While U.S. Ski Team (USST) coaches have nominated athletes for the 2012-2013 team, the names have not been approved by higher-ups in the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA). Until they are, athletes and coaches alike are unable to reveal the makeup of next year’s team.
They can, however, discuss the U.S. program in general, as Head Coach Chris Grover did with FasterSkier on Tuesday, when he addressed, among other things, the coaches’ understanding of how to apply discretion in naming the team.
Above all, Grover stressed that his job considering the nominations this year was not a difficult one, suggesting that fans probably won’t be surprised when the names are made public.
“There haven’t been any hard choices that we’ve had to make,” Grover said.
Meeting the Objectives
To make the USST outright, athletes must meet one of a set of published criteria. This year, as has been the case in the recent past, the standards include:
- a top-50 spot in the overall World Cup rankings;
- a top-30 spot on the World Cup or FIS distance or sprint lists;
- a podium result in an individual World Cup race; or
- a podium result in an individual race at World Junior or U23 Championships.
One reason that the nominations won’t be a surprise is that there are an unusually high number of skiers who have met these criteria.
“There’s been years when we’ve had perhaps only one or none – no, I think there’s always one – but only one or two, certainly, who meet the objective criteria,” Grover said. “This year we have six.”
Kikkan Randall leads that group, having topped the World Cup sprint rankings, achieved multiple wins and podiums, and finished fifth in the overall. Jessie Diggins and Liz Stephen also made the top 50 cutoff in the overall rankings, and wound up 26th and 28th on the distance list.
On the men’s side, Andy Newell made the top-50 cutoff and ranked 16th on the sprint list, while Simi Hamilton was close behind in 22nd.
Finally, Noah Hoffman won silver in the 15 k classic at U23 World Championships.
How big is this accomplishment? Just two years ago when the USST announced their 2010-2011 nominations, the squad consisted of only seven athletes, and only two (Newell and Randall) would have made the criteria listed above.
Discretionary Picks: Usually Youngsters
While coaches will not have to rely on discretion as much as they have in the past, it will still play a role in this year’s nominations – which Grover said was normal.
“We’ve always used quite a bit of discretion,” he said.
The team selection criteria list several ways in which coaches’ discretion may be applied, covering a broad range of scenarios. For instance, athletes may not have met the objective criteria, but may have achieved other specific goals set out by staff the previous season. Or they may have a result that indicates future Olympic medal potential; discretion can be used if there is an “unanticipated failure of objective criteria to select an athlete likely to achieve competition results consistent with the USSA program goals.” It also comes into play if athletes have been injured or ill.
In Grover’s mind, discretion is more often than not used for younger athletes.
“We definitely apply more discretion to a younger athlete than an older one,” he said. “There’s a window where you can count on an athlete still having time to develop, still being able to ski into their potential, and at some point that window begins to close.”
Discretionary picks in the last two years have included Stephen, Diggins, and Hamilton – who have indeed moved closer to their potential, as indicated by meeting the objective criteria – as well as Hoffman, Tad Elliott, Ida Sargent, Sadie Bjornsen, Skyler Davis, and Erik Bjornsen.
What the picks have not included, typically, are older athletes – at least, not those who weren’t already on the team.
“With older athletes we expect them to be performing,” Grover said. “We expect them to be performing at a high, high level, otherwise the chances of your investment being well spent are slimmer. So of course we use more discretion with younger athletes.”
On the other end of the spectrum, discretion can be used to determine how many years an athlete is given on the team to achieve their potential, or go home. Grover did not seem to indicate that anyone would be retiring or leaving the team this year, although he was of course unable to name names on the record.
And that was a relief, he said, referring back to the tough departures of recent Olympians Torin Koos, Garrott Kuzzy, and Morgan Arritola from the team in the last two years, and earlier Morgan Smyth, Lindsay Dehlin, Lindsay Williams, and Taz Mannix, among others.
“As hard as some of the choices have been in the past, they have been the right choices,” Grover said of those athletes. “You can see that a lot of [those] athletes were sort of ready to do other things, and maybe the writing was on the wall a little bit in terms of their desire to do something different.
“I will say, though, that we haven’t had to make any hard choices this year,” he continued. “Everybody skied great. Skyler [Davis] had a hard year, but everyone else on the team had breakthroughs, for the most part, especially the younger athletes.”
A year ago, Davis and Erik Bjornsen turned heads when they were nominated to the D Team, a category that had not previously been part of the USST program.
Grover confirmed that a D Team would be named again this year, although he could not comment on who would be on it. The squad was conceived as a way to give top young skiers recognition and institutional support without dipping into the relatively small nordic budget – in that regard, it doesn’t cost much to name a D Team.
“It’s a pretty limited program that we can do, because we don’t have any money to spend on the D Team,” Grover said. “We’re not able to pay, say, for their flight somewhere or their room and board somewhere.”
That isn’t to say that USSA does not support the athletes.
“There are many resources that go into a D Team athlete from the organization in general,” he explained. “There’s educational opportunities, there’s the use of all of the different staff members at the Center of Excellence, whether it’s input on strength training or nutrition or physiology, and there’s testing – those sorts of things.”
As to how well the scheme worked for Davis and Bjornsen, Grover deferred to the athletes themselves, saying “you’d have to ask them.” But he obviously thought that the program worked well enough to continue it, and explained how it helped the USST meet its development goals.
“In terms of strategy, for us, we recognize absolutely that we need to be able to reach down to younger athletes,” he said. “We need to encourage them to be training harder, to be training more professionally, to be focused more on ski racing first and education second at these critical age periods if we’re going to be successful in the long term as a nation.”
-Stay tuned for more coverage as the nominations draw closer.