Dumped from the U.S. Ski Team (USST) after a sub-par 2010, Torin Koos (Methow ODT) clearly had something to prove coming into the 2011 U.S. National Championships—and he didn’t disappoint.
With a victory in Saturday’s skate sprint, Koos collected his second title of the week, coming out on top in a frantic dash to the line with Simi Hamilton (USST) and Lars Flora (APU).
Koos’s two victories in Rumford could easily serve as the opening argument in a case to be re-named to the USST, but he said afterwards that he’s simply trying to ski fast.
“My goal is to be one of the best skiers in the world—so wherever that takes me,” he said.
On Saturday, that took him around four tight laps of the 1.4-kilometer sprint loop in Rumford.
The men’s race was originally planned for a slightly longer course, before warm weather came through Rumford and destroyed its snowpack. Though organizers had an off day between Thursday’s distance skate race and Saturday’s sprint, they elected to widen trails with good cover that were used earlier in the week, rather than focus their efforts on extending the sprint loop by a few hundred meters.
“Our feeling was that spending time working on a trail that hadn’t been touched all week long wasn’t going to provide that much benefit,” said John Farra, a jury member and the nordic director for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.
Times in the morning’s qualifier were very fast, with Sun Valley’s Colin Rodgers leading the way in two minutes, 44 seconds.
The quick course made for tight, tactical racing in the afternoon, with few athletes able to open gaps, and many top qualifiers getting bounced out before the finals.
Many of the heats ending in three-, four-, or five-way drag races on the homestretch, with a number of skiers taking advantage of a slingshot effect provided by the draft on the last descent.
CXC’s Garrott Kuzzy, who placed second in qualifying, was one of the men who suffered the consequences of trying to win from
“You could easily go from fifth or sixth all the way into first from the top into the finish line,” he said. “I had the lead going down the last downhill, and just got engulfed by everybody else coming by… Tried to go left, somebody was there; tried to go right, somebody was there. Couldn’t get any pushes off, and before I knew it they were all gone.”
Rodgers was another who got stuck in traffic—he was caught up and failed to advance from his semifinal heat when Dartmouth’s Eric Packer crashed on the homestretch.
It was a disappointing end to the day for Rogers, who looked crisp in qualifying and and in his quarterfinal. After compartment syndrome quashed a run for the 2010 Olympic team and curtailed his season, Rodgers seems to finally be returning to his old self.
On Saturday, he said, he was trying to ski his way on to the U.S. squad for the 2011 World Championships in Oslo as a
discretionary selection—making the hang-up at the finish especially disappointing.
“I think I could have been on the podium today,” he said. “If I wanted to have any chance for World Championships at all, I would have had to win the qualifier and win the heats.”
Instead, it was Flora, Hamilton, and Koos who were left to battle in the finals.
After a disappointing end to last weekend’s classic sprint, Flora finally had a shot to go toe-to-toe with Koos, while Hamilton had been hammered by illness and was competing in his first race of the championships.
Koos took the lead, but the pace was restrained until Flora took the lead and hammered up the loop’s final climb.
“Cresting over the top, that was my game plan from the very beginning of the day…[to] really go for it right there,” Flora said. “I knew it was going to be hard with fast skiing, and with those guys. But I gave it a go.”
Koos said that he had been expecting a surge from Flora, though, and was ready when it came. He had anticipated a similar attack in the finals of last Sunday’s classic sprint, but Flora bonked, and it never came.
“I could see Lars was charging super-hard over the top, just like I thought he was going to do in the classic race. I felt totally comfortable with that—I just wanted to make sure that when we hit the downhill, I was in second place,” Koos said.
The draft then allowed Koos to slide into first on the descent, where Flora said that he felt awkward transitioning out of his tuck.
“It’s just a weakness,” he said.
That left Koos at the front, with Hamilton along for the ride just behind, and the two of them opened up the throttle for a
blistering close to the race. That was the kind of challenge Koos was looking for.
“I wanted to try to win a race when it was coming like that, in the last hundred,” he said. “I wanted to have that feeling of somebody coming up on my side, and being able to respond to it. It’s a good feeling.”
Koos appeared to benefit slightly by forcing Hamilton to the far left lane, which the USST member said left things a little scrambled.
“But he got me by a couple of feet, so I don’t know if it made that much of a difference,” Hamilton said.
After struggling to overcome a case of the flu he picked up on his way to Maine, a crestfallen Hamilton said that he wasn’t at his best on Saturday. But he also said that he was glad for the chance to ski three rounds.
“[I] don’t really get that opportunity on the World Cup, or haven’t gotten it, really, yet,” he said. “So it was nice to get some practice, skiing in some traffic.”
Hamilton now heads home to Aspen for three weeks of training, before flying back to Europe with the U.S. Ski Team to compete in domestic races in Norway.
He’s currently ranked 51st in the World Cup sprint ranking—one spot away from a top-50 position that would automatically qualify him for the American squad for World Championships. He’ll have to wait until the USST announces its discretionary selections later this month to find out if he has been named.
Koos doesn’t have the World Cup ranking to qualify for the team, either, but thanks to his third-place position on the U.S.’s national ranking list—which is used as a secondary set of guidelines for selection—he should be assured of a spot.
According to his coach, Scott Johnston, Koos will fly to Europe on Tuesday. He’ll spend few weeks in Davos, Switzerland, with his girlfriend Bettina Gruber, a Swiss skier, before racing at the Norwegian national championships at the end of the month.
There, he’ll compete with a club he connected with in the fall, Team Susjoen, before traveling to more races in advance of World Championships.
With Johnston as his coach, Koos said, his current structure is “obviously working.”
Noting that his sixth-place finish in Wednesday’s 15 k classic was hampered by bad skis, Koos said that he’s “in the conversation to, I think, win most any domestic race.”
“[Johnston] is the best technical coach I’ve ever worked with, bar none,” Koos said. “And I also believe…probably the best coach for working on physiology, as well. So, we have some things going really well in our direction.”
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.