The Netherlands is a flat-as-a-pancake country with nearly snowless winters.
But according to Anna van der Rhee, who grew up in northern Maine and had a successful college skiing career at the University of Utah before marrying a Dutchman, there is an enthusiastic group of cross-country skiers there.
Van der Rhee, 30, won the Dutch National Championships (held in Germany) in 2012, prompting some to suggest she try for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. She said her initial reaction was laughter, but after some consideration, she thought, “Why not?”
Every country is entitled to enter one man and one woman into the Olympic sprint or 10/15 k, granted the individual has a “B” standard (sub-300 FIS point) rating at the distance they wish to compete in.
An “A” standard (100-point maximum on the FIS distance points list or 120-point maximum sprint rating) gives the athlete the right to compete in more events. The qualifying window for Sochi is July 2012 to January 19, 2014.
Van der Rhee raced last season while maintaining a full-time job in scientific research. In April, realizing this may be her only opportunity to make the Olympics, she quit her job and became a full-time skier.
With support from the Maine Winter Sports Center and its competitive programs director Will Sweetser, van der Rhee and her husband will balance a single income while traveling to FIS-scored events, which are not found in The Netherlands. She currently has 181.63 distance points, giving her the “B” standard.
Though she has technically qualified for the Olympics, the Dutch Ski Federation and Dutch Olympic Committee do not want to send athletes to the Games to compete for last place, according to van der Rhee. The Netherlands does not have specific performance standards of its own, but will decide if van der Rhee is worthy of the Olympics.
“I would love to raise the profile of the sport and help generate interest, especially among younger athletes,” van der Rhee wrote in an email. “I imagine that this is also a goal in other countries without developed competition programs, and that sending athletes to the Olympics is a means to this end. That said, I fully understand the viewpoints of the Dutch organizations in only wanting to send athletes who can be successful, although it could be debated as to what the definition of ‘successful’ then may be. In any case, I certainly would not want to be at the Olympics just to compete for last place.”
Sarah Murphy grew up in Canmore, Alberta, but has dual citizenship in Canada and New Zealand.
She moved to New Zealand in 2008 and made the national team, competing in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
In biathlon, an athlete must have two results at an International Biathlon Union (IBU) Cup, Open European Championships, World Championships, or World Cup that are a maximum of 20 percent behind the average time of the top three finishers. Younger athletes may qualify with two top-half placings at Junior World Championships. Olympic quota spots are disbursed based on the team results of the last two World Championships.
In addition to the International Olympic Committee’s qualifying standards, New Zealand has criteria of its own. Murphy must place in the top 50 percent of half the World Cups she competes in. In an email, she explained she’s hoping for a good start to the season after struggling with sickness and a broken rifle last year.
Murphy, 25, was recently informed by the New Zealand Olympic Committee that she has little to no chance of going to Sochi, despite being New Zealand’s only IBU and World Cup representative. Combined with last season’s results, even a strong start this year will likely fall short of New Zealand’s criteria.
“It is frustrating,” Murphy wrote. “I understand if you have a big team, and I understand the IOC standard, but I do not understand New Zealand’s reluctance to support winter sport, other than those in the top 16 in the world.”
The highest-ranked Argentinian nordic skier in the world, Fede Cichero, 29, hit the “B” standard with 130 points on the latest distance list and will be granted an Olympic berth.
Cichero started this Olympic cycle, his first, with no equipment and often had to travel to races without a coach and only a small wax box. He trained in Vermont and Colorado and received contributions from American ski clubs and businesses. In an email, Cichero explained he recently secured financial support through the Argentine federal government and the National Entity for High Performance Sports (ENARD).
“After all this is over, what would be equally meaningful to me, is to help cross-country in Argentina and South America,” Cichero said, according to friend and translator Matt Muir. “Ushuaia, for example, has enormous raw potential and it would help my country in many ways if we could improve access to skiing and other outdoor activities.”
The “B” standard creates a balance of Olympic values – inclusion of all nations while maintaining the highest athletic standards. For van der Rhee, Murphy and some other skiers from countries FIS has termed “exotic,” the fulfillment of an Olympic dream relies on the judgment of their own nation’s officials.
Steven McCarthy discovered a passion for sportswriting in the classrooms of the University of Maine school of journalism. He earned his Bachelor's degree in 2010, while complementing his studies covering two years of UMaine sports and summer college baseball on Cape Cod. He resides in southern Maine and works in a private school for kids with autism. In his spare time he's training for his next marathon (running or skiing) or coaching at a local high school.