Koos, Elliott, Others to Fall Back on Clubs

Nathaniel HerzApril 26, 201013
Torin Koos racing in Fort Kent in March

Athletically, Tad Elliott and Torin Koos don’t have much in common. At 21, Elliott is a distance specialist, and still developing. Koos is a sprinter, and at 29, he’s in the latter half of his career.

The two things they do share? Both had hopes of making the 2010-2011 U.S. Ski Team—and both were left off the roster.

As part of a shift in strategy under new Head Coach Chris Grover, the team announced last week that it would nominate just seven athletes for 2010-2011—down from 11 this winter.

Grover said that his organization would still be doing “more than ever” to support developing skiers through new programs and enhanced partnerships with local clubs—and Elliott and Koos will likely be beneficiaries, to some extent. But with details of Grover’s new strategy still falling into place, those two—and other hopefuls—have had to move forward with their own plans for the next season.

After more than half a decade racing for the USST, Koos is going back to his roots in Washington. He’ll race next year for the Methow Olympic Development Team, a small, elite club coached by Scott Johnston.

Koos struggled this season after an infected hair follicle last spring turned into a potentially life-threatening skin infection; he had to have surgery and take a heavy dose of antibiotics. The drugs, he said, left him susceptible to sickness, and he picked up two sinus infections this winter—one right before Christmas, and one after the Olympics.

Though Koos had one stellar result—second place in the Canmore sprint qualifier, and 10th in the rounds—he only saw one tour in Europe this year, in the early part of the season. At the Olympics, his focus for the year, he bombed out in the individual sprint, missing the top-30.

Koos beating Newell at the line in Fort Kent. Photo courtesy of Andy Shepard, Maine Winter Sports Center

After wrapping things up with a win over Andy Newell in a sprint at the SuperTour Finals in Fort Kent, Koos ended up just missing the USST’s qualifying standards by two FIS points–which he said equated to a mere .3 seconds per race.

“I knew that it hasn’t been the season that I’d dreamed about,” he said. “I think there were some bright spots, considering. I came pretty close, looking at it, to making the objective criteria, and just missed by the minutest of margins.”

In late March, Koos said he got a three-paragraph e-mail from Grover letting him know that he was dropped from the team. That was followed a day later with a phone conversation with John Farra, who oversees the cross-country program in his job with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.

Grover said that the USST generally tries to make phone calls when first notifying athletes that they’ve been dropped, but he didn’t want to comment on the particulars of Koos’s case, which he said was unique.

Next season, Koos said that he’s trying to figure out a way to race in Europe— either on the domestic circuit there, or by paying his own way to the World Cup.

He’s facing an uphill battle, though—since domestic European races typically aren’t scored on the USSA points list, they won’t help him qualify for the 2011 World Championships.

And Grover said that since Koos didn’t meet the objective criteria for the fall World Cup races, he couldn’t guarantee start rights for those races, either.

That leaves the SuperTour, which Koos said is probably not the best place for his development.

“I’m just looking for the opportunity to prove…that I’m a top level racer—that I can race at the major leagues of skiing,” he said.

Elliott, Kuzzy, and the Rest

Elliott spoke with USST staff at the SuperTour Finals in Fort Kent, and he left there feeling optimistic. He’d had a strong season, with podium finishes in two U.S. championship races, and at the American Birkebeiner.
A few weeks later, Elliott said he received an e-mail telling him to be prepared for a phone call the following day to discuss his future with the team. But that call never came, and he learned of the team’s roster when a friend sent him a text message last week.

Elliott (r) on his way to second in the U.S. 50 K Championships

Grover said that his staff has been scrambling this spring, with the departure of Justin Wadsworth and some shuffling of roles and responsibilities.

“Matt [Whitcomb] talked to Tad about potentially making the Continental Cup team format work for him, and he didn’t seem to be able to make the camp opportunities because of his mountain bike racing schedule,” Grover said. “If some communications fell through the cracks, which is certainly possible, then it’s definitely our fault, and we need to do a better job there…That’s why it’s important that people pick up the phone and call us, once in a while.”

After riding his mountain bike professionally this summer, Elliott said that he’ll ski for CXC’s elite team again next winter. He is already pre-qualified for the U-23 World Championships, and said that he’d be thrilled to make the senior World Championships team for Oslo.

“It’s not a big deal at all—I’m not disappointed….I see the ski team as something to strive for,” he said, but “I think I can be successful with the sponsors and the people surrounding me who support me. I’ve been improving every year taking this path, and this is what has worked for me. I’m happy to stay doing that.”

Also returning to CXC is Garrott Kuzzy, who was dropped from the USST after a two-year stint. He said he was prepared for the news.

“I set out some criteria and goals with [USST staff] last spring for what I needed to accomplish in order to continue being on the team, so it wasn’t a shock to me,” said Kuzzy. “I definitely was given the opportunity to do what I needed to do, [in order] to take it to the next level. Had some good races for sure, but I still need to figure out how to put it together when I want to put it together.”

Not much will be changing, Kuzzy said—most of his support over the past few seasons already came from CXC. The USST helped him get to a few camps, but not much more than that.

Grover’s vision—a smaller domestic presence for the USST, and more money towards international racing for younger athletes—is “the right way to do it,” Kuzzy said.

Lindsay Williams and Morgan Smyth, two of the women dropped from the team, had been hampered by illness and injury.

After unknowingly training and then racing with a broken thumb for multiple months this winter, Williams faces surgery to fuse the bone—and that’s on

Williams racing at the 2010 U.S. National Championships in Anchorage. Photo, Rob Whitney

top of lingering circulation problems in her legs. Her future is uncertain, she said, until she gets healthy.

Smyth had surgery for compartment syndrome in August, then battled a recurring case of mononucleosis this winter. In an e-mail to FasterSkier, she said she’d be relying on a club for support next year.

“Being a member of the USST is an honor,” she said, “But it is training that makes you a good skier, and I will definitely continue to do my best every single day.”

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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  • carlthegardner

    April 27, 2010 at 12:03 am

    Let’s try and play the game fill in the blanks. Grover won’t comment on the particulars of Koos’s case because it makes him as uncomfortable as hell talking to a reporter about how he’s trying to screw over one of america’s best skiers.

  • RennKreft

    April 27, 2010 at 1:49 am

    Or, CarltheGardner, Grover won’t comment on the particulars of Koos’ case because it would be inappropriate or unprofessional of him to do so, and he is trying to do the right thing when pressed by a reporter. This doesn’t mean he is perfect, just trying to do the right thing in this one instance. Perhaps the reason could effect Koos’ ability to attract sponsors and fund his way to Europe? Perhaps it’s something else? Bottom line, there has to be a level of confidentiality in a coach-athlete relationship.

    Let the ski team coaches figure out and announce their full plans (not just the team nominees) before we (the anonymous commenters of FasterSkier) crucify them. The coaches are all good people who want the best for US Skiing, and given their intellect and their constant, current involvement with the team and the sport on the highest level you have to figure that they have a better position to make these decisions from than you or I do.

    Besides, if you really have something substantive to add to the discussion, why not take the time to send an email to Grover or Whitcomb of Vordenberg? They always put their email out there….

    I’m not saying… I’m just saying…

  • doingitwell

    April 27, 2010 at 7:30 am

    Here’s a thought to all of those who are saying that Koos should be on the US Ski Team still. The USST owes Torin Koos nothing. He was on the USST with support for how many years…eight or nine? That is well over a million dollars by my estimates with expenses that they have invested in him. He has had some results, kudos to him. He has NOT been consistently there over the last couple years, no one can argue that. The USST made the decision that they cannot continue to invest in him and that is their call.
    Did anyone think that Torin might have made his own grave in this? If you have been around elite skiing in the US for any number of years, you have been around Torin. The thought here is that his attitude had something to do with it as well. If you are that close to the criteria and you are a pleasure to be around, the USST names you is my guess. If you have alienated everyone with marginal to very selfish behavior year after year, maybe you don’t get named.
    I’m not saying, I’m just saying….

  • nordicguy

    April 27, 2010 at 8:11 am

    Let me start out by saying I think the USST guys work hard and are doing a good job.
    I also understand that skiers typically are not the best at doing things like getting back to you quickly or getting stuff done on time. That being said…
    Doingitwell – From all accounts I think you are spot on with your assessment of the situation. That being said you still should be able to make a phone call about something like this. It’s like breaking up with a girlfriend, no matter how much you can’t stand her any more, things will be better for you in the long run if you just man up and talk to her rather than just sending out an email breakup letter.
    Also I don’t see how the USST staff could be sooooo busy that they couldn’t follow up with Tad and give him a call after saying they would do so. I understand that it sounds like it really isn’t a big deal to him, but it doesn’t really scream Pro to me.

  • doingitwell

    April 27, 2010 at 8:21 am

    Nordicguy, no argument on Tad, you have to make that call, no doubt. I won’t defend that in anyway.

  • Martin Hall

    April 27, 2010 at 8:43 am

    The USST wants to name as many skiers as possible, but they didn’t have the greatest of results this past season—especially at the “big evaluator” of events the Olympics. I can’t believe they are operating this year with the same budget they had this past year—my guess is that a small budget is now even smaller, so, therefore, a smaller team. You can play the blame game—but this is a $$$ thing—pure and simple. Haven’t seen any program or staffing plans for the year, but I would think they would be smaller also—no trip to NZ and at least if not 2 coaches smaller in staff—one for sure. Justin’s going to Canada may have made that choice easier for them on deciding who was going to go. One coach per 8 athletes is considered an ideal coaching load—Grover covers that 7 number very nicely and I would think a number of the skiers have their own coaches, so, why do they have the need for 3-4 coaches as in the past?
    The other one or two coaches can cover development/coaches education—those Olympic Trng Centers have to look very enticing for running a bunch of no $$s camps and programs for all the younger skiers, veterans and coaches education that would fall into this category.
    Right now this program needs support—not catiness—Me thinks they’re doing as well as they can without mucho dinero!!!! This is an uphill battle and it needs all the oars in the water—pulling in one direction!

  • birchleg

    April 27, 2010 at 9:17 am

    If that’s the case, why didn’t anyone have a problem with him until now? Vordenberg thought enough of him to put him in the team sprint, put him on the relay, and gave him a spot in the Olympic 50K that he wasn’t able to use because he got sick after the 4×10. If Koos is so selfish, why did he give kudos to the USST coaches and staff following his victories at the SuperTour this year? Why does he post pictures of wax techs in his articles? Why does he interview so many skiers, coaches, and former skiers? Why is he involved in In the Arena and coaching junior high cross country and track? Why does he send letters to an elementary school class during the year?
    It certainly seems that it’s Grover that has a problem with him. Is it payback for Koos dumping him as a personal coach and going with Wadsworth? Why did Grover drop Koos in a letter when it’s their general policy to make a phone call? Why is it Farra who called Koos rather than Grover? Wasn’t Grover the Sprint coach? Wouldn’t it make sense for Grover to make the follow-up call as he was the one who sent the letter? Grover states that their is no guarantee that Koos could start in next year’s World Cup. Who is taking the 4 slots that the US has available for the World Cup Sprints? Newell, Simi, and Cook would have starts, Hoffman can’t as he doesn’t have a sprint race under 120 points, which leaves only Freeman, who like Koos didn’t meet the objective criteria of the National team, and is the same age, and is a distance skier rather than a sprinter. Is there someone else offering to pay their own expenses to the World Cup?
    Dumping one of the nations top skiers because you don’t like the guy is not the makings of a successful National Team head coach. Not letting the 36th ranked sprinter in the world and the 2nd best sprinter on the team race in the world cup when you have 4 slots available and only 3 sprinters is outright vindictive. The only real reason to do that, is if you afraid that he’ll prove you wrong. Judging by the races at Canmore and Fort Kent, that is a realistic fear.

  • Erik_hendrickson

    April 27, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Hey Nat,
    How about an article on the particulars of the USST budget for the upcoming season? That may put cutting Koos and others into context. It also might make people mad as hell.

    There never seems to be any solid information about the cross-country budget (and lots of speculation). Shedding some light on the situation for all the armchair fans would be awesome.

    If the information is unavailable/USSA is being so obtuse that they don’t let anyone know, then also let us know that. It is such a weighty issue but the question is never asked.

  • fletch

    April 27, 2010 at 10:27 am

    I think it would be grand if they gave Torin a chance to race in some World Cups next year if a spot was available. It seems like a win-win opportunity. He and Andy make a good team in the team sprints. If he can get back in the Red Group, his expenses would be paid by the World Cup. If he does really well, the US stands to benefit with a bigger team for the World Championships.
    Fletcher Koos (Torin’s uncle)

  • nyctvt

    April 27, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    Seems to be a double standard between criteria to keep Kris Freeman on the team and kicking Torin Koos off the team!

  • RonBott

    April 27, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    I guess I don’t understand all the outrage about who did or didn’t get nominated to the USST. So what if they placed well at nationals or the continental cup events. Since when does being one of the better skiers in the US guarantee you a spot on the USST? If they are true to their word of becoming one of the best teams in the world, then they should nominate those who are competitive on the World Cup. Right now I count that we have two of those.

  • nexer

    April 27, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    Freeman had a 16th, 4th, and 7th in Beitostoelen, Kuusamo, and Davos.

    There is no double standard there.

  • rockybarber

    April 30, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    One of the subjective criteria lists:”Illness or injury during the selection period.” When I read the above article, it seems absolutely clear that this to apply to Koos. He had some stellar results, missed the objective criteria by all of 0.3 seconds and was in the Red Group last year. This on a team whose biggest complaint by the staff last year was lack of depth. There is no reason that Koos should not be on the team based on the illness criteria. It defies logic that they would deny him world cup starts. He would be racing for almost any other country.

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