RacingUS Ski TeamBigger is Not Always Better; USST XC Nominations Consistent With Goals

Avatar Topher SabotApril 22, 201041

With Thursday’s announcement of team nominations, seven skiers are in line for spots on the 2011 US Cross-Country Ski Team.

Kikkan Randall is only one of two US Skiers to meet the objective criteria for team selection.

This number is down from the 11 last year, and 18 in 2009.  One rookie was nominated, and five athletes were not invited back, accounting for the decline.

According to USSA Nordic Director John Farra, the decrease in team size was not due to budget cuts.  While the there was belt-tightening across the board when the stock market collapsed nearly two years ago, there have been no additional cuts since the winter of 2008.

“The reduction in team size over the last three years is more a product of us tightening our criteria and having more faith in the clubs and club coaches on their own,” Farra said.

In the past, Farra continued, B-Team athletes were not getting much support.

“We were naming people to the national team, and they weren’t getting any more from us than uniforming and invitations to camps,” he said. “We are more in line to offer a higher level of support to those who are named to a National team now than ever.  In the past it was just a big number, and there wasn’t a lot of meat behind it.”

Farra points out that it is unreasonable to name someone to the team, and require them to be at every training camp, but not offer the funds to cover those expenses.

“[I am] much more satisfied about saying, when I am investing in someone for a whole year, [that] there is actual money, actual support,” he said.

Tough Standards

The qualification criteria for the U.S. Ski Team can be simplified to two major points. If an established veteran is competing among the top skiers in the world, and can contend for podium finishes, he or she is on the team. If a young skier is on track to reach that level and is willing to commit fully to the sport, he or she is on the team.

2011 US XC Ski Team Selection Criteria

You can read the entire selection criteria here (pdf): 2011 USST Selection Criteria

Objective Criteria

  • Attain top-50 ranking in the 2010 final World Cup Overall or FIS distance points list, or
  • Attain top-30 ranking in the 2010 final World Cup Sprint ranking list, FIS sprint points list, or 2010 final World Cup distance ranking
  • Winning a medal in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games

Subjective Criteria

  • Completion of individual markers, as set forth by the U.S. Ski Team coaching staff, and as approved by the USSA Nordic Director, which point toward the achievement of competition results consistent with USST program goals.
  • Attitude and commitment of athletes to take part in the complete USST coaching and camp program.
  • Illness or injury during the selection period.
  • Indicia of medal potential in future Olympic and World Championship competition, which would be materially enhanced by selection to team.
  • Other unanticipated failure of objective criteria to select an athlete likely to achieve competition results consistent with USSA program goals.

Funding is primarily dedicated to top athletes – in this case the World Cup skiers with the best chance for success.

Only two nominees achieved the objective standards to qualify for the team that are set by USSA.  Kikkan Randall and Andy Newell both attained top-50 rankings in the final World Cup overall standings, automatically securing spots.

Kris Freeman, at 51st on the most recent FIS distance points list, just missed joining Randall and Newell in avoiding discretionary selection (top-50 is the standard), but is an obvious choice under the additional subjective criteria.

The US Ski Team has been clear in its stated goal: to win medals at the major championship events—the Olympics and World Ski Championships.

“Every athlete that is nominated to the US Ski Team is someone that we believe realistically, or mapped against a history of successful athletes, could actually reach the podium at some point in their career,” said Chris Grover, who was recently appointed as the team’s head coach.

Evaluating medal potential of established athletes is straightforward, according to Farra.  If an athlete has not reached a certain level by a certain age, it is unlikely that they will ever be able to contend for the podium. Farra referred to a simple graph plotting performance against age for each athlete.

The athletes not re-nominated this year had all flat-lined in terms of international performance, showing no significant improvement over the last several years.

Garrott Kuzzy finished 9th in the Canmore World Cup in 2008, but has not been able to come close to that level again – and he will be 28 this fall.

Tazlina Mannix, while near the top of the domestic circuit, has not been able to step up to the next level and compete internationally.  Lindsay Williams was unable to bounce back from two injury-marred seasons.

Morgan Smyth had a brutal year, undergoing surgery for compartment syndrome and battling mononucleosis.  She may have been a candidate for a dispensation due to the health issues, but Grover points out that even when healthy two years ago, she was placing 14-15 seconds out in international sprint qualifiers – not a positive indicator.

“I don’t think that the unwritten policy of two years is going to fly when dollars are so tight and so many people are pushing from behind,” explained Farra, with regard to the precedent of guaranteeing an athlete two years on the team, regardless of performance, in part to account for potential injury or other mishap.

Veteran sprinter Torin Koos was the only athlete dropped from the A-Team, and the most notable omission from the 2011 squad.

While Koos has stood on the World Cup podium once before, his skiing over the past three years has been inconsistent.  Since breaking through with a third-place in Estonia in 2007, he has not qualified for an A-final on the World Cup.  Last winter, he struggled with illness during the middle of the season and only made it into the top-30 one time in five World Cup starts.

Koos just missed automatically qualifying for the team.  He ended the 2010 season ranked 36th on the FIS sprint points list, 2.07 points out of the top-30, and a spot on the team.  This could amount to just a single strong performance.

Koos was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

Torin Koos qualifying 2nd in Canmore.

In an e-mail to FasterSkier, Farra said that Koos simply did not meet the criteria to be nominated to the team.  In addition, Farra said, USSA has a higher standard for athletes who have been supported and racing internationally for an extended period. (Koos’s first World Cup was in 2001.)

“We need them winning,” he said.  “We expect our seasoned World Cup athletes to be scoring World Cup points…I think Koos is a super talented skier who has much more to show, but something has not been clicking for him.”

Koos’ inability to score World Cup points regularly meant that he his status as a Red Group skier is not guaranteed.  Red Group skiers have all travel and lodging expenses paid for by race organizers – a major benefit to cash-strapped programs like the US.

And while Koos has shown flashes of brilliance since his 2007 podium, including qualifying 2nd to Emil Joensson (SWE) in Canmore this season, and placing 8th in the skate sprint in Italy last season, he will turn 30 this year, and may be running out of time.

Historically the US has lagged behind the curve in regards to age.

“We are looking for where we can get the best bang for our buck,” said Farra.  “And investing in athletes who are pushing 30 years old and are not close to winning medals—that is tough.”

Farra went on to say that he would rather take a risk on a younger athlete with a higher upside then support older athletes who no longer project out to podium finishes.

“I think that is the real challenge for our country, that we do tend to have quality athletes, but they tend to develop slower.”

He notes that even the top skiers in the US—who do have legitimate chances to win medals—will most likely be doing so in their last Olympic Games.  Ultimately, Farra said, he would like to see skiers competing for medals in their early 20s, and then be able to do so again and again.

Assistant University of Vermont ski coach, Olympian, and former USSA Athlete Representative Patrick Weaver recognizes the issue is complicated.

“I see it both ways…the smaller the teams, the more you can focus on your quality. But then again, putting all your eggs in one basket sometimes is not the way to become a dominant sport,” he said.

Championships vs USST

Being named to the US Ski Team does not guarantee spots in the world’s biggest races.

“I want the best team at World Championships and the Olympics.  And I think our criteria has been pretty damn awesome at choosing people who are performing right here and now, and choosing them to the biggest events of the season,” said Farra. “If you are talking about fielding a team for a specific event, you take the best athletes that you have, and you race them in their best events at those Championships.  And it doesn’t matter what their age is.”

The US Ski Team is another story, he said—and again, it is all about medals, and a year-long commitment.

Commitment

In addition to podium potential, the other big component to team selection is a full commitment.  The US Ski Team made waves a year ago when they announced that they would encourage top young skiers to postpone college and fully focus on racing.

This was seen by many as a rejection of college’s role in the development pipeline, but Farra says that was never the idea.  The criteria simply states that those athletes that want to be on the U.S. Ski team must be 100 percent committed to the sport of cross-country ski racing—“all in.”

Athletes must “take part in the complete US Ski Team coaching and camp program”—a stretch for a full-time college student.

Two U.S. Ski Team prospects Tad Elliot and Ida Sargent, fall into this category.

Ida Sargent will be racing for the big Green next year (Photo: Lincoln Benedict)

Sargent, who will be a senior at Dartmouth College, clearly is the second-best sprinter in the country behind Randall, and Farra said he would love to see her on the team.

“A wicked talent.  We would love to see her commit herself 100 percent, and be at every camp that Kikkan is,” he said.

Farra reiterated that Sargent’s exclusion is not because she is enrolled in college, but because she would not be able to commit to attending all the team’s camps.

“And if she [could be], she not only helps herself, but we need her to help Kikkan [Randall], too,” he said.  “Being on the team is about challenging Kikkan to the first turn, and Kikkan gets better.”

Elliott is not a college student, and he races for the CXC Elite Team.  He had several strong races this season, including a second place in the 15 k freestyle at US Nationals.  But Elliott has yet to have a standout international result, and while 22 is relatively young, his lack of international success puts him in danger of falling behind the curve.

Most importantly, however, Elliott is an excellent mountain bike racer, and spends his summer competing at a high level.  This appears to preclude him from being named to the team, as he would not be able to meet the requirements.

“We can’t afford to be investing very precious resources in to someone who is a multi-sport athlete,” Farra said, pointing out that Elliott would not be able to attend a US Ski Team camp until at least August.

Farra said he is constantly gathering and maintaining data on all the top up-and-coming skiers in the country. He made it clear: if someone is not on the Team, it is not because they were overlooked.

There are plenty of fast skiers out there, Grover added, but right now, most don’t fit into the U.S. Ski Team program.

“We have a lot of talented athletes, but a lot of those athletes are in college,” he said. “They’re student athletes. In order to be on the Continental Cup team, you have to be an athlete-student. You have to be all in—you have to be putting your ski racing development before your studies. And you have to be able to take advantage of all camp opportunities, and all appropriate competition opportunities.”

Just because the B-team is small, he added, “doesn’t mean that we don’t have talented athletes out there who deserve to be on it—because we do. It’s just not the right situation for them right now.”

Clubs Take a Bigger Role

The final element of the selection process is USSA’s larger vision for the cross-country program.  According to Farra and Grover, the club system has grown substantially in the US over the last few years, and it now offers a very high level of support and coaching for top athletes.

The ascension of the clubs, they said, means that the U.S. Ski Team can focus its direct efforts on top-level athletes, while supporting the efforts of clubs on the development front.

Stratton Mountain School coach Sverre Caldwell, supports a model that integrates a strong club system, noting the growth of clubs in recent years.

“I have no problem with a smaller US Team.  I think it makes total sense.  The way to go is to encourage the development of more clubs,” Caldwell told FasterSkier.  “We are on the right path, but we need to keep improving that.”

Grover said that he views collaboration with the clubs as a critical aspect of the development pipeline.  This year there will be a new elite J2 national camp, as well as the introduction of an NTG (National Training Group) camp.

In addition, Grover said, some of the money saved by reducing the team size will be rededicated towards supporting up-and-coming athletes on trips to Europe during the race season.

“If there’s been any criticism of the way we’ve operated our teams in the past few years, one of those…has been that we are giving people a little bit too much of a chance to stay on the team—that we’re not fluid enough with our resources. And I think there’s definitely some legitimacy to that criticism,” he said. “And so that’s what we’re trying to do now, is to have the flexibility to be able to take somebody on a trip, and support them if they’re skiing fast at a given time.”

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Topher Sabot

Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.

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41 comments

  • Avatar
    DOXC

    April 23, 2010 at 1:10 am

    I truly love this sport, but I am now throwing in the towel. US cross country skiing is as DEAD as can be. There is officially no more hope. Is the USSA going to go hide and wish that world class skiers are magically going to show up in time for the olympics, just like the have done for the last 8+ years. I will not waste my or my kids time on this anymore. I will be the last generation cross country skier in this family.

  • Avatar
    OEB2ODB

    April 23, 2010 at 11:48 am

    “I think that is the real challenge for our country, that we do tend to have quality athletes, but they tend to develop slower.”

    Is this secret code for inadequate coaching? Not enough junior support? I find this statement to be a terrible admission from a USSA Nordic director. Totally unaccountable for the failure to develop a talent like Koos.

    Of course we have people with the same VO2 Max as citizens of Norway, Russia, Germany, Sweden etc. Isn’t the whole mission of the USSA to develop these talents?

  • FasterSkier
    FasterSkier

    April 23, 2010 at 11:55 am

    No. It is not secret code. It is a clear statement on what anyone involved in the ski community knows – our development system has not produced – or even existed in an organized fashion. This is no secret. There is quite a lot of work going on to correct this – at all levels – from USSA to regional organizations like NENSA and CXC, to individual clubs.

    Great progress has been made, but there is still work to do. And any improvements will take years to pay off.

    The ski community, including USST staff, have been very accountable. There is complete recognition that we, as a community, have not done a good enough job developing athletes, and we are now trying to do better.

  • Avatar
    Erik_hendrickson

    April 23, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    The USSA/USST is not a development program. By their own admission, their goal is wait for that Olympic caliber medal athletes to appear, then take credit for their results.

    I guess I keep forgetting that.

  • Avatar
    Reese

    April 23, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    apparently, commitment is more important than results… even when that commitment leads to no results.

    Torin = “committed”, kicked off for no results

    Tad = “uncommitted”, best 50k skier in the country

  • Avatar
    Tim Kelley

    April 23, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    After reading interviews of USST coaches and Nordic program directors for decades – for once I sense a lot of common sense and rational, non-discretionary decisions in this article. The USST seems to now be focused on return on investment. They now have defined metrics to determine their return on investment, like performance expectations per age. That’s good business. They recognize the success of elite clubs and are allowing them to do their job of developing up and coming skiers and not mess with the pipeline – another good call. The only thing I read that doesn’t seem to make sense to me is the national J2 camp. Seems like the grassroots programs can best identify and develop local jr. talent. But overall, thumbs up to Grover and Farra.

    As for the older skiers that didn’t make the USST … they will likely be going to Worlds at Oslo next year while younger USST skiers stay home. So there is some consolation.

  • Avatar
    skinnyski23

    April 23, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    What really should matter is objective results. In the Olympic Team Sprint, Koos’s cumulative time in the Final was a whopping 17.8 seconds faster than Newell. If Newell skied as fast as Koos, they would have placed 4th, barely out of Silver medal contention. Koos was a total of only 1 second back from gold medalist Oystein Pettersen on total time. Hardly the result of a washed up skier.
    Only 4 US skiers have made the objective criteria in the past 2 decades, and one of them is Koos. Freeman is the same age as Koos. Comparing some FIS rankings in Sprint and Distance respectively:
    year 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
    Koos 36 35 29 20 20 sprint
    Freeman 51 45 48 45 56 distance
    Hamilton 65 sprint
    Hoffman 185 174 distance
    Arritola 89 101 107 distance
    Stephen 91 73 75 distance

    Both Freeman and Koos were sick a good chunk of the year, which is listed as a factor on the subjective criteria. There are 4 skiers in the US with a shot at a medal at next year’s Worlds. The USST is dropping the guy who got the closest this year. Dropping either Freeman or Koos at 30 with the lack of depth this team has is nothing short of moronic. There are many skiers in their 30s who have won championships.

  • FasterSkier
    FasterSkier

    April 23, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    Using Team Sprint times for any type of analysis is not generally useful. Times between legs can vary greatly due to changes in who is leading, strategy, etc. I’m certainly not saying that Andy raced better than Torin on that day, but as a tool for evaluating people overall, that measure does not provide useful information.

  • Avatar
    jb borstelmann

    April 23, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    I hate to see the team drop Torin Koos if he is still “all in” because his results are not that off. I also wonder if Kris Freeman should continue to try to race at the World Cup level due to his diabetes. While I have the highest respect for Kris as an athlete overcoming an unbelievably difficult challenge, I’m not sure ski racing at the elite level is smart for his health and future life. I mean we’re talking about a lethal disease, and he’s trying to make his body perform at the maximum level. His results have been amazing in this context, better than world class! I just want him to have a healthy future after racing. Top race results aren’t worth dying for or ruining your health.
    The challenge for the US is how to recruit and develop the best athletes in teenage and early 20s years. Maybe Pete V. can do this in his new USSA post, in cooperation with the best clubs like Sun Valley, CXC, Stratton Mt. School, APU, et al. I hope so.
    But think about how big the talent pipeline is in Norway, Sweden, Finland. Even Estonia and Switzerland kick our butts…sheesh, we’ve got some work to do!

  • Avatar
    4skiers

    April 23, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    No one has addressed the inclusion of Noah Hoffman, who has had mediocre results at best for the past 2 years. If the focus is on results, Tad Elliott fills a gaping hole in distance talent that Noah does not match. If attendance at camps is the turning point – Kikkan Randall does not ever attend Lake Placid, nor is she in New Zealand.
    Regarding the use of clubs to develop young talent – the clubs are also committing most of their resources to the older athletes who have a better chance at consistent podium finishes, which bring in sponsor dollars, than the younger athletes. There is a reason the best young athletes in the country go to college – it’s still a far better source of funding than clubs or the USSA. Parents who have funded talented youngsters at a cost of $10,000 or more per year for several years to attend national races, JO’s, Scando Cup and World Juniors are unable or unwilling to continue this indefinitely. Colleges are committing to these athletes with money and an education. USSA is committing nothing, and the clubs are not doing much more. It’s hard to see how the US will ever become competitive in Cross-Country when there is virtually no upside to going “all in” at a young age.

  • Avatar
    rockybarber

    April 23, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    “The (national team and development team) athletes are defiantly the starting point. To truly be the best in the world we’re going to need a bigger team. The teams that dominate have big teams to cultivate skiers. To be the best in the world with a small team and staff is unfeasible. We need to grow to make that happen.” -Chris Grover in Fasterskier 2003

    So much for the smaller team being “consistent with goals”, unless those goals have somehow changed.

  • Avatar
    carlthegardner

    April 23, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    I love the quote rockybarber, especially as Chris tells this to… Koos! Go Kooooss! Go Tad! Go Taz!

  • Avatar
    snyder_gary

    April 24, 2010 at 12:00 am

    The Olympic sprint relay combined times are definitely not worth much for comparisons…the last leg (Newell) skied further going into the finish shoot. All the last leg times were slower because of this. That being said, Koos is obviously one of our top two sprinters on any given day. If we want podiums he is one of the current best bets for the team. Age should be irrelevant in picking our best skiers, whether they are 15 or 35…

  • Avatar
    Antonia

    April 24, 2010 at 2:33 am

    Could someone explain the rational for the lack of objective criteria for naming someone to the development team? The only current objective criteria seems to relate to World Cup and Olympic-level FIS results. With the US Ski Team’s recent position on college skiing, how are 17-24 year old skiers supposed to know how they fit in the development pipeline. If we are asking skiers to skip out on college, it would at least be fair to let them know what steps it takes to make the development team. This would likely encourage skiers who are on track to international success to take a year off in hopes of making the ski team, since they could actually know what it takes to make it. Look at Canada for example: http://www.cccski.com/dbfiles/1636.pdf . Clear criteria to show what steps it takes to move development towards international results. If we could adopt similar criteria this could help set benchmarks for our younger athletes that could guide them on the road to international success. The fact is that many of our athletes at age 17 or 18 have to choose between college and skiing, and when the only criterion that you can look towards are results that you cannot achieve for 7-12 years, you’re likely going to figure that your four years in college are the best way to go.

    Also, what is the situation of health care on the US ski team? Last I heard, every athlete on the development team lost it March 1st. If we want kids to skip out on college, we better find a way to provide this. I’ve in fact heard of athletes who have specifically chosen to go the college route simply because that is the only way they can maintain health care coverage. I think this is an issue that is under-discussed. I’d say we have a severe disadvantage over every country that we compete with, because our athletes have to find a way to front these costs. Let’s hope Barry O’s legislation can help us in this regard, but in the mean time, I’d certainly like to know how the BOD can justify Marlot’s bonuses when our own USST athletes are having to find a way to pay for their health insurance.

    We really need to take a look at what we have in this country, what challenges we face, and how we can overcome them so we can make the best of what we have. In the other thread “Fasterskier” states that “the hope is that continued work on the development pipeline will lead to a number of athletes between 20-24 who are on track to contend for medals. Unfortunately those skiers do not exist right now.” Why is this? Last time I checked the current development team has been running since 2006. Why hasn’t it produced results? And how will it change this? I’m sure the answer will be ‘college’ as from 2006-2009 we were cool with having college skiers on the USST, which may have presumably been a mistake. I have still not seen any way that the USST has really fundamentally addressed the collegiate issue. Just saying “skip college if you want to be recognized” is not a feasible policy. You need to provide opportunities both for skiers on the team, and those on the borderline. Look at Canada right now. In general, historically its been pretty standard for American juniors to be on par, and even ahead of Canadian juniors at JWCs. But already by the U23 years, we see Canadians far surpassing the results of our Americans. And these results are not only coming from Canadians on their national team. They’ve produced a system, where even if you are not on the national team, you can find the support to focus on skiing full time. We are slowly begin to realize this system in this country. But we still need to recognize the place that college will play in our system. The fact is that for most of our athletes, college over the short-term, offers the best opportunity for developing skiing. The problem is that college offers too many other opportunities as well. I will argue that until the USST and the club programs in this country can offer superior support to our collegiate programs, it is unreasonable to expect our athletes to choose the “ski full time” path over the collegiate path. As long as skiers are ‘forced’ to college because they can’t cut it financially on their own, we’re going to need to recognize that collegiate skiing is a major part of our development system. And if the USST can’t find a way to provide a feasible alternative to this system, we’ll be a lot better off if we choose not just to ignore it, but instead find a way to make use of the opportunities it presents.

  • FasterSkier
    FasterSkier

    April 24, 2010 at 8:17 am

    Both Grover and Farra told FasterSkier that they expected the team to grow over the next few years when there are more athletes willing to make the commitment, and who project out to medal potential.

    In regards to Hoffman, he has had very inconsistent results, but he is also only 21 – younger than Tad, and even over the the last two years has had results that are basically as good as Tad’s (2nd in SuperTour Final Climb, 1st in Swiss FIS race, similar U23 results).

    But regardless of this, racing well in the US DOES NOT mean you will be a good international skier. I’m not sure why this is so hard for people to understand.

    Placing in the top of the field of US Nationals is not good enough. The whole problem, as everyone is talking about, is that as a nation, we are not good enough. So using ourselves as a measuring stick makes no sense whatsoever.

    Finally while Hoffman has not taken a big step forward, he does have a history of international success at World Juniors – and it was just two years ago that everyone was going on about Noah like they are Tad now. There is no question that there is a good argument for Noah not being on the team. My guess (and this is pure conjecture) is that Noah was given a little slack because of his age, and because he was named at a time when the general policy was to give a little extra time to athletes – so he would be “grandfathered in.” Again that is purely a guess on my part.

  • Avatar
    kris freeman

    April 24, 2010 at 9:08 am

    One of the comments questioned weather my long term health could be affected negatively by continuing to compete at the world cup level. My doctors have assured me that they do not believe that competing with diabetes will cause health issues in the future. On the contrary the training I do contributes to my good health. That being said the hypoglycemic episodes I had this season caused relative short term exhaustion which led to extremely inconsistent and at times embarrassing results.

    The definition of diabetes is hyperglycemia or high blood sugar. When left untreated high blood sugar can cause an array of serious health problems. Hypoglycemia or low blood is a side affect of treating diabetes. It is dangerous only in the short term. I have studied diabetes extensively and found no reason to believe I am putting my long term health at risk.

  • Avatar
    Marjot

    April 24, 2010 at 11:12 am

    In cycling, the only way USA athletes became competitive was by racing day in and day out with the Europeans. Camps and clubs and a trip here and there do not make an athlete competitive on the international level. Extended experience does this, as well as change the mind set and harden the psyche to what it requires. Once those “foreigners” are seen as just like us and human, they become beatable. The catch 22 is that the ski team has to give its blessing to get an American a world cup start. They want to own starters but only those who already have a chance under the current program continue to get a chance. Nothing like some “surprise” performances to shake up the thought process of the ski team leaders who continue to do what fails. We need 30 Americans on the WC all winter every winter. Then we will see who can step up. College skiers could take a year off to ski the WC with ZERO trips home and back so the illness issues are overcome. Then they would, could and will show the USSA that they can perform with the world leaders. Don’t forget that the college teams recruit B level Europeans for the USA NCAA teams in XC. This doesn’t help USA athletes either!

  • FasterSkier
    FasterSkier

    April 24, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    Regardless of any other issues, the US does not have anywhere near 30 World Cup start spots. I don’t know the exact numbers, but it is probably around 4-6 per race. We certainly could start more people than we are doing now, but not 30.

  • Avatar
    rockybarber

    April 24, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    “The (national team and development team) athletes are defiantly the starting point. To truly be the best in the world we’re going to need a bigger team. The teams that dominate have big teams to cultivate skiers. To be the best in the world with a small team and staff is unfeasible. We need to grow to make that happen.” -Chris Grover in Fasterskier 2003

    Grover said he doesn’t have grand plans to change the direction of the team, which in many ways is healthier and more successful than it’s ever been. -Anchorage Daily News Apr 14

    Both Grover and Farra told FasterSkier that they expected the team to grow over the next few years when there are more athletes willing to make the commitment, and who project out to medal potential.-fasterskier Apr 24

    So let me get this straight. In 2003, we need a big team if we expect to be competitive. On April 14 we have a more healthy and succesful team than ever, and has no grand plans to change direction. On April 22 Grover cuts this team to 7 because there are not enough athletes willing to make the commitment that have medal potential . What happened in those 8 days?

  • Avatar
    skiparent

    April 24, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    I would like to throw this question out to everyone: Why is it that we are always relating to chronological age and not physiological age? Criteria for the USA and Canada reflect on where a skier should be based on their chronological age, however if an individual commits at age 24 (an example because they decided to acquire their university education first) and progresses each year and is meeting the expectant levels of achievment under the Long Term Athlete Development Plan albeit five years later than indicated on the age curve, should they not be considered equally or is chronological age the defining factor?

  • Avatar
    Greater North

    April 24, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    Biggest problem in North American cross country skiing is that our athletes do not train enough early enough. That is why we are consistently behind the age/performance curve. All our other problems stem from this. Dead simple.

  • Avatar
    sfjeldhe

    April 25, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Hello, my name is Sten Fjeldheim and I have been coaching some years now and facing many of the same challenges that we all share. As a skiing Nation we all seem to agree on one thing and that is we all feel that we can become a strong ski Nation but how?
    Other sports that are not main stream US sports have managed to become successful on a consistent basis so why have we not been able to do the same?
    Please, remember that we are moving forward, we have had some great performances internationally from individuals like, Kikkan, Andrew, Torin, Chris, etc….. These skiers have managed to become world class and when they speak we should remember to listen, support and admire them, I do.

    OK, so the challenge then is to create a stronger, more consistent system system for ensuring that the USA can cultivate more , many more athletes of the caliber that I mentioned in the past paragraph.

    This is our responsibility not only that of the USSA but that of anyone who calls themselves a coach, interested supporter, fund raiser, club supporter, fan, whatever…

    Here are just a few of the things that I see may help our mission in developing a strong system of development. Before I list my suggestions let me share with you some of the skiers who I have had the pleasure of coaching, many of these skiers all shared one common thread with you all. The passion and love for the sport. This list of skiers is not complete but my reason for listing them is so you the reader will understand where I have drawn some of my suggestions from.
    Vordenberg, Alien Peterson, Morgan Smyth, Lindsey Weier, Lindsay Williams, Melisa Oram, Aubrey Smyth, Kurt Wulf,
    Curtis Schriner, Eli Brown, Joe Haggenmiller, Jed Friedrich, Caitlin Compton, Chris Cook, Bryan Cook, Maria Stuber, Rachel Daw, etc……

    No, this is not a list posted for bragging rights this is a list of skiers who I have shared many hours with, learned from, respect, care for, cheered for, cried with, laughed with, drove too many hours with,etc…… So, as you all would like to see more Olympic and WC podium finished so would they have, so would I have.
    Let me tell ya, ski coaching, ski racing (on most levels) is no way to become rich, we are all in it for the same reason and you know well what that is, we all need to agree to disagree, not become unprofessional in our comments and suggestions and to believe that we can means the one day we will find a way.

    OK, so here are some key issues we must change.
    1. Find a place on the “pipe line” of development that includes colleges that have proven their team or club can fit in. As Svere Caldwell said, “it would cost the USST nothing to generate a list of NCAA teams they feel is fitting in the USSA “pipe line”.
    This would go a long way with keeping NCAA skiiing alive. With out he NCAA teams that compete here in the Central the “USSA Suprtour” would be a hard sell to race organizers.
    Not all colleges focus on recruiting B level skiers as was stated in the comment section of this article. I also think it is a good thing to have the European skiers in the NCAA, this has for sure elevated the level of competition.
    2. Clubs must be more, way more of a focus. Why? Well, look at the successful ski nations, this pretty much answers that question.
    OK, the regions have a very important place in the role of development and that is to; develop the race calender for the clubs within the region, to help bring clubs together for camp opportunities, coaches education, etc….
    Starting with the junior Olympics or junior Nationals which ever one call it.
    The clubs need to be responsible for staffing their own coaching-support team, skiers need to be in their own club uniforms (cut costs), club identification is critical for the future!
    Strong clubs will get recognition, weaker clubs will need to become stronger to compete (what our country is founded on).
    OK, make the relay a Regional event, like in Norway pick the best skiers from clubs with in the region to make up a regional relay, now one has some regional acknowledgment.
    The skiers can wear a regional vest on the podium to acknowledge the region but the club suit , jacket, whatever is still very visible.
    Junior Nationals serve several purposes, advancement and identification for junior skiers, show case our sport in many different areas, etc…
    Now we have a chance to have Junior Nationals serve as motivators for club development and ultimately this will enhance the level of of junior skiers development.
    How, well first off the number of regional quota needs to get cut down from 40 to 20 (suggestion). This constant quota of 40 is too much of a well fare system in my book.
    The clubs can then earn more spots for the next year by placing skiers (just for example) in the top 10,15,20?
    What will this create? ACCOUNTABILITY, MOTIVATION, RECOGNITION !!!!
    This idea has been sent in the the USSA for consideration and discussion at this years USSA spring meetings.

    Many concerns that I have heard regarding this proposal need to be discussed and explored buy the junior committee, this is not a new idea but one that has been around for some time. Most of the resistance I believe is due to the fear of the unknown, this is expected since most who object this proposal have never experienced any other way of doing business so the find more negative “well, what if’s” that reasons for change.
    What is that phrase “if one continues to do the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome, then this may be the definition of insanity”?
    The one I hear the most is ,”what about the kid without a club?”
    I guess he or she better find one, sign up and then at least they should get a training program and some help if the club is worth much. I guess even if all the kid gets is some direction via e mail or a phone call or a occasional camp, well it is better than meeting a coach once a year at the JOs and finding out then they should have been doing some roller skiing all summer, etc..
    When clubs earn slots for the next year they get stronger, weak clubs will stay weak unless they decide to do something about it. I could go on and on but I think you get the idea, compete for the best athletes, take responsibility for their development all the way up the pipe line, be at the JOs to ensure they have the best chance for success, take the credit, on and on….
    This is how other countries who have strong skiing culture do it this is how other sports that have international success here in the US do it, etc.

    The US Nordic Combined team did it, congratulations. Maybe we should talk a little to these guys, way to go DJ !
    I also would like to state a well known fact. The NMU ski team assistant coach (Jennifer Ryan) was working on her graduate paper and needed some data. Some of her data was with regards to age and performance. What she noticed was that the average age of the medal winners in both genders at the 2002 Olympics was 30.2, hummmmm.
    So, sorry for rambling on, sorry for my poor English but thans for your passion with regards to our sport.

    You know, the hardest coaching I ever did was my short lived time as a USST coach, what I learned form this was way too mush to list in detail but the one thing you all should know.
    The coaches we have on the USST staff work their rear ends off and untill we create a system that hands them a more consistent level of faster skiers, in greater numbers they have no chance to success, NO MATTER WHO WE HIRE AS HEAD COACH, DEVELOPMENT COACH, ETC….

    OK, hope you all doing well, dust off the roller skis and remember some simple rules with regards to elite level XC skiing.
    1.It is not for just anyone!
    2. You got to be a little nuts to want to train so much dryland for a sport that you actually get to do on snow and show your stuff for a few short months on snow.
    3. Fitness is important
    4. Technique MUST become a constant in all training.
    5. It takes years to become an overnight success
    6. It is not cheap
    7. There are no experts, if you think you have it all figured out your an idiot (sorry, just had to put that one in there).
    8. Please, stop making excuses.
    9. Early snow is not the answer, spring and summer training is the key, year after year, consistently!
    Lindsey Weier skied on snow for one week before she won US national 5K in Houghton, betting many skiers who had several races on snow earlier in the winter and many Ks on snow in the summer, I wonder why?
    10. You do not have to have a Glacier near by (hard to do in most places).
    11. All coaches must be ready to not have much of a life outide skiing, oh and be able to stand for 6 to 8 hours at a wax table, then drive the 4 to 6 to 8 to ? hours back home, and love it!

    Later, Sten

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    crashtestxc

    April 25, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Great post Sten!! Dead on about many parts.

    The USSA needs to add objective criteria to the “B” team, otherwise there is no set standard to work towards to make that team if it is just “up-in-the-air”. This would motivate many skiers that really want to pursue a skiing career.

    Ignoring NCAA skiing entirely is a mistake. There is funding to train, race, and travel that is unparalleled by “ANY” club program. This is a direction that many skiers go because it would be impossible to continue racing via the club direction because it’s too expensive and there’s not enough support.

    Snorri Einarsson who raced for the University of Utah just two years ago was just named to the NORWEGIAN NATIONAL TEAM! I’m know he will excel for years to come on the World Cup circuit and disprove this “European B-skier being recruited to colleges in the U.S.” idea…!!

    USST is waiting for the talent, not trying to develop or foster it!

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    Mike Trecker

    April 25, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    Yes, great post Sten, I’m am for the cut of the regional quota to Junior Nationals, a cut from 40 to 20 is a good, tangible first step.

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    T.Eastman

    April 25, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    and don’t forget to find the pure, raw joy of hard racing!

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    Marjot

    April 26, 2010 at 1:55 am

    If I am a USA skier and I know I have desire, ability and the VO2max to be internationally competitive, how do I get World Cup start? Must I wait for the “known” USSA appointees to recognize me, or is there a way to show they must recognize me and give me a start? (Perhaps I am already a running champion or a rowing champion and know my VO2 max is world class.) Is my lack of Pedigree the end of my chances? How would I prove I am “worthy” of a World Cup start?

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    nexer

    April 26, 2010 at 8:05 am

    Duh Marjot. Nobody cares about your VO2max. You win big races and win often. That’s how.

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    Marjot

    April 26, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    OK nexer – of all the USA skiers who won races in the USA in 2009-2010 how many winners were named to the team? Who are they? Which races? BTW, when the number of world cup starts is discussed it is helpful to elaborate if they are male and female combined or 4-6 for each sex. What a lot of opportunity going to waste not to always fill them so many more USA skiers get enough experience to become internationally competitive. Frankly, excluding an athlete because they have shown they are world class in another sport (thus are not committed) is crazy. If they have the talent, have won the races and USSA won’t let them progress and another sport will, then screw the USSA! You only have your best competitive years for a limited time and you can’t afford to finance ski race trips to all the “unnamed” BIG races hoping against hope that an A team member will show up and you can beat them with all their international experience (while you work to support yourself) in the one chance that maybe happens each season ….if you guess right ….and you can get off work …. and you can fford the trip!

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    triguy

    April 26, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    Marjot, probably best to take it down a notch and learn about the WC system before you starting ranting about everything. FIS sets a WC quota based on previous season results (how many skiers you have the score ‘points’ ie. top 30) The US has a quota around 4-5 for men and 3-4 for women (diff for dist/sprint) FIS also sets a minimum FIS points standard to enter a WC race as part of the main quota (this is different for a domestic WC with Nations Group spots).

    The single biggest expense for the USST or any other National Team is fielding a WC and WSC team. If the USST were planning to field a full team at every WC during the year they would need to increase the budget by at lest 3-4x from what it currently is. If the athletes pay themselves they are looking at 5-8k for a 2-3 week WC trip and maybe more if they need to fund wax techs and coaches personally. I think the average support staff on the WC is at least 6 and most of the larger countries are traveling with more like 10-15+ staff. At 60 euros a day for room/board per person plus flights, rental cars, salary, etc it adds up in a real hurry.

    As nexer points out the way to get a WC start is to win the races domestically, qualify for U23 worlds or race really fast at a domestic WC when they are in Can/US. And nobody really cares what your Vo2 is, despite the people onthis board that think it’s all that matters. Sure 90+ is amazing and will help, but other people have won WC/OWG with numbers in the low 70’s which is quite normal for an endurance athlete. What people do care about is how fast you can ski, can you win supertour races and nationals? I’d happily take the guy with a 70 vo2 that wins over a runner with 85vo2 that struggles to come top-10.

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    birchleg

    April 26, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    I can’t see the logic in dropping Koos at 29 given his level of performance. Smirnov, Mieto, Braa, Becky Scott, Pierre Harvey, and Bente Skari all had their best season at 30 or later. DeZolt was much better past 30, and Hilda Pederson didn’t reach a podium until 37 and won two individual medals at 38. If what John Farra says about US skiers being traditionally behind the World in the speed of development is correct, it makes even less sense for them to drop a world class skier at 29. Spillane and Demong are the same age as Koos, and Lodwick had his best season at 33. Koos is the #3 ranked skier in the US by a longshot over #4, was sick a good chunk of the season, and finished 2009 in the red group. He should be on the team.

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    triguy

    April 26, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    Oh, forgot to mention the FIS regional series spot. The leader in the FIS Regional Series gets a WC spot with some funding from FIS. So whoever is leading the SuperTour or NorAm series standings during each WC period gets a spot that is in addition to the regular quota spots. This is the best way to get on the WC, but it means that you need to travel the domestic race circuit and prove that you are the best domestic racer during that period.

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    skierout

    April 26, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    We need to look for ways to improve the regional clubs. Sten has some good ideas. Obviously, the USST is going to take care of their skiers and leave the others to fend for themselves. But here is where “little people” on this board and in the ski community can make a difference. If you want to say screw you to USSA, find ways to help and grow CXC, MWSC, APU, Sun Valley, etc. Close the gap of support between USST athletes and club athletes.

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    triguy

    April 26, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    skierout, you are right about doing the ‘grassroots’ work with clubs and racing teams to help the system. Definitely what is needed. But, it isn’t saying ‘screw you’ to the USSA, its what they want and need as well. The better those programs, and the local clubs are working, the more and better athletes the USST will have and the results at WJC/U23 and WC/WSC will get better and with more depth.

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    T.Eastman

    April 26, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    Lots of talk about what “we” should do at this time every year. Enough of that! What are “you” going to do as an individual? The elite program only has limited funds and this is not likely to change anytime soon.

    Work with the local program, take out friends that haven’t skied and show them the sport, keep skiing local and inexpensive, and demonstrate that skiing is ultimately about having fun and not just racing. It is up to all of us to grow the sport from the bottom up.

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    OEB2ODB

    April 27, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    After a day of thought, I want to give props to the coaches and athletes who are working their tails off to succeed at the highest level. This is XC skiing, not curing cancer. T. Eastman is right. If the US doesn’t win a Olympic medal, or a WC race, that’s fine with me… As long as the snow falls we can put skinny boards on our feet and slide around.

    Thanks Fasterskier for keeping the news flowing.

    Cheers, OEB.

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    Marjot

    April 27, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    We were discusing the USA National Team. Sorry that this intruded upon your moment of personal meditation about never having the chance to compete successfully internationally .. If you read this far, and bothered to comment a second time, you are disingenuous with your “laid back” peace out posting.
    Sorry that you never met the goals you set for yourself. It sounds as though you think we we should all never bother to
    try. If this is the case, why did you read this far in the postings? You likely wouldn’t care so much if you hadn’t at one time been personally invested. Just because you are older and wiser, doesn’t mean that those who made millions off their gold medals are sorry they cared!

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    T.Eastman

    April 27, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    Marjot, do you even ski? If you want to be a great skier get to work and throw the dice. Maybe you have the right stuff and maybe you don’t. Money will not alter the fact that the long term commitment to become the best you can be is founded on believing that skiing is worth the effort of total dedication. Many Euros spend time working at school and career while improving their skiing skills and fitness. If gaining a WC start is really important and you truly believe you have the ability, take out a loan and finance a winter in Europe racing on the “B” circuit until you are named. Unless you are special…

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    drinkinginmyfreeaudi

    April 28, 2010 at 7:41 am

    No, but I am sure money could buy; development and more potential participants, racing skis and equipment for kids that can’t afford them, free ovenight camps to introduce kids to the sport, finding new and more racers, and ultimatley the potential for a viable industry and thus a competetive national team in important races.

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    Nordic Gal

    April 28, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Weren’t we all talking about the size of the team?
    The team as named is so tiny that I think it isn’t a team at all.
    There should be at least a dozen A & B members named and a development team named. Who cares if they are only given a tee shirt and a wind breaker. This is enough to keep many young skiers skiing a few years after college.
    Why?
    Even if it only convinces their parents they are not wasting their time. I remember when my husband’s mother saw his name in the NY Times for coming in 10th at Nationals did she finally begin to value his passion. And that the local ski shop doubled their efforts to help him. The local media even began to care.
    Don’t under value being the best in the USA. It counts. Recognition helps keep skiers working hard, it helps them get local support and national support.
    When the Putney boys were rocking didn’t the US Ski Team have an A, B and C team? Didn’t the Divisions, Brattleboro name its own team.
    We should be proud of who we are and name a real Team.
    The medals will come. Let us support the athletes we have!
    Have Fun

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    rockybarber

    May 4, 2010 at 9:52 am

    The dumping of Koos reminds me of the Reds trading Frank Robinson for spare parts because he was “too old at 30”. All Robinson did the next year was win the League and World Series MVPs and the triple crown. Too bad for Koos that he can’t pull a Robinson since Grover won’t give him starts in the World Cup even though it’s obvious that there aren’t 4 better sprinters in this country.

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    rockybarber

    May 4, 2010 at 9:59 am

    It’s interesting that Carl Swenson and Dario Cologna wouldn’t be able to make this team due to their pro biking careers. They may want to rethink their position on Tad Elliot. It looks like Cologna has done pretty well despite his “lack of commitment.”

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