OlympicsRacingUS Ski TeamTough Relay Day Has Silver Linings For USA

Avatar Topher SabotFebruary 26, 20104

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.

Randall battling at the front.

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.

Morgan Arritola on the 3rd leg.

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.”

Newell on the big climb

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.”

Kuzzy

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Topher Sabot

Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.

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4 comments

  • Avatar
    tclaynm@juno.com

    February 26, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    Despite the way it turned out, the US does seem to be improving steadily and getting these other guys out on the WC would help. For example, it seems like Holly Brooks put too much into qualifying for the Olympic team, and is now on the down side of her peak which came earlier in the season. The USA really needs to keep a solid group of skiers working at the WC level to be on par with the Euros. Koos has clearly had some form issues, but we’ve seen him ski like a monster too.

    From my humble outside POV, it looks like we have a timing and pressure issue. If the Olympic team were selected earlier and were allowed to ski their way into form for the Olympics, rather than having to be on top of their form early in the season, things might click and fall into place better. Coaches should also be allowed to make substitutions prior to the games if another skier is clearly coming into form while another is off, regardless of early-season results. Other teams seem to follow that protocol. But, I don’t know…it just seems like the system is a little flawed — it’s certainly not the athletes or coaches. We clearly have athletes that can compete and very good coaches; we just need to work on getting athletes exposed to the top level and getting the timing right.

  • Avatar
    tclaynm@juno.com

    February 26, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Oh yeah, and great job to the athletes — sorry I forgot that in the previous message. It was a good race!

  • Avatar
    birkieturkey

    February 26, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    tc: it’s way more than timing. the us xc skiers need to change their attitude about the olympics. in the us the only thing that seems to be important to the majority of xc ski racers is making the olympic team. not winning at the olympics. the us obsession about making the olympics is even reflected in this web site. topher wrote umpteen articles about who would be the last, the slowest, skiers to be named to the olympic team. but fs ran very little in the way of articles that discussed how randalls or freemans training was going leading up to the olympics, what their chances at the olympics were and so on. fs reflects the prevailing american xc skier sentiment which is all that really matters is getting an invite to the big party, not winning.

    as far as randall’s statement – we’re just going to get better and better, haven’t we heard this before? it seems like right after every Olympic relay where the men and women end up last or close to last in the results, the statement comes out – just give us 4 more years and we’ll show you what we really can do. that may be true for randall. but it’s unlikely for any other us xc skiers in 4 years. also it’s funny that we now never see quotes on fs from the once outspoken and i-know-best vordenberg. i guess he’s stays quiet because he’s worried about losing his job these days.

  • Avatar
    teamepokeedsbyn

    February 27, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    Generally, I think all the skiers have performed exactly where their ability will ever permit them on average, and as expected, save for Newell and Freeman, who have proved they typically ski much better than they have at these Games thus far.

    We just need more, better recruits for the “draft”, simple as that.

    PV was a good skier and an even better coach. You cannot blame the guy for toeing the compnay line – must of us all have been there. If he knocked USSA I am sure Marolt or the Board would have a say. To keep his job and pay his bills, the guy has to report to Marolt/USSA each year to justify a budget from the USSA Alpine/Snowboard sponsorship money and IOC National Governig Body Funds.

    This is the fundemental problem with this whole mess. We esseatnially have an amateur team, with the majority of players happy to have simply made the “team”, and not left off the roster for non-perfomance after two years of not “making it”. Yes, every athlete really wants to win, but very few are capable of doing it annually. Yes, the Olympics are about participation, but year to year WC team should be about only sending those with a relaistic chance of placing well.

    Maybe the FasterSkier reporters could ask some real probing news questions while they have all the players (Marolt/USSA/USOC/IOC) guys in front of them. Maybe like “how do you plan to make the US a x-c/jumping power as USSA had failed for 25 years?” and “Maybe it is time to let the regional x-c and jumping programs and the actors themself divest the NGB status and funding for their sport from USSA, as biathlon has…what is your comment Mr. Marolt/Mr. USOC”? and “Mr. Marolt, Mr. USOC, the fact that you did not stand up for the womens jumpers by making any statement at these games on thier behalf to the world media” This would be a suggestion of good ski reporting, not simply following the Gary Black/Ski Racing/USSA/ski industry promotion-in-exchange-for-(megar)advertisements.

    A good reporter, I belive, regardless of pay, wants answers to the tough questions. There are several really good stories here and nobody is covering them.

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