With less than 10 months to go until the 2014 Winter Olympics, three of seven men on the U.S. Ski Team (USST) were not renamed to the 2013/2014 national squad.
Official nominations have not been publicized, but it appears the remaining four – Andy Newell, Noah Hoffman, Simi Hamilton and Erik Bjornsen – will be divided between the A- and B-teams. By making the World Cup Red Group, Newell retained his A-team status while Hoffman and Bjornsen explained they will be the B-team along with Hamilton, a former A-team member.
One of two Development Team skiers for the last two seasons, Skyler Davis of the Stratton Mountain School T2 Team (SMST2) was not renamed and his D-team status was not renewed. Bjornsen, of Alaska Pacific University, received the call-up to the B-team, and both said on the phone Friday that they were surprised.
“I didn’t think they would take anyone off the team before an Olympic year,” Davis said. “I thought, why not keep us on for one more year? Especially when you’re cutting half the guy’s team. That didn’t make much sense to me.”
At least three women are expected to remain on the A-team, with Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins confirming they kept their spots. After a breakout season, Liz Stephen has also met the Red-Group, A-team criteria.
Earlier this week, three-time Olympian and A-team veteran Kris Freeman expressed his alarm at being dropped. Teammates confirmed Tad Elliott was not renamed to the B-team. Head coach Chris Grover has declined to comment until nominations are released early next week.
“I was pretty confident with all the strong racing at the end of the year, I thought they would keep me on,” Bjornsen said, coming off his first SuperTour Finals title at the age of 21. “Last year, I was pretty nervous. This year, I didn’t think much about it. … I just felt like I’m stronger than those next-tier guys, like David Norris and Tyler Kornfield. For Grover to chose me over them was [huge].”
On the other hand, Davis said the phone call he received from Grover was a “little surprising,” considering he showed improvement over the previous season and scored World Cup points in Canmore, Alberta, where he was 24th in the freestyle sprint.
“I didn’t think they were gonna bring back the D-team,” Davis said. “It was more like you have to race fast and live up to the B-team if you’re gonna be on it.
“I’m still only 21 years old,” he added. “I thought they’d try to keep me on, but it’s not that big of a deal because if you ski fast, you make it again. … With the D-team, I didn’t really get much funding as it was, so that part’s not really different. Basically I got stripped of the title and some free clothes.”
He said not being named shouldn’t affect his sponsors, and he plans to attend certain USST camps except the upcoming one in Bend, Ore., and those in New Zealand and Europe this summer. Davis will try to make U23 World Championships and the Olympics next year, drawing inspiration from SMST2 teammate Sophie Caldwell, who is expected to be added to the U.S women’s team.
“World champs [are the] same as Olympic criteria; Sophie got picked because she was racing fast,” Davis said. “I didn’t get picked. I don’t think [not being on the U.S. Ski Team] will help or hurt your chances.”
As for the reduced men’s team size, Davis and Bjornsen had mixed reactions.
“It’s not really a team anymore with [four] guys,” Davis said. “That’s really small for any group to be a team.”
“It’s definitely a stronger team,” Bjornsen said. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I’m gonna miss training with Freeman and Tad and having Skyler there was awesome.
“All the women, too, it seems like it’s such a strong group right now,” he added. “Everybody has the possibility of doing something amazing. I’m glad that they categorized me with those other guys and I hope I can show everybody that I was a good choice and I’ll be making a charge for the Olympics.”
— Audrey Mangan contributed reporting
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.