The Other Side of U.S. Nordic Olympic Team Naming: Decisions, Emotions and Everything in Between

Alex KochonJanuary 26, 201431
(Photo: Bert Boyer/ All proceeds from photo sales will be directly donated to NNF.
Sylvan Ellefson (SSCV/Team HomeGrown) racing at U.S. Cross Country Championships earlier this month at Soldier Hollow in Midway, Utah. There, Ellefson claimed his first national title in the 30 k freestyle mass start. (Photo: Bert Boyer/ All proceeds from photo sales will be directly donated to NNF.

“The most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.” — Pierre de Coubertin, International Olympic Committee founder

Sylvan Ellefson loves that quote, part of The Olympic Creed. And he loves it to this day despite being on the wrong side of the U.S. Nordic Olympic Team naming, which was made official last week on Jan. 22.

For athletes like Ellefson, a 26-year-old Ski & Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV)/Team HomeGrown skier, the news came Tuesday following a U.S. Ski Team (USST) meeting over in Europe. Ellefson was home in Colorado with his wife, Sarah, anticipating, like a kid on “Christmas morning having to wait until everyone was up to open presents,” he wrote in an email.

Sylvan Ellefson and his wife, Sarah, await the podium ceremony after Ellefson won the men's 30 k freestyle mass start at U.S. nationals on Wednesday.
Sylvan Ellefson and his wife, Sarah, after Ellefson won his first national title in the the men’s 30 k freestyle mass start at 2014 U.S. Cross Country Championships.

“Tuesday was probably the longest day of my life,” Ellefson continued. “I was trying not to build the day up in my mind, but it was literally impossible. I was stressed in the morning and didn’t sleep much the night before. All I was doing was thinking about it. I was thinking about the call I was going to get.”

He told Sarah how he was feeling and she recommended he go skiing to clear his head.

“Right now I’m going to go for a nordic ski because its what I love to do,” Ellefson wrote on Facebook Jan. 21. “I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life living a dream. For me it’s never been about the end result, it’s been about getting out and crust cruising for 4 hours and slogging though inches of slop at a SuperTour and laughing about it after. I had to remind myself of that … I would love to be a 2014 Winter Olympian, but no matter however this year, this day, turns out, I know that it’s been a long, fun road of hard work and it can only get better from here.”

That night, he went to work with Sarah, a physical therapist in the Denver area, and the USST email popped into his inbox. Sitting on a patient table, he read it and laid back on the table. He looked at Sarah, then shoot his head with what he described as a forced smile.

“It was really hard for me to take,” Ellefson continued. “Immediate emotion always takes over. Anger, disappointment, sadness… but this was something that I had never felt before. But again, just like that morning, Sarah helped me put everything back into perspective. She reminded me of all the amazing relationships I had developed in skiing, all the amazing places skiing has taken me and all the things I had already accomplished in my ski career.”

Two weeks earlier, Ellefson won the 30-kilometer freestyle mass start at U.S. Cross Country Championships for his first national title. That put him one gigantic step closer to making his first Olympics, but nationals had never been touted as trials. Making the team was instead a numbers game: rank in the overall World Cup top 50 — which required racing over in Europe — or rank above everyone else in the U.S. on the International Ski Federation (FIS) points lists.

Kris Freeman leads Matt Liebsch and Miles Havlick (l) in a chase pack of the 30 k freestyle mass start at 2014 U.S. nationals.
Kris Freeman (Maine Winter Sports Center) leads Matt Liebsch (XC United/Team StrongHeart) and Sun Valley’s Miles Havlick (l) in a chase pack of the 30 k freestyle mass start at 2014 U.S. nationals. Freeman went on to place third, Liebsch was seventh and Havlick eighth.

In the fourth edition of the FIS points list, based on the last calendar year through Jan. 19, Ellefson was the fifth-ranked U.S. man in distance events — behind SSCV/Team HomeGrown teammate and USST member Noah Hoffman, who prequalified on the World Cup, former USST member Kris Freeman (Maine Winter Sports Center), Brian Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus), and Matt Liebsch (XC United/Team StrongHeart). On the sprint list, Ellefson ranked seventh.

Ultimately, the USST picked seven men and seven women for an Olympic squad of 14. They chose not to fill their quota of 17, and U.S. Head Coach Chris Grover explained on a conference call that they told athletes and coaches “from the get-go” that they only intended to bring those they planned on starting.

“With seven women and seven men, we have our start positions filled,” Grover said. “Seven and seven was the magic number for us.”

“The cross country community has followed a vision that its athletes could, indeed, be Best in the World,” U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association (USSA) Vice President of Athletics Luke Bodensteiner wrote on the USSA blog.

“Cross Country Olympic Selection” by Luke Bodensteiner:
“The growing success of cross country ski racing in the USA has come through the passion by the American ski community, fueling the fire that has resulted in more and more skiers find success internationally. The cross country community has followed a vision that its athletes could, indeed, be Best in the World.Our 2014 Olympic selection criteria reflected that vision, challenging athletes to ski into the top 50 in distance or sprint on the FIS World Cup rankings – a challenging but attainable level. Seven women and three men stepped up and met that mark – the most ever to achieve the top criteria. We supplemented those ten qualifiers with four other talented athletes who achieved the highest rankings on the FIS points list.With those 14 athletes, we will have the ability to fill all Olympic start positions. Based on the principles of our selection criteria, we have confirmed a team size of 14 with FIS that we, and USOC, believe gives the USA the best opportunity to achieve medals in Sochi.

The USSA selected a strong and focused team, starting from the principle that it is our obligation, first and foremost, to support those athletes with a high potential for winning medals. We are also cognizant of the role that athletes play as ambassadors for their sports. Together with the USOC, we believe that achieving medals in the Olympics will have even greater longstanding positive impact.

Our success as a nation on the World Cup and at World Championships has come from providing very talented athletes with a high level of personal support. Every one of our 14 Olympians earned their spot on the starting line. As an organization, we will provide that same support to each one.

I know that every cross country skier in America will be tuning in to NBC to watch as these 14 Olympians seek not only their own personal goals, but to bring greater awareness to the sport we all have grown up to love.”

— Luke Bodensteiner, USSA EVP Athletics

“Our 2014 Olympic selection criteria reflected that vision, challenging athletes to ski into the top 50 in distance or sprint on the FIS World Cup rankings – a challenging but attainable level,” he wrote. “Seven women and three men stepped up and met that mark – the most ever to achieve the top criteria. We supplemented those ten qualifiers with four other talented athletes who achieved the highest rankings on the FIS points list.”

In an email, Grover elaborated, “The USA Team is headed to Sochi to not only participate, but to perform on the biggest stage in the World and to demonstrate the strength of US Cross-Country ski racing.”

The team size wasn’t preplanned, he said in a follow-up phone interview. They simply wanted to make sure each start position — four per gender per individual race — was filled.

“In terms of the exact team size, whether it was 13 athletes or 14 athletes et cetera, we really had to see how that last points list came out, so that we knew how many sprinters we had and how many distance skiers we had,” Grover continued. “That was especially true on the men’s side, where the FIS points and the final selection criteria really played into it. Athletes, particularly on the men’s side, had been asking us how many athletes we were planning on bringing to the Games, and we said that we would fill our spots, fill our start spots. So they knew that ahead of time.”

On the men’s side, the U.S. team selected Freeman as its second distance skier and Gregg as its third (after Hoffman). Torin Koos (Bridger Ski Foundation/Rossignol) make it with the third-best FIS sprint ranking, and Erik Bjornsen (APU/USST) was chosen as the fourth man on the sprint list. USST teammates Andy Newell and Simi Hamilton had prequalified on the World Cup. Liebsch was 0.04 points behind Gregg on the distance list, which Grover said they used as their third criteria (forgoing discretion) to make the final picks.

“We really tried to apply the selection criteria in the most fair way possible,” Grover said. “That becomes, for sure, a challenge, especially on the mens’ side when you get down to the sixth, seventh, eighth guys, you’re really splitting hairs because the FIS points are so close at that point. Because they were so close we opted not to use discretion. It really wasn’t a fair way to do it.”

In the end, the U.S. team drew a line at seven men and seven women. That left three spots to be redistributed to other nations, like Canada, which picked up two additional quota spots on Thursday and added two women on Friday.

For the U.S., the big question became: why not bring Liebsch and Ellefson, and a woman or two on the cusp like Kate Fitzgerald (Alaska Pacific University) and Caitlin Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus)? Even if you couldn’t guarantee them all starts — what’s the risk of having a couple alternates?

“The challenge is that we don’t get extra credentials,” Grover explained. “The amount of credentials that we have is fixed, so whether we bring 14 athletes or whether we bring 17 athletes, our staff size remains the same. We couldn’t bring any additional staff.”

The Olympic Organizing Committee limited the number of visas granted to team staff members, one club coach explained. At one point, it was down to two coaches and four wax technicians per team. As a result, the quality of support for a given group of athletes becomes a deciding factor.

In terms of developing the sport, Grover said that doesn’t happen at the Olympics.

“The Olympics is the pinnacle of the performance or competition pipeline,” he said. “Development happens on the SuperTour. It happens at Europa Cups and Scandinavian Cups. It happens at World Juniors and U23s. Occasionally, it happens on the World Cup, in terms of giving young athletes a start at that level. It does not and should not come at the World Championships or the Olympics. … It’s not a development trip; it’s a competition trip at the very highest level.”

That said, Grover encourages young athletes to make the Olympics a long-term goal.

“But you don’t go from winning a race on the SuperTour to the Olympics in one step,” he said. “It takes many, many, many steps, many competition steps in between. It’s not always linear. There’s jumps and there’s times where you plateau and you fall back. But you have to have success at every level along the way.”


For those that spent the last decade of their lives or more working toward that Olympic goal, to come so close but fall a few points (or fractions of a point) short came as an incredibly tough blow. Grover said some of them took it with “great grace” and “real style,” and a couple were “extremely disappointed.”

Jennie Bender (BSF), national champion. (Photo: All proceeds from photo sales will be directly donated to NNF.
Jennie Bender (Bridger Ski Foundation) on her way to her second national sprint title, which she achieved earlier this month at U.S. Cross Country Championships at Soldier Hollow in Midway, Utah. (Photo: All proceeds from photo sales will be directly donated to NNF.

Jennie Bender (Bridger Ski Foundation) was the eighth-ranked sprinter behind seven USST women who made the team: Kikkan Randall, Sadie Bjornsen, Sophie Caldwell, Jessie Diggins, Ida Sargent, Holly Brooks, and Liz Stephen.

“This is the year my peers, who I have raced against since I started nordic in eighth grade, are all going to the Olympics for the first time, I yearn to be there with them,” Bender, 26, wrote in an email.  “I will never forget the roller coaster of emotion I rode while waiting for either an email or a phone call the night of the 21st. Next time, I will not be on that coaster.

“My support system has given me a big hug,” she added.” They have told me I am motivating to them, which in turn, reminds me to stay strong. I wish I hadn’t gotten mono and lyme [disease] two summers ago. I wish I hadn’t had a herniated disc this summer. But I don’t know what else I could have done that was in my power. I am not making excuses, but I will not forget them either.”

Bender won the skate sprint at 2014 U.S. nationals for her second sprint title, which she explained was a “giant relief.”

“Not repeating lasts year’s result in the classic sprint was immensely aggravating, and even if I had won two sprints, I don’t know if that would have changed anything,” she continued. “The only thing to do now is to look forward. My plan is to race the Boulder Mtn Tour, the upcoming Supertours, Birkie, and then head to Europe for March.”

Caitlin Gregg was next on the sprint list and eighth behind Fitzgerald (in seventh) and six prequalified USST women on the distance list. Gregg, 33, was aiming for her second Olympics after notching a historic U.S. women’s distance result at the 2010 Games. At U.S. nationals earlier this month, she won the 20 k freestyle mass start by an unprecedented 3:36 minutes.

After her husband, Brian, earned a trip to his first Olympics, Caitlin wrote in an email, “Team Gregg is all very fired up about having two Olympians on the roster now 🙂 So basically our roster is 100% Olympians!”

At the same time, it was bittersweet.

“I am bummed to ski so well this year and not make the Olympic Team but I am staying positive and using this opportunity to look at the big picture!” she wrote. “My work with under-privileged kids in North Minneapolis gives me incredible perspective! To have the opportunity to chase the Olympic dream at all is extremely wonderful. Once again I am forever grateful to the countless individuals, companies and organizations who have helped make my career possible! I will use the story of not being named to show the entire ski community that the triumph is not only in making the team but in the approach and almost more so, in the response and actions when you do not make it!!!”

Caitlin Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus) on her way to a 3 1/2-minute win in the women's 20 k freestyle mass start at 2014 U.S. nationals at Soldier Hollow in Midway, Utah. (Photo: All proceeds from photo sales will be directly donated to NNF.
Caitlin Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus) on her way to a 3 1/2-minute win in the women’s 20 k freestyle mass start at 2014 U.S. nationals at Soldier Hollow in Midway, Utah. (Photo: All proceeds from photo sales will be directly donated to NNF.

After spending some time on snow with Brian in Toblach, Italy, she planned to fly home to Minneapolis on Wednesday.

“I will visit the Boys and Girls Club, I will ski with the Loppet Nordic Racing crew and I will compete in the entire weekend of events for he City of Lakes Loppet! My hometown race,” she wrote. “Of course I will also be focusing once again on the Birkie and sharing the love of skiing with the 10,000+ people who will also be racing that day!”

While Brian’s parents, twin brother and sister-in-law will be in Sochi to cheer him on, Caitlin explained she’ll race stateside (in the marathon circuit, SuperTour and other races) for financial reasons. She is the defending champion and a two-time winner of the American Birkebeiner, which dolls out $39,000 dollars in prize money, including $7,500 to the top male and female in the 50 k skate.

“What a great journey this has been,” Caitlin added. “[Brian] saw me off before Vancouver and now I will do the same for him before Sochi! We are psyched to be an Olympic Duo and look forward to being involved with skiing for a very, very long time!”

“She is the best partner in the world,” Brian wrote in an email. “She has been coaching me all winter. Writing my training plan, planning our diet, interrupting her own workouts to video, time or lactate test me. In 2011 she told me she would do everything to help me make the 2014 Olympic team. Next she wanted to make it herself too. The US women are so strong but we decided to go for it. Watching Caitlin win every skate distance this year was just amazing. I am so proud of her. It has been an emotional two weeks and we are just so happy to have each other.”

Fitzgerald, 26, explained in an email she was grateful for the love and support of her family and friends.

“It is sort of a bitter sweet experience — bitter because I didn’t make it but sweet that I was so close!” she wrote. “Especially with such an incredible team! US skiers have really upped their game and I am really proud of that. I can’t wait to watch our team kick butt and take names at the Olympics.”

Four of her APU teammates — Randall, Brooks and the Bjornsen siblings — are on the USST and Olympic team.

Liebsch declined to comment publicly just yet, but wrote on Facebook: “…The U.S. has decided not to fill all their quota spots and will only take 3 distance men (I was ranked 4th on the list). I have the best sponsors, family and friends and have been blessed in so many ways! Time to train for the Birkie!”

Ellefson summed up that he was “bummed to be honest. How could one so close not be? I wanted one more taste of being able to perform on the world’s stage. But now I get to watch some of my best friends do that and I’ll be cheering my [butt] off every single race during these games.

“I have always believed that happiness can be found down many different avenues so when something gets you down, you find something that reminds you of and brings you back to that warm, fuzzy, familiar place,” he wrote. “I can’t get stressed over missing an Olympic Team nomination. I won’t let it get me down. So now I’m busy getting back to the drawing board for the next adventure.”

 — Chelsea Little contributed reporting

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”  — The Olympic Creed, Pierre de Coubertin

Alex Kochon

Alex Kochon ( is a former FasterSkier editor and roving reporter who never really lost touch with the nordic scene. A freelance writer, editor, and outdoor-loving mom of two, she lives in northeastern New York and enjoys adventuring in the Adirondacks. She shares her passion for sports and recreation as the co-founder of "Ride On! Mountain Bike Trail Guide" and a sales and content contributor at When she's not skiing or chasing her kids around, Alex assists authors as a production and marketing coordinator for iPub Global Connection.

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  • highstream

    January 26, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    The explanation that “we don’t have enough support staff” does not come across as genuous. Far and away, the most glaring question in the Olmpics team picks is on the women’s side, who is going to be the fourth distance skier (skater), Brooks or Gregg. Good arguments can be made either way, and I suggest readers take a look at the very thoughtful Statistical Skier blog entry on the subject (left under X-C Feeds), but to hang it on the IOC credentialing process does not speak well for the decision makers.

    One thing to draw from this, Olympics year or not, is that aspiring top level racers would be wise to plan their seasons to peak when the World Cup team skiers are in town.

  • davord

    January 26, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    It’s great that they can ‘fill’ each race with 4 skiers, however, what if somebody gets sick? What if more than one person gets sick? Sadie Bjornsen hasn’t done a race in more than a month. I am also not sure that every men’s race will have 4 US skiers in it. Sprints, yes, distance? Not sure about that. What’s most bothersome to me is to hear the US Ski Team saying ‘“The challenge is that we don’t get extra credentials,” Grover explained. “The amount of credentials that we have is fixed, so whether we bring 14 athletes or whether we bring 17 athletes, our staff size remains the same. We couldn’t bring any additional staff.” That’s not a very good message they are sending to the US Nordic community. Either have the quota at a set number, like 10, or 14, or 20, or whatever, stick with it and fill it out, or make it more clear as to how one can qualify by racing either the SuperTours or World Cups. It’s also very disappointing for SuperTour organizers, volunteers and obviously racers who believed they had a shot of making the team when they hear that the Olympic team was comprised exclusively by members of the national team. Yes ST points gained can potentially get an athlete or two WC start rights, but there should be more opportunities. I hate to take it this far, but it almost makes it seem like the SuperTour races (including Nationals) were all for naught for these skiers. Skiers from all over the country travel, spend lots of money to perform to the best of their abilities on a weekly basis, and volunteers bust their butts trying to make the best possible environments for these athletes to shine. At the end, nobody is rewarded, IMO. Yes, they can lower their points like Brian Gregg, Sylvan Ellefson, Matt Liebsch, and Reese Hanneman or dominate the field like Caitlin Gregg did, or win races (style, distance, etc) that will be held at the Olympics like Jennie Bender and Rebecca Rorabaugh did, but none of this seem to be a factor in the end, because what the US Ski Team is saying is that literally if you don’t race the pre-New Year’s WC’s, get to 30 results and/or lower your points at these races, you have 0 chance. That, to me, is very bothersome. How can we get athletes (who are not Super Tour leaders) after the previous season, and who are not on the national team, to race these WC’s? There is a quota for these races as well, why can’t we fill these quotas in? As I mentioned a couple days ago on the naming of the team article, club coaches who spend the most time with these racers would head to Europe and help coach, wax, etc. Torin Koos was given a spot in the pre-Christmas sprint races and a BSF elite team coach was there to help him for those races. Unfortunately Torin was under the weather and wasn’t able to show his true potential (I believe he will show it in two weeks time), but was given an opportunity to try and get valuable WC points. What’s the US quota for the WC’s this season? I am sure it’s not 8 or 9 skiers per race, per gender like Norway and Russia, but it can’t be very low either. Why can’t we use these spots? Highstream, that’s a fair point, but how will domestic racers know when the WC team skiers are in town and which races they will take part in? There’s not much time in between WC races. Very rarely are any national team skiers back in the US taking part at the SuperTours or Nationals these days. Erik Bjornsen stayed home this year and Sadie Bjornsen raced through nationals last year, but that’s very rare these days.

  • gkentch

    January 26, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    In 2001-2002, if I read the historical results and do the math correctly, Kikkan’s average finish in pre-Olympic domestic sprint races was 6th, average finish in all domestic races 12th. (This counts a Silver Star Continental Cup as domestic.) So it’s fair to say that she didn’t, per Grover’s current standard, “go from winning a race on the SuperTour to the Olympics in one step” – she went to the Olympics *before* she was winning SuperTour races.

    Obviously this was a half a generation ago – different skiers, different coaches, different standards, different depth of American skiing. But I think anyone watching this at the time would have to assume that she she was picked for SLC mostly for murky but not insensible reasons of experience or seasoning. (If she in fact also ranked highest on the contemporary U.S. FIS points list, then someone should feel free to point that out to me, and I will stand corrected.) So it seems like there has historically been a place for using the Olympics for exposure or development. Sure didn’t hurt Kikkan. (And again, I am well aware that the numbers and depth of U.S. skiing were very different 12 years ago.)

    Full stats here:

    – Gavin Kentch

  • glund

    January 26, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    Luke and Chris

    Pierre de Coubertin was a smart and thoughtfully person. The quote above is very appropriate in this context.

    The issue that creates the firestorm of protest is not about who to pick but how many.

    For those of us who are in the fortunate position to support US XC skiing both financially and personally your decision not to fill our quota is not easy to understand.

    Patching things up by sending skiers to WC races to ski their heart out 2 weeks before the Olympics to “maybe” make the team adds insult to injury. It reflects poorly on your ability to plan ahead and damage your credibility. This is the time when most other nations top skiers hang out and rests before the BIG event. They do not even have the jet lag to deal with. Good coaching practices dictates that you should have followed their example.

    By you actions you are are putting good skiers on the bubble like Caitlin Gregg in a very difficult position for no good reason at all. The simple solution would have been to formally pick 17 people and left them to recast an relax both physically an mentaly. They are all mature enough to understand they would have to compete for the starting positions.

  • John Forrest Tomlinson

    January 26, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    The rationale of limiting the team to 14 makes sense, but I’m very curious about telling skiers that the number as 14 “from the get-go.” When was this communicated to potential Olympic team members? In the last few weeks? At the start of this season? At the start of last season? It seems like last season would have been thee time on the women’s side, be because if a skier didn’t make the national team they don’t seem to be able to make the Olympic team.

  • Karen Mannix

    January 26, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    At this point any discussion about the Olympic quota seems moot, in that the US is willing to give their hard-earned quota spots to other countries. That, to me is sad (for US skiers who have earned spots via performance,) shortsighted (relative to issues like illness or even “flagging” performance at the Olympics,) and not adequately explainable (with respect to the inability for domestic skiers to really preove themselves on the WC, especially in an Olympic year.) Although I fully appreciate the upward trajectory of US skiing due to herculean efforts at the grassroots dometic level, the USST decision continues to disappoint and comes across more like an insult to the development and performance systems we’ve worked so hard to create. I would have thought that in an Olympic year it would have been particularly important to “seek and find” not just skiers able to fill Olympic starts, but the best skiers able to fill those starts. It might have been more appropriate to give domestic skiers more of an ability to ski internationally, or to place more importance on US Nationals if that was (and it used to be) the premire avenue by which to demonstrate performance prior to the Olympics. Yes, the USST can be proud of their skiers who are ranked in the top WC 50. But, given that the opportunity for domestic skiers to prove themselves on the WC “stage” did not exist (except for ST leaders in the first period,) US Nationals was the proving-ground venue…I would also contend that the USST is diverse in its talent. Clearly, not all skiers are equally qualified to ski all events…at least not yet…Kikkan is undoubtedly the most diverse. In fact, one benefit of a fixed number of starts, especially for larger teams (like the Norwegians, for example) is that their potentially fastest skiers can toe that start line. And having depth is critical to “medal” outcome. The US had potential for depth. The US had the potential for better coping with any number of issues that might crop up at the Olympics (illness being the most obvious.) The US had the opportunity to field the potentially best skiers in each event. We cannot decide that WC 50 will guarantee the best team, when not all peak-performing athletes have the opportunity to ski WC in a year as important as an Olympic year.

    The system has gotten better with time, and the US skiers on the WC have paved the way to greater success. But we have somehow ignored domestic performance and the value of US Nationals as a performance stage in a very important year. Notwithstanding the disappointment of the skiers themselves, the USST decided to not give itself the depth it might have had. I’m certain there wouldn’t have been a selection choice that would have satisfied everyone…people are hard to satisfy and they might be better at complaining than supporting…I simply view the choice as shortsighted when compared to the benefits of depth and recognition of current performance of US domestic skiers. Therein we may have compromised either medal potential or very good finishes among US skiers. Although I fully appreciate the work of the USST, I respecfully disagree with the decision.

    That said, I will be eagerly following the Olympics and wishing our team the best of skiing ability (luck isn’t a good word here!) We DO have the best team in years, and kudos to those who have been part of this tremendous growth.

  • patricia_c

    January 26, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    You know this: the Olympics may be seen as a pinnacle but its political even from its roots and it has become a great (political at times) media event! It happens only every 4 years which is lame for athletes that who are not peaking that year. If you qualify and you don’t even race is it still cool to tell your kids you went to the olympics? What if you do race at the olympics and you come in like 73rd place, is that cool to tell your friends? Do you tell them that you would have done worse if Norway had brought more of their good skiers? Its okay that you are not going because of the politics. y
    You guys, Sylvan, Jennie, Caitlin, Matt, Eric, Becca, Reese, the Petersons and many more – you know who you are – you guys still rock my world. I bet there are many many kids and people in your community that you inspire every day you are out there skiing and winning races. Congratulations – you are awesome!!!

    Great article. I too, was looking over my husbands shoulder to see who was going to go to Sochi. We talked about it and now that its explained here I can understand who and why.
    Thank you Alex.

  • nycxcskier

    January 26, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    Alot of silliness but clearly a cop out statement about them having 17 athletes being too much to handle for our USA staff of only 2 coaches & 4 wax techs … If so we clearly need a new more qualified and willing to work hard staff !? i hope Tiger Shaw hears about this before 2018 rolls around ? Seem like USSA nordic appears to me about like the NJ state government of xc skiing .. ? makes it a bit tougher to even want to root for the USA xc ski team in Sochi this yr. .. So, Go SWEDEN ! !

  • WI skier

    January 26, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    “They simply wanted to make sure each start position — four per gender per individual race — was filled” Is the goal to fill the spots or fill them with the best possible skiers the country has to offer? I would like it to be the latter. Caitlin and the 30K have been talked about a lot. How about the men’s 50K? I question if the four best 50K freestyle skiers are on the team. If the staff is not using discretion, then the objective criteria would suggest they are not since the top 4 ranked distance men are not all on the team. Making a decision between Matt and Sylvan is a tough call. The objective criteria would send Matt. I wouldn’t question either.

    To me it seems like Matt has been burned the worst by this since he “played by their rules” and still wasn’t given a spot. He did what he had to do to be in the top 4 distance rankings. Traveling around to get the FIS points to be in this position probably wasn’t cheap. The coaches then used discretion and omitted him.

    I originally assumed that the team was limited to 14 due to the coaching staff penciling in who would start each race and those 14 were the best we had for each race. Listening to the conference call later there is a statement along the lines of we don’t know who we will start in each race and that will be decided based on how people are skiing closer to the event, so that wasn’t the case.

    I still don’t fully understand the limited staff argument. Four starts are four starts and skis from four skiers to wax. It doesn’t seem like it would have that big of an impact on if these four starts were pulled out of a pool of 14 or 17. If I was one of these bubble athletes and staffing really was the limiter I would wax my own skis if that made the difference between going and not going, even if I was told I probably wouldn’t get a start.

  • caldxski

    January 26, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    OK people (I already sound a bit like Gail Collins of the TIMES)!

    Here is what is clear to me:

    1. Selection procedures will NEVER satisfy everyone. There are always people who can find flaws, myself included.

    2. I hesitate to comment on the selections partly because I have been in the position of head coach and partly because I don’t want to sound like a Monday morning quarterback.

    2. Another year is coming along and with it the possibility of a changed coaching staff. Surely the administration will change. Why not, in April, May and June, study the FIS and USSA schedules for next year and concoct a schedule for stateside races along with a selection system for the WSC 2015 and send it along to the USST. Better yet, publicize it here on FS and sit back and wait for comments.

    John Caldwell

  • formerskier

    January 26, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    Enough already. The chiefs have drawn the line in the sand. The criteria was published years ago and the athletes knew what they needed to do. All had plenty of opportunity to prove themselves on the World Cup via leading SuperTour competition periods. Some did once they got their chances, while others did not. If they didn’t, their chances were up to the second (discretion) and third (FIS points) qualification methods. For the women, relying on these two were exceptionally risky given the number of women meeting the 1st qualification method.

    I would be surprised if any of the bubble athletes actually believed going into US Nationals that winning a race or two meant likely selection like some of the commenters believe. US Nationals were just a last chance for something to happen. A ‘hail mary’ play that has everyone’s attention and hopes, but it’s just another play with no more opportunity than countless ones previously. It takes a long process and lots of patience to have the best chance for the Olympics. I am sure the athletes in question understood this, so should the rest of us.

    By the way, remember when Petter Northug won a National Championship (and was very much an Olympic medal contender) and then was left off the Olympic roster?

  • Tim Kelley

    January 26, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    You make a good point formerskier. Norway screwed up by not taking a national champion to the Olympics. The US should learn from that mistake and not repeat it.

    And yes, the criteria for selection was published a long ways in advance. But choosing a team of athletes should be like choosing a portfolio of stocks that you want to perform well by a certain time. You start with defined criteria. But you also have to look at which way stocks, or athletes, are trending. If a stock meets selection criteria but is trending down and tanking just before the sell date, you don’t keep it. Same with athletes. If one athlete just barely meets the criteria but their performance is trending down, then that person should be passed over for someone that is trending up and winning the big races just before the Olympics by, literally, a mile.

    The real problem here seems to be what the USST has morphed into. I remember reading on the National Nordic Fund website last summer a quote from a member of the USST. To paraphrase, it went something like this: “Give money to the NNF, because the USST is YOUR team!”

    What a disingenuous quote that was. The modern day USST is not “YOUR” team. It is a protected professional team that serves itself. In the world of business they talk about “big moat” organizations. The USST has become such a self-protected entity. If one of their own is not skiing fast and a Super Tour skier could likely ski faster at the Olympics … no problem, the USST skier is protected by the moat that other skiers can’t cross. The moat in this case in attaining top 50 ranking in WC races that most Super Tour races can’t easily attend.

    Speaking of NNF … what’s the point in giving them money? If the current system insulates USST members, keeps USST’ers from racing domestic racers and gives USST’ers inside access to the Olympics … then the system is broken. Why give money to a broken system where there is little fairness or hope for domestic racers when it comes to qualifying for the Olympics or World Championships?

  • teamepokeedsbyn

    January 26, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    I am not smart, never have been, never will, but still have not seen good argument for not filing the quota given.
    published in advance – nope. money for travel, food, lodging – nope (IOC provides). Staff – nope, 4 racers per race to wax/tend to, regardless of athletes in village. What is the harm in having one or two guys or gals who met pre-published FIS Oly standards to race the 30/50, maybe 10/15?
    If past WSC and Olys are a guide, illness/fatigue will bump a planned starter or two over 2 weeks.
    Too late anyhoo as quota has been set, and passed on any additional athletes, so just blah blah blah at this point. Too bad for the “bubble” guys and gals.
    TK, you are a dreamer…go back to cooking hotdogs on your Snow Go, playing your git-tar, and skiing probably more miles than any older fella in the U.S. (sorry, you pretty much are an older fella at this point – ok maybe an extra purple older fella – not quite red/extra red)

  • davord

    January 27, 2014 at 12:45 am

    Tim Kelley, I agree with you on everything except the NNF part. NNF (previously known as NCCSEF) was established to help fund junior trips like WJC and U18 (J1) Scandinavia trips. I think it’s a great concept and to my knowledge, it’s been a great success thus far. That said, it’s sad that the US Ski Team can’t provide more to athletes that make the Olympic team or even ones that are on the national team right now. Yes, you first need results to bring in sponsors and donors, to prove to those sponsors and donors that you are worth something and are a great investment to them, but the team has been improving and the women have shown they are contenders on a daily basis at the WC, so they deserve more than what they are getting. I guess an Olympic gold or two will grab corporate attention and USSA nordic will get more funds. I don’t exactly know how it works, but anyone who makes the Olympic team or WSC team, even the WJC and Scando Cup team, should get significant, if not all of their expenses paid for by the US Ski Team. Maybe that’s crossing the NCAA rules line with college racers on those teams, but the NCAA and Division I sports rules are a bit murky and confusing.

  • skithegrooves

    January 27, 2014 at 1:05 am

    I’m just wondering how having alternates on the team increases the staffing requirements? It seems the credentialling shouldn’t be an issue as the same number of racers will be starting in each race, whether the team is filled at 17 or only 14 skiers.

  • crashtestxc

    January 27, 2014 at 4:57 am

    WOW..Tim Kelley nailed it! As a current racer, primarily in the U.S. it is utterly ridiculous not having an opportunity to race the rest of the USST…they are completely insulated and safe. National’s clearly mean nothing and the USST has completely snubbed every domestic skier creating the false hope that there was some way to qualify via “discretion”. Utter lack of respect and waste of money for the racers that devote their time 100% to nordic skiing.

  • coskier

    January 27, 2014 at 9:09 am

    crashtestxc and Tim Kelley have covered it. Now the question is how do we change it?

  • Martin Hall

    January 27, 2014 at 11:00 am

    Well, we’ve pummeled the nail enough times—some misses and a lot of hits—the technicians whom are in short supply really do work their butts off—but they have only one day where they have 2 races to deal with—other wise it’s one race per day—4 skiers—in any given WC day they could be dealing with up to 10 skiers —so that excuse just flew out the window—also have any of you really looked at the schedule—the day off breaks in the Olympic Cross Country schedule in Sochi are 2 days, then 3 days, and then another 3 day break( one week off)–very nicely spread out—plus the skiers get another day off when the other sex is skiing—so that really lightens the load. So, that excuse continues to get diluted—–come on GUYS. The coaches haven’t figured this out as well as they should have—or is there a bit of a protection thing going on here.
    One other thing, the tryouts are getting to be—TOO INTERNATIONAL—all US XC Team members must be required to attend the Nats and Spring Series as part of their team contract—this cross pollination is almost dead in the US—the kids at home NEED TO GET access to their points(and the Euros, as they are becoming, have great points to give), but more importantly is that they get to see these people and interact with them. WHAT A WAY TO GET THE NEXT YEAR STARTED–GOOD POINTS–GOOD RELATIONSHIPS RE-BUILT—OH, YES, THERE HAS TO BE A PARTY TO REMEMBER!!!! BEEN THERE—DONE THAT!!!

  • Martin Hall

    January 27, 2014 at 11:15 am


  • nate

    January 27, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    I will have to disagree with Tim’s criticism of the NNF. It’s frustrating that the USST is isolated in Europe all season long, but I don’t think that’s the NNF’s fault. In fact the very reason that so many US skiers are ranked in the top 50 of the world cup right now is no doubt the direct result of what the NNF and the USST is doing really well right now in getting more younger skiers over to experience the better competition that is happening in Europe (and despite my frustrations with the last couple of skiers being left off the Olympic roster, there is obviously a lot more going right with the current system than going wrong).

    I do agree with a number of other comments that have pointed out that 50 may be a bit generous for Olympic auto qualifying if we are looking for medals. Have auto qualifying be top 20 or 25, and then have coach’s choice and points to name the team. That probably still would have lead to the same team being named this year, since the USST coaches are always going to favor the USST skiers over other skiers (which is an issue). What we really need are more chances for head-to-head racing with the USST skiers.

    What we really need is another World Cup race in North America to give more incentive for the USST to come back to this side of the world. It would be great to have US Nationals and a World Cup weekend in close proximity on the calendar. Probably very wi$hful thinking, but it would solve a bunch of issues with the current selection by allowing more head-to-head racing AND could build excitement for skiing in the US.

  • rickeliot

    January 27, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    Marty Hall has the immediate answer.
    Modify the system later, but for now,
    Get our FASTEST SKIERS to Soch !.
    Rick Eliot

  • crashtestxc

    January 27, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    Every time a distance skier starts a sprint race and vice-versa is a completely wasted opportunity to develop a skier in that respective discipline. Everything Marty wrote in caps is totally dead-on..

    This NEEDS to change for the next season and I think it’s time for skiers in the U.S. to mobilize and have their voices be heard on this subject. There absolutely needs to be better athlete representation on these decisions that are being made.

  • thoughtexperiment

    January 28, 2014 at 3:17 am

    What if…. when the criteria were written, quite a long time ago, the USST did not expect so many of its young, up-and-coming athletes to make the top 50 in a WC ranking? And then, once they did, they didn’t want to change the rules and tell athletes who believed they had auto-qualified that, in fact, they hadn’t? This seems very plausible given how the women’s team especially has emerged as a force in the last two years to a way stronger extent than almost anyone would have predicted. Lost in this discussion is the fact that American skiing has changed so much in literally the last 12 months.

    When things change so fast, there are going to be some hiccups. Coaches and administrators should perhaps be cut a tiny bit of slack as when they wrote the criteria, they were overseeing a completely different team and a country in a different situation with regards to cross country skiing. And imagine the uproar if they had written criteria, and then gone back on their word and “un”qualified some athletes…

  • Nordic Gal

    January 28, 2014 at 10:23 am

    Marty is right! “ONE WEEK TO GO—CAITLIN IS IN EUROPE—ADD HER AND GET KATE AND SYLVAN OVER THERE ASAP.” Is there anything we can do to help make this happen? Is there anything we outsiders can do to help?

  • formerskier

    January 28, 2014 at 11:36 am

    The article clearly says that the unfilled spots were redistributed to other nations.

  • longtimer

    January 28, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    “The article clearly says that the unfilled spots were redistributed to other nations.”
    Sounds a lot, a whole lot like the individual that runs the ski community here, iron-fisted like Stalin. One of these days there will be a grass roots uprising and we will take back the trails to the skiers!

  • Nordic Gal

    January 28, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Wonder what athletes go to go instead of our well qualified skiers! Go Costa Rica!

  • Lars

    January 28, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    I think using performance from the last year to choose competitors seems strange. I mean just cause someone skied well last season or even earlier this season does not mean they will be in form for the Olympics. So if its close i would think picking the athlete that show from closer to the game would be the way to go.

  • slowmnskier

    January 28, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    Three positivies:

    1. AWe got further confirmation that Caitlin Gregg is a class act. I admire the way she really went for it this season with everything she had this season and later publicly handled not getting on the team with grace. She really is a good role model for kids, including the ones in North Minneapolis with whom she works.

    2. I think we’ve also seen that Caitlin has the makings of a very good coach, should she choose to go that route. I’ve read that she and Brian were their own coaches this year. And I’ve also read about her doing a lot of the coaching for Brian. They’ve both had good coaches in the past, but they seem to have done a great job coaching each other this year.

    3. My kids and I get to see her race the City of Lakes Loppet this weekend.

  • Strider2

    January 28, 2014 at 11:45 pm


    Not only did Petter Northug win two events at the Norwegian Championships, he also went on to win the World Cup Final in Falun.

  • troutnet

    January 31, 2014 at 1:09 am

    Using the number of wax technicians as an excuse is low. I know, I am a single person waxing for 4 athletes every race. is it hard yes, but I still have time to do a insanely good job. So having 4 wax techs, and 2 coaches, should be a walk in the park.

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