On Wednesday the United States Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) announced a squad of 14 skiers to attend World Championships in Oslo, Norway at the end of February. That is one more than attended the 2009 edition in Liberec, Czech Republic.
The team is split evenly between men and women – seven of each gender will have the opportunity to compete against the best in the world’s greatest ski nation.
The selection of the team was somewhat controversial, or at least more open to questioning, than the squad chosen for the Olympics in 2010. Those eleven athletes held the top spots on the US National Ranking List (NRL).
This year is a different story, with coach’s discretion playing a significant role in team selection.
The USSA criteria for the 2011 World Championships consists of three parts.
Primary selection is based on the 2011 World Cup ranking lists. World Cup points are accrued by finishing top-30 in World Cup events, and lists are constantly updated.
Any US athlete ranked in the top-60 in the overall World Cup standings or top-50 in either the Sprint or Distance World Cup standings automatically qualifies for the team.
Four skiers met this standard – Kikkan Randall, Kris Freeman, Andy Newell and Liz Stephen. The first three, with consistent strong World Cup performances were well within the selection group.
Stephen, almost certainly guaranteed a spot on the team, squeaked in under the objective measure, ranked 45th in the distance standings on the strength of an 18th place finish in La Clusaz.
The next selection criteria is somewhat vague, and can be summed up as simply “coach’s discretion,” with the final standard falling to the NRL.
According to US Ski Team (USST) head coach Chris Grover, the remainder of the team was chosen primarily using the discretionary criteria though there was still significant overlap with the NRL.
On the women’s side, second ranked Holly Brooks (APU) got the call, but number three on the NRL, Caitlin Compton (CXC Elite) did not. The next four women on the list, Ida Sargent (CGRP), Morgan Arritola (SVSEF/USST), Stephen, and Sadie Bjornsen (APU) were also selected.
APU’s Kate Fitzgerald at number eight was bypassed in favor of CXC Elite’s Jessie Diggins to round out the team.
Sargent and Arritola both raced on the World Cup in the fall, with both women turning in promising results. Sargent placed 33rd in the classic sprint in Kuusamo, while Arritola, a previous World Cup points scorer was 19th in the 15km freestyle in La Clusaz.
While she is still working to regain form following a car accident in December, Sargent has established herself as the second-best sprinter in the US behind Kikkan Randall, and has shown promise on the distance side as well.
Arritola, a five-year member of the USST, is still looking to breakthrough with consistent World Cup results, but has a number of strong performances, and is routinely among the best distance skiers on the national circuit.
The USST has shown significant commitment to her, and she was an expected pick for the team.
The passing over of Compton raises the most questions. The veteran has plenty of experience at championship events, and finished last year with some strong results.
Those later races helped her NRL points, which is based on a full year’s worth of events, but she has not shown the same level this season. Compton is still no slouch, and a strong argument could be made for inclusion, but each of the women behind her on the list, and named to the team, defeated her at least once at US Nationals race, and with just four start spots per nation per race in Oslo, USSA Nordic Director John Farra told FasterSkier that he was unsure where Compton would fit in.
When looking at the composition of the rest of the team, there is a sense of “what have you done for me lately.”
Bjornsen won the 10km classic and finished 3rd in the classic sprint at US Nationals Check skate sprint and Diggins won the skate sprint, dominating the qualifier. Both are still quite young with Bjornsen scheduled to compete at the U23 Championships and Diggins in the World Junior Championships in a week’s time in Estonia.
That youth, combined with their recent top results is likely what pushed them ahead of Compton on the depth chart.
The men’s team is more straight-forward, with the top-6 on the NRL ultimately headed to Oslo. Only the selection of Noah Hoffman (USST), currently 10th on the NRL, strayed from the rankings.
And Hoffman, despite some inconsistency, demonstrated he can compete in a World Cup field, placing 31st in the 15km freestyle in Gallivare and 34th in the 15km pursuit in Kuusamo. He also skied an excellent leg in the 4x10km relay in Gallivare.
Following Freeman and Newell, is former USST member Torin Koos (MOD). Koos, a sprinter on the international scene, has shown world-class ability over the course of his career, and when on, can qualify with the best.
Next is Lars Flora (APU), a veteran of two Olympics and three World Championships. Flora has experienced a resurgence this year, with eight combined SuperTour and NorAm podium appearances. Flora does not have a track record of top international results, but he is very experienced, and has proven himself to be one of the fastest North American skiers not racing on the World Cup.
Following Flora is CXC Elite’s Tad Elliott. Elliott is 10 years Flora’s junior, and this will be his first World Championships. Elliott captured his first national championship title in Rumford. He is a significantly stronger skater at this point in his career, and not at all a sprinter, but could slot in well on the relay team and in the 15km skate in Oslo.
The final member of the team, Simi Hamilton (USST), qualified for the heats in the 2010 Olympics and qualified 11th in the Davos sprint this fall. He has yet to advance out of the quarterfinals on the World Cup, but is unquestionably one of the top three sprinters in the US.
The skiers on the NRL between Hamilton and Hoffman have all posted excellent domestic results, but do not have the international performances this year to make the cut – Mike Sinnott (SVSEF) is quietly consistent, Brian Gregg (CXC Elite) got a taste of the World Cup last spring, and Leif Zimmermann (BSF) is back in good form, but they would have likely needed to stand on the podium at nationals to have a shot at a ticket to Oslo.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.