Majdic gaining some sprint points (Photo: Nordic Focus)
Petra Majdic gaining some sprint points (Photo: Nordic Focus)

Topher Sabot

Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.

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  • Cloxxki

    December 31, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    Hey, and why not? Single Norwegians are now winning both Sprint and Distance WC’s. Northug, even on the same weekend. If it doesn’t slow him down, it’s getting him prize money, allowing him to be more serious about his skiing. OK, the kid probably is the best-paid Norwegian athlete today, but you get the idea.
    Perhaps when the world caught up with the new hip thing to do, specialization, the Norwegians found a way to dominate both. Specialization seems to work out well if you’re not dominating yet.
    I think it’s cool when specialists also cross-over. Like Newell biting it best he can over 30km, and Freeman now taking his responsibility to gain a spot for his country.
    You are lucky though, to some extent. Other NOC’s allow only athletes to go to Vancouver if they are sure contenders for medals. Meeting the qualifications set, can easily exceed that of the 15th Norwegian joining the big show.
    My country had a snow boarder. Film athlete more than FIS type. Did a couple pipe WCs to get on the list. Ended up offering to pay for the $$$$$ tickets etcetera to be able to give the Olympics a go. You work out, there’s a cool race, you want to be there. NOC was not too enthusiastic, but she got 4th or 5th at the Games.
    Sometimes is better to be Kenyan or Nigerian if you want to join a ski race.
    Over here in Holland, we try to suck all energy out of aspiring Olympian speed skaters (10 per sexe allowed, 5 distances and the team pursuit) by holding additional qualification races. Being top-5 in the world, or defending Olympic Champ isn’t enough to get you a ticket to Vancouver, you just need to win every race there is to win, and then some. Some are trying to compete by getting a Kazakh passport. OK, for XC skiers, this would not work out.

    Seems NOC’s are making a serious buck over these athletes. Where did the Olymic spirit go? And why is the 20th best Norwegian not allowed? I suppose miss or mr. #20 even has a good shot at taking on US skier #1. No offence to US reader, Norwegians are just odd that way.
    Money. Yet soccer is barely Olympic anymore. Money.
    I bet the Norwegian skiers have similar problems.

  • FasterSkier

    December 31, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    I have not heard of any NOC’s complaining about the system. It hasn’t been an issue at all anywhere but here. And that is only because of the huge drop from 2006.

    And the 20th Norwegian IS allowed. Norway has 20 spots if they want to use them. They probably won’t because each nation still only gets 4 start spots per race.

  • Cloxxki

    December 31, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    Thanks, that clears it up. Some skiers can do multiple races, of course. Tough one, if you’re #16 and #1 is doing all the technique and distances as well as team races.
    4 Norwegian men per race, huh. That’s what what the top-10 of many a WC looks like anyway 🙂

    The good thing about the quota I suppose is that good performances can help shape it. 4 good skiers per sexe, and you can scoop up plenty of medals. One each would be a luxury for most nations.
    I’m so looking forward to the OG. Gonna clean up my computer to make room for the torrent downloads.

  • nexer

    December 31, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    So the US can bring maybe 4 guys and 4 women. There are four starting spots per event. It’s not likely that all four men and four women will start in every event, which leaves the US underrepresented in some events. What does it matter then how many athletes each country brings? The quota is already set anyway with a maximum of four athletes per event.

    The Olympics is about participation, not limiting participation. As such, this makes the Olympics no different than a World Cup event, with limited US athletes participating. What’s the point in having the Olys then? The USOC should have firmly disagreed and written a formal dissent.

  • FasterSkier

    January 1, 2010 at 8:07 am

    The top teams have historically chosen not to bring their full quotas. Norway does not bring 20 athletes. So in that sense, there is nothing to complain about. Because of the 4 starters per race limit, many athletes would not even get to start. Those athletes would rather be racing and training somewhere else if they aren’t going to race.

    Plus there are very real issues with lodging and support. If teams could bring unlimited athletes, the organizers would potentially have to house twice as many skiers.

    Finally, the US CAN bring 8 skiers – not “maybe.” The eight is a definite number, and there may be more spaces.

    And another point, that I mentioned in an editorial when the original quota story broke, is that in my opinion, bringing skiers who are not competitive is not really the point.

    The current quota system does seem overly complicated, and the fact that an athlete the caliber of Kris Freeman would not add to the quota is absurd. I’m sure there are many Norwegians sprinters in a similar position, but it doens’ matter as the team is so strong. Combining sprinting and distance doesn’t make a lot of sense.

  • nexer

    January 1, 2010 at 8:44 am

    I disagree with your opinion that bringing athletes who are not competitive does not make sense. It may the US Ski Team’s goal to win a medal, but for those of us watching the Olympics, it will be a huge thrill to just see familiar faces racing in the red suit. The view from the bottom, as you can see, is slightly different. Speaking for myself, sure, I’d love to see a medal, but what I’d love even more is for kids all over the nation to understand that representing your nation is more than just about winning a medal.

    Again my question is this: Why can’t each nation bring 20 athletes if the start field is limited to four per nation anyway?

  • FasterSkier

    January 1, 2010 at 9:39 am

    You should read my editorial. I directly address the issue – and have some input from US coaches. It is important to reward domestic athletes for “going for it,” and trying to make the Olympics. To maintain a strong national program, skiers need to know they have a shot at the Games even if they aren’t competing for a medal.

    And that is exactly how it works in the US. We will have at least eight skiers, only four of whom have a shot at a medal. So at least half the team will be comprised of skiers who are either still developing, or who are fast domestically, but not internationally.

    I did actually address your question of why teams can’t bring 20 skiers each. The main reason is that teams don’t do it. The US felt that 16 skiers in Torino were too money – it put too much stress on the staff, and some skiers never even raced.

    As I said above, teams with 20 spots do not bring 20 skiers. So the max quota has nothing to do with it.

    And you also ignored the point about lodging at least twice as many athletes. The amount of construction that goes into the Olympics is massive, and to accommodate another 300 skiers would require even more.

  • nexer

    January 1, 2010 at 11:43 am

    Am I in the minority when I say I don’t care about the medals as much as I care about the opportunity to represent the US on a world stage?

    That is my view, from the bottom, and I’d like to think it matters.

  • Lars

    January 1, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    For the person participating and for the family and close supporters (club and such) i imagine participation is huge no matter the result.
    But as a fan in the Olympics medals are what it is all about.

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