While the $1,200 check for the winner of each race isn’t anything to complain about, the real prize awaiting competitors at the end of the 2010 U.S. Nationals isn’t the money. Instead, it’s a spot on the U.S. team for the Olympic Games in Whistler, which kick off a little more than a month from now.
Currently, the U.S.’s quota for the Games stands at eight, and just who gets the last few positions (most will be taken up by U.S. Ski Team members who have been racing in Europe) is decided by a ranking system that awards athletes points based on their performances in races.
A faster time and higher finish will always give skiers lower (and more desirable) points. But just how low they are depends on who else is entered in each race; when more accomplished skiers are competing, the points will be better.
According to USSA Nordic Director John Farra, Kikkan Randall’s presence in the women’s race today meant that the points were good. But because she was a whopping eight seconds ahead of the next-closest finisher in the qualifying round (points are based off the qualifier), he said that event may not end up counting for very much–at least in terms of the Olympic qualification process.
“You look at Kikkan being eight seconds ahead…and that’s an okay race for her,” Farra said. “But being eight seconds back is never a good thing. In a sprint race, that penalty is going to be much too high to really matter that much.”
But while Randall’s rivals may be gnashing their teeth, Farra said that ultimately, the Alaskan’s performance was more important than the numbers that it were predicated upon it.
“Kikkan Randall needs to continue to train to win a medal in five or six weeks, so no one in this whole stadium would have asked Kikkan to slow down today.” he said. “That’s not the way it works–people have got to ski close to her….otherwise, forget it.”
As for the men’s sprint, the absence of top U.S. sprinters Andy Newell and Torin Koos probably didn’t help winner Simi Hamilton. But at first blush, Farra said that the points for the men shouldn’t be too bad. (The calculations have not yet been conducted, but Farra has enough experience to make an educated guess.)
According to Farra, fifth-place finisher Chris Cook brings a strong points profile to Anchorage, as well as third-place Garrott Kuzzy and Hamilton himself.
For the latter two, their points should be especially low, Farra said, since both Hamilton and Kuzzy finished some four seconds clear of the rest of the field in the qualifier.
“Okay for those two; not so great for the rest of the guys,” he said.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.