Skis, not Fitness, Doom Freeman in XC Opener

Nathaniel HerzFebruary 17, 201038
Kris Freeman leading James Southam in the 30k classic at U.S. Nationals

Kris Freeman performs best when he’s angry, which bodes well for the rest of his Olympic Games.

“I’m just really, really pissed,” he said Tuesday about his debacle in the 15k freestyle.

Freeman blew by reporters in the finish chute yesterday, leaving fans and media without an explanation for what he called  “a horrible result.” But as he wrote on his blog, that was because he didn’t have one himself.

24 hours later, though, things had come into focus, and the good news for American ski fans is that there’s nothing wrong with Freeman’s body. Instead, it was the skis.

After limping into the finish for 58th place yesterday, Freeman was baffled. Halfway through the race, he said he thought he was in good position for a top-ten, and was shocked to see himself so far down at the intermediate time check.

Instead of shutting things down like the Norwegians, though, Freeman said that he overcompensated—blowing himself up by the 10 k mark.

“I’m not going to give up because it wasn’t going to be a podium at the Olympics,” he said. “I gave it my all.”

The snafu with the finish chute, where he went the wrong way following Johan Olsson (SWE), was just a “slap in the face”—nothing that seriously altered the outcome of the race.

“I was just following a white butt,” he said.

After the finish, as Freeman sat with his coach, Zach Caldwell trying to figure out “what the hell happened,” the pair was approached by Nathan Schultz, a member of the American service team who works with Caldwell at Boulder Nordic Sport.

Schultz offered to take Freeman’s skis and test them against a few other pairs, and when he did, he discovered that they were by far the worst of the four. Caldwell also consulted with the Fischer service team to find out what kind of ski flex race winner Dario Cologna had used. It turned out to be the opposite of Freeman’s selection.

The problem, Freeman said, was that he hadn’t been able to pick his own skis. With the course only open for 20 minutes before the start of the race, Freeman was focused on taking care of his blood sugar, and didn’t have time to do the testing himself. Instead, he ended up skiing on a pair chosen by the team’s wax techs—who aren’t his same weight.

He said that the wax staff ended up picking a pair that was slick underfoot, but that when under Freeman’s full weight, experienced suction on the bases, as well as tips washing out.

Since those 20 minutes before the race start are crucial for blood sugar management, Freeman said that he wasn’t sure what he could have done differently. He made it clear that the ski choice was not an error by the team’s wax staff.

“I’m not blaming anything except for the circumstances,” he said. “It’s kind of a unique situation, having a course that was supposed to be open an hour before my race shut down, except for 15 minutes prior.”

For the rest of the week, though, Freeman said he will have to find a way to test his own skis.

“If the courses are closed, I’m just going to have to do my blood sugar management on the track, which is something I like to avoid,” he said. “But if that’s what it comes down to, because the snow is so bizarre here, I need to feel the skis before I go out on them.”

From here, Freeman said that the remainder of the Games will be resting and ski testing. There are no problems with his fitness, he said—he’s just angry.

That might not hurt him in the 30k pursuit, though.

“I’ve gone through many ski races in my life,” he said, “and I’ve got to say that probably eight of my ten best races, I was absolutely livid during them.”

Nathaniel Herz

Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.

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  • JHettenbaugh

    February 17, 2010 at 7:30 am

    I’m I reading VG Nett or Fasterskier? Are we talking about Northug or Freeman? Two big guns have bad races and all of a sudden it’s because of the skis? I was impressed by the fact that after the race Kris made no excuses about his performance. It happens to the best of them, and it was just not his day. But now to follow the Norwegians and to blame it on the skis?!?! Come on!

  • vtxc

    February 17, 2010 at 7:55 am

    yeah i believe this, although it is still a disappointment.

  • Mike Trecker

    February 17, 2010 at 7:57 am

    I still can’t believe how many un-educated, insensitive comments come from alleged ski fans. This reasoning listed above sounds completely legit to me. I don’t believe in excuses but you have to look for explanations. Ski flex is the single biggest factor in ski selection for both classic and skate, and if Kris himself did not get to test his own gear before the start, that is a big mistake. However, this is sounding more like a problem with the organizers and having their own act together on race day.

    How many screw-ups have we seen already, from the mechanical snafu at the opening ceremonies, to the speedskating zamboni flooding the rink, to the biathlon officials inability to start a pursuit race correctly and now only letting athletes out onto course inspection for only the 20 minutes prior to the event. That’s not even enough time to gather the correct information. I guarantee you that when I talk with Nathan and some of the others that were working the stadium, they will say it was a complete cluster.

    I am happy with this explanation and have to thank Nat and the fasterskier reporters for gathering and reporting news. The opinion pieces I’m not fond of.

    Remeber kids, ski selection number one factor over grind and wax. Fact.

  • lsiebert

    February 17, 2010 at 8:52 am

    Flex-grind-wax. The VG/Langrenn articles all have hysterical shoutings about MISSED WAX MISSED WAX FIRE THE COACHES. And to be perfectly honest, how do you miss the glide wax that catastrophically poorly in a race? I understand having the wrong flex, as that has made me feel slow at times. Early in the race, Freeman was out of it, but not 3 minutes out of it. It makes sense that he drove too hard and then blew up because of his skis. This is a rational explanation, and very good reporting by Mr. Herz. (I almost never thought I’d hear myself say that after reading his blog last year)

  • tetlowjm

    February 17, 2010 at 9:02 am

    You are happy with this explanation?!?! Are you kidding me?!? Professional ski technicians who have spent huge amounts of time and money; designing specific grinds for just this region of snow, and testing skis in different conditions at the venue throughout the year, forget to take into account the skiers weight while they are picking skis before the athletes biggest race in 4 years? WHAT!?

    Cheers to Kris for skiing as hard as he possibly can in the 15K despite the result. Jeers for the technicians if this report is true.

    Go get them in the sprint and the pursuit, we know we have the ability!

  • lsiebert

    February 17, 2010 at 9:38 am

    Rationally explained, not excusable.

  • the new cloxxi

    February 17, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Good Grief… this is a can of worms for the those in charge of the skis and skiers. The kind of excuse that would make all of this make sense would be one like: the athlete had a wonderful night with a very special lady, woke late, remembered it was the biggest day of the year, then had a cup , got stuck in traffic, got to the track late grabbed some skis off the rack and sprinted to the starting line to hear the gun go off. Otherwise this excuse system is bizarre, and not believable.
    1. Have we not been hearing that Chris Freeman was the big chance to medal, and especially in the 15 K.
    2. Have we not been hearing that the snow is a mess, thus grind, and flex would be major importance, thus, hand selected and tested ski to fit day, even moment. The boss spent how many years testing this stuff?
    3. How on earth would a skier not take a spin on skis prior to event…. a ski tech tested them?…. ridiculous…. this is no way to ski a race. Ski flex=weight and skier loading habits
    4. do not blame organizers… every racer know the importance of picking right skis or all work in vain.
    5. Leave the excuses to the norges… they get paid a whole lot more.
    6. And dont give me any crap about not being a skier, or being insensitive… Kris should have stayed with his blog entry…. can off worms!

  • Mike Trecker

    February 17, 2010 at 11:34 am

    Very well put, rationally explained, not excusable.

    To all you geniuses out there that don’t want to hear any explanation, well I’m sorry, and I know this is politically incorrect, but your rational is on the verge of retarded. As in slooowwww. You don’t get it. As an athlete, as a team, you have to look for explanations, reasons. It’s not OK to just say I suck, I blew it and just go home and cry. There is no future to that type of behavior. There’s no excuses here and you won’t get any from Kris either.

    As far as the organizers are concerned. I’ll hold out my opinion for a few more days, but the VANOC is not impressing me one bit.

  • thick

    February 17, 2010 at 11:40 am

    I am sick the the US nordic team SUCKING and them blaming it on the skis. I have ski raced to years and never blamed my skis for a bad result. If your skis are not good take it like a man. Now let hope for some USA RESULTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Tim Kelley

    February 17, 2010 at 11:46 am

    First, I’d like to say that I truly hope that Freeman is so pissed that he goes out and wins multiple medals in remaining races. Embarrassment is a great motivator.

    But Trecker – maybe you should consider being objective about this and not let your cheerleader emotions blind you of some simple facts. The facts when it comes to waxing, grinds and ski selection is that the US has had more experience than anyone, except perhaps the Canadians, when it comes to dialing in skis, grinds and wax for these Olympics. The US has even had a renowned ski tech camping at the venue and perfecting ski grinds and selections for this snow, on these exact trails.

    No matter what the situation, no matter what the waxing, no matter how much of a cluster the situation is – at this point in time getting perfect skis to Freeman should be an absolute no-brainer. If US wax techs are screwing up after all the opportunity they had ensure to US skiers have the best possible skis at these Oly’s in North America … then they need to quit the ski biz and put their resumes in at Taco Bell. This explanation / excuse is pathetic.

  • xcskier007

    February 17, 2010 at 11:49 am

    First, I’m very disappointed and wanted as much as any other passionate US skier to see our athletes get great results at these Olympics…. and I still do. However, this explanation, must be measured against the hype and money invested the past several years to do all that special testing at the venue? Weren’t we told on more than one occasion that the difficult conditions at the venue were going to be our edge because the US team would be more knowledgeable and prepared than the others? It’s prudent to ask who was in charge of that program and are we getting the results for our investments?
    I sure hope things go better today for Torin, Andy, Simeon, Kikkan and Holly in the sprint event.

  • tetlowjm

    February 17, 2010 at 11:50 am

    yes we do need to look for explanations of poor results in order to build upon them. When we find the explanation, and it is because a ski technician forgot to take into account the weight of a skier and therefore produced race skis of the wrong flex, it is inexcusable. I’m just disappointed in the lapse of professionalism.

  • Werd18

    February 17, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    It was the skis fault. Wow. For a second, I was worried that there was a problem with the U.S. Program. Doesn’t Kris have his own “quiver” of skis that he has used for the whole season? At this point in the game, this is a lame excuse. I am looking forward to a hot top 10 finish now that his skis are straightened out by Nate & Co…AND NO EXCUSES PLEASE!

  • T.Eastman

    February 17, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    Time to move on to the next event! All of those that were involved in the process of ski choice will never make a mistake like this again and will be far better for it in the future. The stress Chris has been under is shared by the staff and these are people, not robots.

  • Ellen

    February 17, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    I am with Mike Trecker, we are privileged to be invited into the loop where Kris and the techs are dissecting what went wrong, and we shouldn’t use what they tell us as a weapon against them. From what I can tell from TV, the snow looks absolutely horrendous. Just watching the snowboard cross competitions made my knees hurt, the way the snow was grabbing at their boards in an almost random fashion. The Nordic venue is in a different location, but it’s still pretty nasty I am sure.
    I am also with Mike in that the VOOC is not quite ready for primetime.
    While my idea of a “good race” is pretty different from Kris Freeman’s I do know that skis and ski prep can make or break a race. Kudos to him for doing his best, keeping his fans informed and moving forward.

  • welikeben

    February 17, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    I’m sorry but this article is an excuse. There is no way I’d ever do a classic race without testing out my own skis, especially if it was an event on such a large stage. Stop making excuses. He had a bad day, everyone has them. Kudos goes out to Freeman for not making an excuse. Everybody move on….

  • Cory Salmela

    February 17, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Skis are a major factor here. Very thin margin to get it right. Unless you’ve been in this situation it’s hard to understand. The high pressure weather will make it much easier for the rest of the events

  • jrulseh

    February 17, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    Wow, this is a hot issue! I don’t want to be left out, so here’s my two cents…
    There is often discussion about what is more important Flex, Grind, or Wax, when it comes to ski speed. Many excuses or people to blame can be found in these three factors. However, the most important factor is the preparation that the racers themselves have done to ensure they are ready to compete at the highest level. One might comment that, for Freeman, enhancing his performance by managing his blood sugar, before the race, was more important than testing the skis. This is a decision he had to make. Finding the balance between blood sugar management, and ski testing is perhaps something he will have to work on in the future. I thought the team would have figured that out by now.
    Let’s move on, and hope things improve in the coming races. Best of luck to everyone competing!

  • rick

    February 17, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    During a race the skier knows when his skis are slow. If Kris didn’t realize this by himself, then we can’t blame it on the flex, grind, wax or other equipment issues.
    What about the common cause of poor performance: poor taper?
    Rest up and go get ’em on the next one!

  • skierrunner

    February 17, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    Skiing is by definition a sport with many variables. That is what makes it a joy and pain at the same time. There are variable. Period. That is part of the sport. I’ve had terrible races because I missed the wax. We all have, but isn’t that part of the sport. I have a pair of racing flats for running. They are what they are. I don’t race in the summer and worry about someone else having faster laces or the right flex in their soles. If it is raining, everyone’s socks get wet and heavy. It is a sport with less variable. I know that when I step to the starting line. This is not true for Nordic. Variables are part of the sport, otherwise there would be an FIS regulation that everyone uses the same wax and grind for a given race. I’ve never finished a running race and had someone say, “Man, I had really fast shoes today.” Running is 75% fitness 25% mental strength. Period. Skiing is 50% fitness, 11% grind, 8% wax, 9%flex, 10% mental, 12% other. We have a solid control over far more variables.

  • nexer

    February 17, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    Kris did not lose three minutes because of his skis. He might have lost two minutes. That’s 2 seconds on a downhill here, 1 second in a transition over there, and all of a sudden you’re off by 30 seconds for the lap. It adds up. Skis matter.

  • lsiebert

    February 17, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    He didn’t blame it purely on skis. He blamed it on wrongly reacting to the bad skis by pushing too hard to compensate for the bad skis, and blowing up by 10k. Which makes sense. Rather than mail it in, like Northug apparently did, Freeman tried to push through the bad skis.

  • PixelPaul

    February 17, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    It is hard to imagine this kind mistake being made at this level. Did anyone consider that these excuses are nothing more than to deflect the criticism from the athletes to the staff?

    As disappointing as the results were, let’s remember that it has been just one race and there are still several more to go. Why don’t we rally begin our athletes and support them the rest of the way. There is still plenty of time for some good results. Go USA!

  • nexer

    February 17, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    Sometimes due to conditions organizers will make the decision to limit the time a course will be open for practice. Sometimes they’ll just close the course altogether. Maybe that’s what happened.

  • bikeboatski

    February 18, 2010 at 11:46 am

    To me its just another of several reasons to blame the Olympic committee for selecting Vancouver for this year’s Olympics. Selection of location should be based on what’s best for the athletes, not the fans.

  • bbrooker

    February 19, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    In all my years of coaching and waxing, I have found it fairly hard to wax for kick when someone hasn’t skied on the skis. Even if it is around the parking lot it is better than not skiing on them at all. There must be a warm up loop and I know it’s not ideal but at least it is something. Kris dealing with his blood sugar before the start isn’t something new for all to deal with. Also where is the log on these conditions and what will work. We sometimes are paralyzed by over analysis “paralysis by over analysis” cut out the fifty “Have you tried blah blah blah?” and go with what you know what will be good, not perfect and just try to get that right. Also maybe we should look at the other teams that are doing well, where they in Canmore? Rest is good.

  • skipow

    February 19, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    It’s just rediculous the amount of excuses the Freemans seem to have about their race performances. Every other post is how they were feeling “flat” or “cursed” or some other damn thing. I never see Newell or Randall post an excuse for a race. The Freemans seem to have created this entire issue. It’s even turned into a joke among master blasters who give an excuse for a lousy race… we nickname them “Freeman”.

  • Jake

    February 19, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    the “Freeman’s” “excuses” are not so much that as they are explanations. When I see my country’s best distance skier and potential podium contender get 58th I want to know what happened. No one would be content to see Freeman come in a couple of minutes back and hear no explanation as to what happened, we want to know. Fasterskier is the one who came up with the excuses, blame them. Kris said himself that he had no excuses, leave it at that.
    In terms of Justin’s “excuses,” he’s just a master-blaster like you (although a hell of a lot better then you will ever be) that is making fun of the fact that he’s got so much going on in his life and yet still pursues ski racing. He’s just like the rest of us; somebody who loves skiing but doesn’t have nearly enough time to devote to it as he’d like, but he still smokes all of us who do…

  • Ian Nesbitt

    February 19, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    I don’t know what entitles you to be so self-righteous. Clearly, Freeman has shown that he can compete with the best of the World Cup this year. Everyone has “flat” races. What are you hoping to achieve by posting angrily about some of our nation’s best racers? To be honest, I’m not sure what you’re blaming our skiers’ bad results on, but if you think you can do better, then go out there and do it yourself. This country’s nordic programs need a “can-do” attitude right now and honestly, sir, you and your joking master-blaster friends need to show some respect for that.
    See you on the trails.

  • stevephillips

    February 20, 2010 at 1:22 am

    I can’t believe some of the vitriol and depressing dung being flung around as comments here. Further, I can’t believe I keep reading these posts, but it’s like watching a gory train-wreck. It’s like a bunch of loser football fans sitting around Monday-morning-quarterbacking, ripping on the athletes/coaches as if they could do better; living vicariously through others as if trying to compensate for something. The U.S. skiers competing are professionals and have trained for this, and they will react and move on accordingly. Life happens, sometimes things go well, sometimes it hits the fan; you learn from whatever went wrong and move on. I’m sure the athletes, who are personally vested in the competition, have moved on- why can’t some of the fans?

  • the new cloxxi

    February 20, 2010 at 11:19 am

    ‘Professionals’…. a word that in our society for some reason is a good thing. It’s a word associated with being the ‘best’…. or in my opinion losing the balance. Its a single mindedness or a one track road. Sometimes those roads leed to a medal …sometimes they lead to disillusionment. As a professional narrows their focus year after year, small parts of themselves are left behind all for the revered podium stand. Its the mindset of the overachiever, who is actually underachieving in their grounding balance necessary in life.
    I see many of these athletes, as I was in my twenties, putting all the eggs in one basket, and its revered in our society to do it. It took me another 10 yrs to unwind this ‘professionlism clock”. I can look back and say , “glad I did it, but how glad I am that I dont do that to myself anymore”. We are not all meant to become Bjørn Dæhlie where professional success on the podium leeds to other forms of success. For most of us it becomes something that we did to ourselves, and hopefully move on from.

    Nordic skiing has become in my opinion ‘a one track road’. Where we have lost sight of what is important…. and this is not a gold coin hanging like some sort of modern day bling from a chain around the neck. What is important ? To me a connection to athletics, nature, and the comradeship it brings. Instead, we have sold out and are sponsored by corporate entities, who make us spread toxic waste on our skis, require us to have two dozen pairs of skis, one day of use disposable ski suits, the carbon fiber pole of the year …and all at the eventual demise of our environment. We travel by car, or fly all over the place, to ski marginal contrived snow just to race other ‘single minded corporate pawns” contributing to the death of our ecosystem (a direct attack on why we Nordic ski)…And all for what…professionalism.
    Stick that in your pipe and smoke it Johnny Klister.

  • skipow

    February 20, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    Easy does it Jake and Nesbit… I’ve got bets going with several people, and my money’s on Freebird reaching the podium. I hear he races better pissed off, so I’m doing my part to make that happen.
    Justin’s a hell of a skier, who apparently keeps quite a busy schedule. I’m pretty sure we all do. That’s why on race day you gotta bust people’s balls who say “I was flat today” or whatever.
    Why bring your competitors down with that?
    No excuses.
    “You’ll never be as good as Freeman…?” Should we just give up at the start line because a Freeman showed up? I think we should go hard and celebrate leaving it all out there.
    Aren’t we only as good as our last race? If not why would anybody race into their 50’s and 60’s?

  • Kevin Cutts

    February 20, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    It would do the fasterskier community a lot of good if the ignorant posters (the majority, especially on this article) would just take 2 minutes to reread their posts and think for a minute as to whether their proverbial toilet bowl of words would actually do this discussion any good. Or as J-klister so elegantly put it.. shut up.

    Freeman is world class, and has way more crap to deal with than any one else can possibly understand, and he had a rough day on the worlds biggest stage and things just didn’t happen to go his way. It happens… and to say that our wax techs need to step down? i’m sorry but i think some people forget how much of their own money they spend to go to the world-cups and the countless 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night they get only to be on their feet for 15+ hrs of the day.

    Freeman did the best he could with what was given to him and i commend him for it.

  • paldesgn

    February 24, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    I wish the the Olympics were not so emotional, but they are. Its regrettable that Kris had a such a bad day and/or bad skis. I feel for him and his team of coaches and techs!

    With that being said, I wish somebody could explain the science behind choosing the right skis/wax for these conditions? For example, why do the skis from Team Sweden and France appear to be faster than the rest? Why did the US and Norway appear to have such slow skis? Are the teams bound by contract to use a specific ski/wax brand that may not of been a preferable choice for the given conditions? Does Sweden have a secret wax? Are Fischer skis slow in mushy snow? … etc.

    Anyhow, I think it would be very interesting reading if anybody from Fasterskier or from this forum has any insight on this.


  • Reese

    February 25, 2010 at 1:19 am


    66.6 % percent of the mens podium was on Fischer skis… so the error was probably in the complicated mix of stucture and wax

  • Cloxxki

    March 1, 2010 at 7:32 am

    Funny that someone posts implicitly referring to me as aweful commenter, while remaining anonymous him/herself. My nickname is not anonimous at all, I’m well googlable for real name, with address, phone number and all. Nothing interesting there though, so spare yourself the effort.

    Assuming indeed the ski flex was wrong (an not a story produced by Nathan to boost Kris’ confidence going into next races, which would have been exactly my action in his shoes), it’s an odd mistake to make. Like pointing your superstar skater into the wrong lane in speed skating. It just doesn’t happen.

    If I had the same weight as the best skier in my country, I would do all to be able to test his skis, take that burden away. Especially as the guy has business to attend to, his health, all 20mins before the race.

    That said, even with a great bike, and shooting for top-10, I’ve managed to battle it out with the usual backmarkers. Flat days happen. Sometimes it’s not “your” course, or “your” day. It even happens to the best, just much less so. And they bounce back from it (Bjoendalen, Neuner).

    -The one and only Cloxxki, with the “k” in there.

  • RebeccasRide

    March 1, 2010 at 10:37 am

    You are an inspiration! I am 17 and this summer my family and I rode across country on our bicycles. We rode over 4100 miles and I couldn’t have done it without a pump and a continuous glucose monitor. The continuous glucose monitor reads my BG continuously so I can see a trend of my sugars dropping or going high. It also can be set to alarm for a low and for a high range. I would love to talk to you about this technology. My friend just got one for a dog sled race she is competing in at Fort Knox. You are amazing and we look forward to watching you in the future. No matter what happens, you are a star in our book! Check out our adventure at and after the Olympics maybe you can visit us in Bar Harbor. We do a walk for JDRF in the fall and would love to have you as our guest speaker…it would be truly motivating! Save the date…10.10.10 @10am!!! Go get ’em Kris!

  • AxlRose

    March 3, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    I remember, not too long ago in fact, when the conditions for the US Nationals classic distance race were incredibly terse. Everyone has off days, including wax techs, and that was one that was personal for me. I thought I’d be able to toss out a top result, but ended up with a horrible position because my skis were so horrible. Am I proud? Heck no! I was really pissed off at my waxing, and my coach for putting the wax on my skis. But I was up against some pretty steep odds, and with it snowing to beat the band I knew it had nothing to do with how I prepared. The skis, the flex, the grind, the wax, it was all wrong. I can’t really blame the guy waxing for me, first, because he’s my coach, and second, because I know I couldn’t do better myself. Granted, with as many wax techs as they have at the Olys you’d think they’d be able to get it right, but when they don’t we all have to realize we’re sitting a million miles away on the other side of the fence.

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