As promised, Torin Koos (Bridger Ski Foundation/Rossignol) filed an appeal on Monday with the International Ski Federation (FIS) Appeals Commission against the the jury’s determination at the U.S. Cross Country Championships that he had obstructed competition on his way to winning the A-final of the classic sprint, which resulted in his disqualification.
Koos declined to answer specific questions about the case until the Appeals Commission comes to a decision, but confirmed that Dragan Danevski, Nordic Program Director at BSF, had submitted the appeal to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) on Monday. USSA then forwarded the case to the Appeals Commission at FIS, which will review the evidence over the coming days and determine whether to uphold the jury’s decision.
In a phone interview on Tuesday, Danevski explained that Koos and the BSF coaches were contesting several aspects of the jury’s decision and course of action on Sunday in Rumford, ME. Koos does not deny that his skis made contact with MSU/Team HomeGrown’s Ryan Scott as he moved to get in the tracks in front him. Rather, he and his coaches take issue with the process by which Koos was disqualified, which in their view contained numerous departures from the proper protocol outlined in the FIS International Competition Rules (ICR).
I. The Jury Proceedings in Rumford
First and foremost, Koos is protesting the way he was notified of his infraction on Sunday. The competitoin jury issued him a written reprimand for obstruction of Scott’s skis, and according to Tim Baucom, one of two BSF coaches present in the jury room when Koos was first called in, Koos was not given the chance to defend himself before the jury disqualified him. As outlined in the FIS Cross-Country Guidelines for Jury Work, a competitor believed to have obstructed competition must be given the opportunity to explain himself before the jury can make its decision.
For Koos and his coaches, the realization that his gold medal finish was being called into question began as he waited to take to the podium. While waiting with Koos an unusually long time for the ceremony to begin, Baucom said they began hearing rumors that an issue had come up with Koos’s win. Fellow BSF coach Bjørn Bakken went to find out what the problem was, and soon radioed to Baucom that Koos was needed across the stadium in the timing building.
“We started walking over there, and Torin realized the doping control guy was no longer with him,” recalled Baucom. The classic sprint was the second testing day of the week, and U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) chaperones need to keep their designated athlete in sight at all times until the competitor is brought to testing.
Koos backtracked to bring his chaperone with him, only for the chaperone to inform Koos he had been released from doping control. “From there, Torin knew what had happened,” said Baucom. As they waited for the jury to be ready for them, they heard the men’s podium ceremony begin across the stadium without them.
In Baucom’s eyes, those two facts—that Koos was released from doping control and that the podium ceremony took place before he’d been informed of his offense—are evidence of a significant departure from the FIS jury procedural guidelines, which state that “Prior to the imposition of a penalty (except in cases of reprimands and withdrawal of accreditation according to 223.5 and 224.2), the person accused of an offence shall be given the opportunity to present a defence at a hearing, orally or in writing” (224.7).
“The fact that they pulled doping control off of him before he knew what was happening indicated [the jury] had made its decision,” said Baucom. Though official results were not signed and posted until later, he perceived that the two actions represented the jury “taking all measurable steps in that direction before Torin knew what was happening.”
Present in every part of Sunday’s jury procedures was USSA representative Allan Serrano. From his perspective, the jury at Black Mountain followed FIS-outlined procedure to the T.
Baucom’s interpretation of the jury proceedings are right, said Serrano, but the rulebook’s exception of reprimands from the requirement of jury’s to hear a defense is crucial.
“We didn’t vote to disqualify him—that’s the pertinent point,” he explained. If the jury calls for a disqualification, “that person is entitled to witness of themselves at that jury meeting. But we didn’t disqualify him, we gave him a competition suspension, and as it was his second reprimand, [it] resulted in a DQ.”
The usual result of competition suspension in a sprint heat is relegation to the back of the field—sixth place in the case of the A-final, which would have been the outcome of Sunday’s events had Friday’s 30 k infraction not also taken place beforehand. Hence, Serrano told the USADA chaperone charged with tailing the first place finisher that Koos was now in sixth, and Koos was released from doping control.
Serrano acknowledged that the doping control situation was “definitely awkward.”
As for the medal ceremony taking place before official results were posted, there is nothing unusual about that, explained Eileen Carey, one of the jury members. “It is protocol for the Championships that ceremonies can take place with preliminary results,” she said. “This was communicated at at least one of the coaches meetings, and is in the USSA rulebook.”
The rule (53.1.1) also allows the ceremony to take place for an individual-start distance race while everyone other than the early starters of the A- and B-seeds are still on the course.
II. The Jury’s Evidence
The second major part of Koos’s appeal calls into question the legitimacy of the evidence presented against him. According to Baucom, Koos and his coaches were told that (1) Serrano had been standing nearby and had heard Scott yell after Koos cut him off, (2) officials heard Koos apologize to Scott after crossing the finish line and (3) an official standing at the crossing reported to the jury that he “may have seen something happen,” said Baucom. “But [the jury] was pretty vague about what or who was seen…We didn’t get a first-hand perspective of what [the controller] had seen.”
Serrano and Carey both asserted that a course controller saw the incident first-hand, but whether the jury immediately communicated that effectively to Koos is unclear, as reports from the jury and from Baucom differ.
“He was told that [the incident] had been witnessed during the heat by a controller, and we also witnessed at the finish him acknowledging offending Ryan Scott,” said Serrano. “There’s a record of the controller’s testimony… They fill out cards on the course.”
Apart from whether a controller actually witnessed the offence, Baucom pointed out that a jury is not allowed to regard comments from competitors as evidence. The jury guidelines state that a jury can “react on reports from officially appointed controllers or jury members. A jury should not act on base of comments from athletes or team leaders” (item 6).
This rule should discount reports of Scott yelling and Koos apologizing as evidence, said Baucom.
“Anything can happen during a race that would merit an apology,” he said. “You could accidentally cut someone off; it happens.”
As for Serrano hearing Scott yell during the heat, Baucom continued, “[Scott] wasn’t yelling for a TD to say anything—that could be used as some sort of evidence. In a men’s sprint final there will be contact and some yelling; that’s the nature of the race. That’s why there are heats and not just a qualifier.”
III. The 30 k: Bib Marking of Competitors
The final segment of Koos’s appeal pertains to the written reprimand he received for starting in the wrong position during the mass start 30 k classic on Friday, which is half of the reason he was disqualified two days later under FIS’s two-strikes-and-you’re-out rule.
Koos’s confusion originated with either misremembering or being misinformed of his bib number, and since he wore the numberless green sprint leader bib for the 30 k, couldn’t check his starting position against it.
Baucom doesn’t recall whether he read Koos his correct bib number the night before the race. “It could have been my fault; it could have been a miscommunication,” Baucom said. But it shouldn’t matter, in Baucom’s view, if all competitors in the 30 k were marked with their number as he believed they should have been.
For mass start races, FIS rules state that it is “required to affix start numbers to the competitor’s thigh that is closest to the finish-line camera” (337.2.1). There were no leg numbers in Rumford; had there been, Baucom argued, Koos would have known where to start, would not have been given his first written reprimand, and at worst would have taken sixth place for his infraction in Sunday’s sprint.
Leg numbers or no, the rules also clearly say that it is the responsibility of the athlete to get to the starting line on time. Baucom acknowledged this, but thought that a verbal reprimand would perhaps have been more appropriate, which simply alerts the competitor that his behavior is “borderline.”
“Sure, an athlete should maybe be responsible for knowing his starting spot, but given the stress and preparation, especially for a classic race—Koos was testing skis until five minutes before the start,” Baucom said. “Then he’s running over there, thinking he knows his bib number.”
In the aftermath of his disqualification on Sunday, Koos recalled trying unsuccessfully to find someone with a start list upon discovering someone already standing in the position he thought was his. With minutes to go before the gun, he decided to choose the first open spot he saw.
Carey, who stood at the back of the lanes being loaded before the mass start, said that she and four other volunteers and jury members were stationed around the starting grid specifically to help people find the right position. She recalled seeing no signs of confusion from the athletes in the minutes leading up to the start.
Two Strikes, You’re Out: Too Harsh a Rule?
If anything can be said for sure about what happened in at U.S. Nationals on Friday and Sunday, it’s that the chaos of ski racing made itself evident.
For Serrano, it also became apparent that the rules were perhaps harsher than the situation required. He said members of the jury felt badly about the series of events that resulted in Koos’s disqualification.
“The jury felt that this seemed terrible, but we didn’t have any other choice,” said Serrano. “We made that known to FIS—that this seems silly.”
He referred in particular to the rule that equates two written reprimands to an automatic disqualification. If there had been any wiggle room in the rules, Serrano said he would have tried to avoid disqualifying Koos.
“There may be room for something to evolve there—some other penalty for a second offence,” he said. “The object, I’m sure, is to deal with repeat offenders and problem cases.”
Two days after racing was finished in Rumford, Danevski was still trying to grapple with why his athlete had been disqualified.
“He’s disappointed; [Koos] cannot understand that jury made that kind of decision. Nobody understands,” said Danevski, who was in Bozeman, MT for the duration of Nationals. “For them to disqualify skier who skied for 12 years on the World Cup…to come to Senior Nationals and win by 50 meters, you know, I just—it’s really hard to understand… I got calls from coaches and people are shocked, people cannot believe it.”
Luke Bodensteiner, USSA Executive Vice President of Athletics, said the timeline for the FIS Appeals Commission’s decision on Koos’s case could be up to a week.
“They’re generally pretty expeditious,” he said. “The one time I’ve done this before it was a 24-hour turnaround, so probably by the end of the week.”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.