Whistler, British Columbia – The US relay teams did not distinguish themselves in the overall standings, but that was not unexpected. The men’s team featured four athletes who are usually considered sprinters, and the women’s team three Olympic rookies.
So there were few expectations for a top overall result, though on the right day, the women could have battled for the top-8. Despite the men finishing 13th of 14 teams, and the women 11th out of 16, there were some strong individual performances.
Kikkan Randall has quietly had an outstanding Olympics. She finished 8th in the classic sprint, was very strong in the team sprint, and brought the US through the first leg of the relay in 4th, just 10.4 seconds in back of leader Anna Olsson (SWE). Randall looked smooth and strong on the climbs, and had very good skis on the descents.
Randall’s strong performances have been somewhat overlooked for two reasons – first, there have been a number of other disappointments that have overshadowed any positive short of a medal, and secondly, two of her races have been team events, so the overall result has not been solely in her control. But her result of 6th paired with Caitlin Compton in the team sprint was legitimate and despite not being in the running for the podium, Randall held her own, and better, against the best in the world in three events.
“I’ve been on the World Cup a few years now and I knew that if I could put together a good race that I could bring our team in near the front,” Randall said. “It’s fun to be ahead of those teams that you know can win medals, and we’ll just have to keep working on our depth.”
In the 4×5, she tagged off to Holly Brooks, who has not been in top form. Brooks battled hard, but could not get it going. Her 13th fastest leg dropped the team to 13th overall. Brooks actually had the 2nd best US leg in relation to the competition.
“I’m just not feeling 100 percent,” Brooks said. “I don’t know if I have some underlying sickness. My head was hurting a lot at the end of the race and my legs kind of flooded with lactic acid at the end of the race.”
She continued, “I’m not skiing to my ability right now, which is unfortunate timing.”
Morgan Arritola took over for the first skate leg. While she looked light and quick on the climbs, she didn’t have a strong result, skiing faster than just three skiers.
Compton anchored for the US, and worked with Kazakhstan to close on the Czech Republic. Compton was taken out of her rhythm when she tripped leaving the stadium for her 2nd lap. She lost contact with the Kazakh, and while she caught the Czech skier ahead of her, she may have missed a chance at Belorussia.
Overall the US women did not have their strongest day after Randall. Obviously they would not have been competing for a medal, but the final three women did not have their best races, continuing the trend that has run throughout the Games.
Despite sub-par performances from 3 of 4 racers, the US women still posted their best Olympic result since a 10th in 1994. That says something about the strength of the women’s team in the past, but it is also an indication that women’s distance skiing, overall, is better now than it has been in over a decade.
The men were not in a position to succeed in the relay with the top two distance skiers in the US, Kris Freeman and James Southam, not racing.
Andy Newell hung tough, staying with the leaders for much of the first leg. He tagged off 42 seconds down.
“I really wanted to be on that pack, but I lost a little bit of time on the last climb. It was an ok race for me.”
Newell noted that relays are challenging because he can’t ski his own race.
“It is hard because I know I can ski 10k faster if I ski my own race, but you can’t do that in a relay. You just have to go out and hang, so it means it will be one of the most painful 10k’s.”
Like most of the classic skiers in the race, Newell raced on hairies – though he used a pair of Randall’s skis. “I was having trouble getting mine to kick. They were a bit too stiff so I used a pair of Kikkan’s board.”
Torin Koos did not have a good day on the 2nd leg, and the US was out of the running. In fact, Koos’ ski was dreadful. He had the slowest leg time, over a minute behind the next closest. Koos did not try to sugar coat his race, describing it as “awful.”
Garrott Kuzzy took over for the skate, and skied well. He looked smooth and strong, turning in the 11th fastest time, 1:18 off the pace, before tagging off to Simi Hamilton.
Hamilton took over just one second behind the Estonian team, and made the decision to stay in back and setup for a move in the final part of the race. By that point there were no other team within striking distance, so there was little to be lost.
Hamilton looked to be skiing relatively easy as he lapped through the stadium, and he easily skied away from the Estonian in the final kilometer.
The relay was not a success, but it is not news that the US does not have the depth to compete in this event right now. The women are currently closer to fielding a competitive team, but the men’s race cold have been very different if Kris Freeman skied the first leg, Newell the 2nd, and James Southam one of the last two.
“We have to take small steps,” Randall said. “We’re not going to do it overnight. We’ve made huge leaps and bounds since 2002 and 2006, and we’re getting closer all the time and expecting more and more. I know some of our skiers didn’t race as well as they wanted to these two weeks, but I’m pretty happy with some of my performances, and I think we’re just going to get better and better.”
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.