After crossing the finish line in first in the U.S. Nationals classic sprint A-final, Torin Koos (BSF/Rossignol) was disqualified for moving into a lane in front of Ryan Scott (MSU/Team HomeGrown) before completely clearing Scott’s skis, which resulted in contact between Koos’ tails and Scott’s tips. A course controller saw the pass, and after the conclusion of the race, reported a violation to the jury.
Per International Ski Federation (FIS) rules, the competition jury deemed the move to have been an obstruction of competition, which results in competition suspension and relegates the skier at fault to the back of the sprint heat. Tyler Kornfield (University of Alaska Fairbanks) thereby took the top of the podium, Mike Sinnott (SVSEF) moved into second and Eric Packer (Dartmouth College) finished third. Scott wound up in fourth, and Skyler Davis (SMS/USST) in fifth.
Had this been the only rule infraction Koos had been docked within the current competition period, Koos would have placed sixth in the classic sprint and been issued a written warning and competition suspension. However, due to a mix-up at the start of Friday’s 30 k mass start classic race, he had also been given a written warning for lining up in the wrong starting position.
Koos wore the blank green sprint leader bib on Friday, and in his explanation to the jury on Sunday, was told by his coaches to go to a start position turned out to be incorrect. Koos said he went to the spot he thought he’d been assigned, only to find someone already there. With only a few minutes to go before the race began, Koos said he tried unsuccessfully to find someone with a start list to figure out where he should go. With the clock ticking down until the gun went off, he moved to the first open spot he could find—position 29, which ended up being two rows ahead of where he should have been in position 43.
“I couldn’t find anybody with a start list. This was right before the start,” said Koos on Sunday.
According to jury member Eileen Carey, she and several other volunteers were in the starting pen with a grid of lane assignments. She said she witnessed no confusion in the start area in the last few minutes before the beginning of the race.
The jury ruled after the 30 k that Koos’s start in the incorrect position did not affect the race outcome, and his fifth place finish remained on the results. But the written warning he was issued for Friday’s offense meant that his competition suspension on Sunday automatically defaulted to a disqualification. The ICR states that a competitor must be disqualified if he or she “receives a second written reprimand in the same season” (392.7).
According to Koos’s account of the A-final on Sunday, which his competitors corroborated, the move in question occurred just after the men’s 1.6 k course split from the women’s 1.4 k loop, on a flat section that veered to the left after a substantial downhill, which had skiers carrying a lot of speed. The tracks went from four across to three, with a break in between for skiers to maneuver into the new track. Koos was skiing on Scott’s right-hand side just before the break in the tracks, and made his move to get on the inside, left-hand lane at the break, clipping Scott’s skis in the process.
“I told Ryan right after the race—I apologized,” said Koos. “It was not deliberate, stuff like that happens all the time, so it’s interesting that this one time I’m called out.”
The most recent version of the FIS Precision Rules, which are essentially updates made to the FIS International Competition Rules (ICR) in between the publication of a new ICR every four years, states that:
In all competitions obstruction is defined as deliberately impeding, blocking (by not following best line), charging or pushing any competitor with any part of the body or ski equipment. When overtaking occurs, competitors must not cause any obstruction. The responsibility for a correct passing without obstruction is on the overtaking skier. The overtaking skier must have his/her skis in front of the skis of the overtaken skier before skiing his/her best line. (340.1.4)
Koos and his Bridger Ski Foundation coaches protested the disqualification on the grounds that the obstruction was not intentional.
The necessary steps for juries to take in the case of a rule infraction are outlined in the ICR, and more comprehensively in a separate document, the FIS Cross-Country Guidelines for Jury Work. According to the procedure outlined in item 7 of the guidelines, “Prior to the imposition of a penalty the person accused of an offence shall be given the opportunity to present a defense at a hearing orally or in writing” (also stated in ICR, 224.7).
The jury informed Koos and his coaches in timing headquarters that he had committed a competition violation, and according to Carey was given the chance to defend himself. The jury then decided to disqualify him, and told Koos he could collect additional evidence in his defense to protest the disqualification. Koos then returned to the main lodge, where most of his competitors from the A-final were inside getting warm, and asked them to write down their version of what had happened during the race. At least three of them—Kornfield, Sinnott and Packer—were seen submitting their testimonials to Koos, which he brought back to the jury in the timing building as evidence, and awaited its verdict.
After about twenty minutes of deliberation, the jury told Koos his disqualification remained unchanged, and that he could appeal their decision to FIS if he so chose. Early Sunday evening, Koos said he planned to submit an appeal on Monday morning, which would go through the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) to FIS. He would not specify if he would appeal Friday’s warning, Sunday’s suspension, or both.
Asked after the jury’s final decision if anyone had seen the contact between Koos’s and Scott’s skis firsthand, USSA’s jury representative Allan Seranno said, “Yes: a controller who was put in place for that purpose. He gave that information to the jury, and then the jury made its decision based on that [evidence].”
Back in the lodge, Scott explained what happened from his point of view. “We were all pretty tight in the group going down the hill,” he said. “The heat was pretty aggressive, and how it worked out in the bottom there, everyone was tight on the turn.”
Asked if he thought Koos’s move interfered significantly with his race, he said, “You have to be aggressive in a sprint race to stay in there and stuff. It was [the jury’s] call that it was an obstruction.”
Kornfield, the eventual winner, had one of the best vantage points of the move during the race, as he was skiing in the tracks directly behind Scott. He said Koos was skiing level with Scott, double-poling in the track to the right of Scott and Kornfield.
“It happened pretty quickly,” said Kornfield. “We were all double-poling, and Torin was about one boot length in front of Ryan, and it seemed like he had a clear shot on what lane he wanted to choose.”
There was a break in the tracks around the corner, and the lanes went from four abreast to three.
“Right after he moved on Ryan there was a break in the tracks, so you had to pick another track,” said Kornfield. “Torin tried to pick the inside track [on the left], and he moved onto Ryan’s skis, and it knocked Ryan off balance… It seemed like it took [Scott] a while to get back his balance.”
Kornfield characterized the move as “unfair” on Koos’s part. “According to the rules, it was legal for them to disqualify him. I don’t know what to think about it,” he concluded. “It’s definitely not the way you’d want to win your national title.”
Packer, who wound up in third, thought it was unfortunate that Koos had been disqualified, as in his mind it was clear that Koos had been the fastest skier out on the course, and that aggressive moves happen all the time on the World Cup that don’t result in disqualification.
“I personally didn’t see anything that merited disqualification—I’m really bummed for him,” said Packer. “[Koos] is a great guy and I think deserved the win today—he skied away from everybody.”
“It did not materially affect the outcome of the race,” said Koos after the jury’s final decision. “I’ve had a lot of people come up and be like, ‘Dude, I can’t believe that.’ And I don’t think they’re just talking.”
From here, Koos can appeal the jury’s decision within 72 hours, which goes to an Appeals Commission at FIS.
Carey said the FIS rules are unclear as to how to go about an appeal. “He can present whatever [evidence] he chooses, I’ve never been through this process,” she said. “It’s really unclear in the FIS rulebook. I supposed he can submit additional information if he gets any more. There’s not a specific appeal form, or a script process that’s outlined in the rulebook.”
U.S. Nationals Chief of Competition Carlie Casey said that in the case of an appeal, the head TD, Kent Slaughter, could be contacted “if the FIS Appeals Committee wants more information.”
As of early Sunday evening, Koos said he was just trying to figure out what he had to do to appeal. After he submits it on Monday, “Then it’s out of our hands,” he said, adding that at least “I can leave here and know there’s no doubt who the strongest athlete was.” Koos flies to Trondheim, Norway on Monday, where he will begin renting an apartment with his girlfriend to train and race with the club team there for the rest of the season.
A national title, the $1,200 winner’s purse and Koos’s sponsor win schedule money are not the only things at stake in the outcome of the appeal. He wore the green sprint leader bib when he crossed the line on Sunday. The sprint leader after January 30, 2012 is awarded World Cup start rights, and if the disqualification remains, he won’t be able to hang onto it. If it comes down to it, Koos said he hopes USSA will make a discretionary decision in his favor regarding the start rights.
“This is, I guess, some adversity,” he concluded.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.