Where the spring of 2011 saw six new additions to the U.S. Ski Team (USST) roster, in 2012 the cross-country nominations remain largely the same as the year before. There are a few notable exceptions: Holly Brooks is now an official part of the national team with her B-team nomination and both Jessie Diggins and Simi Hamilton have been promoted to the A-team. The list indicates no departures, though until each athlete officially accepts his or her nomination they can only be considered just that.
For USST head coach Chris Grover, the roster for 2012-2013 season didn’t present many though decisions.
One easy choice, he said, was nominating Brooks, who only missed an automatic bid by five places in finishing the season ranked 55th overall on the World Cup. Even though the second half of her winter was bogged down by a wrist injury and illness, the USST coaches felt that her earlier results — including 13th in the Davos 15 k and 23rd in the sprint the very next day — was a significant step forward and proved she deserved a spot on the team.
“She had a fantastic year,” said Grover. “To have a 13th in Davos was a gigantic result.”
Her contribution to the Americans’ 5th place in the Nove Mesto 4×5 k relay (which came after her injury) was also impressive, said Grover. With two championship seasons coming up, fielding a team with more than enough strong relay candidates is important if the US hopes to challenge for a medal.
“If we’re going to be successful in those relays we have to have way more athletes than it takes to fill a team skiing fast,” said Grover. “That means on a 4×5 day we need athletes like Holly and another four or five athletes if you’re looking to really compete for a medal.”
Besides the addition of Brooks, the other significant change to the team is the growth of the A-team from four athletes to six. Hamilton and Diggins have graduated from the B-team and will now be fully-funded USST skiers.
There is no set criterion that delineates the A-team from the B-team, but Grover pointed to two accomplishments that the two athletes each achieved this season as indicative that they were ready for the A-team.
First, both Hamilton and Diggins finished the winter in the Red Group — Hamilton ranked 22nd in the sprint standings and Diggins was 26th in distance. Second, both posted either an individual top-5 or two top-10s on the World Cup over the course of the season. Diggins met both standards (a fifth in the Rybinsk 10 k mass start and a sixth in the Moscow sprint two days before), and Hamilton met the latter (both in sprints: a 10th in the Rogla skate and a seventh in the Drammen classic).
“It’s hard to make cut-and-dry selection criteria, but this year those were places we could point to and say, ‘That athlete is beyond gaining experience, that athlete is starting to succeed on a weekly basis on the World Cup and can go out and have a top-10 or a top-5, or end up in the Red Group and demonstrate they are skiing fast on a year-long continuum,” said Grover.
Kikkan Randall, Liz Stephen, Kris Freeman and Andy Newell were all re-nominated to the A-team. Of those, only Freeman didn’t meet the unofficial bar that Hamilton and Diggins had to reach to join them. As he stated before the nominations were announced, Freeman understands that his status on the A-team is because of results he’s shown in the past rather than for his most recent winter.
The B-team nominations, apart from Diggins moving up and the addition of Brooks, include the same athletes as last year. Tad Elliott and Noah Hoffman are both back on the list, as are Ida Sargent and Sadie Bjornsen.
The D-team, which was a new addition to the USST structure last spring, has Erik Bjornsen and Skyler Davis again listed as the only nominees. The development team will function in the same capacity that it did last year — its athletes aren’t paid, but have access to the athletic support of the USST. Grover said he and his fellow coaches looked at other possible candidates, but ultimately decided not to add anyone this year. He pointed to a lack of standout results that they could definitively point to that indicated one skier or another should be brought onto the D-team.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.