GeneralNewsOlympicsRacingUS Ski TeamNewell Out of Team Sprint with Illness; Randall Stays in for U.S. – UPDATED

Avatar Nathaniel HerzFebruary 18, 201412
Andy Newell in qualification for the individual sprint on Tuesday. After a tough leg of the 4 x 10 k relay, Newell says he is sick, and is no longer part of the American pairing for Wednesday's team sprint.
Andy Newell in qualification for the individual sprint on Tuesday. After a tough leg of the 4 x 10 k relay, Newell says he is sick, and is no longer part of the American pairing for Wednesday’s team sprint.

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Andy Newell is out and Kikkan Randall is in for Wednesday’s team sprint competition at the Olympics.

Newell is sick—“stuffed up and coughing,” said U.S. Ski Team Head Coach Chris Grover—which helps explain why the American sprinter suffered badly through the last two kilometers of racing in last weekend’s relay, before collapsing at the finish.

Erik Bjornsen will replace Newell on Wednesday, anchoring the two-man American team, which will have Simi Hamilton skiing the scramble leg.

Randall, meanwhile, will anchor the U.S. women’s team, with Sophie Caldwell skiing the first leg.

Randall has struggled in both of her events in Sochi—the freestyle sprint last week, and the women’s relay on Saturday.

But the American coaches nonetheless selected her for the team sprint, which will be held in the classical technique, based on her track record—she’s the two-time defending World Cup sprint champion—and her appearance in training sessions over the last few days, according to Grover.

“She’s feeling good, and looks good in training, (and) she obviously brings the most experience to our team,” Grover said, adding that Randall’s club coach, Erik Flora, “has been skiing with Kikkan the last few days, and he’s feeling real confident about where she is right now.”

In an email Tuesday, Randall said that she is “looking forward to tomorrow’s race.”

“My energy feels good, and my classic skiing was solid the other day,” she said. “Each race is feeling a little bit better.  The team sprint format has been a good one for me, and it will be great to get another shot at some head-to-head skiing.”

The discussion about the women’s team among the American coaches, Grover said, consumed “an hour and a half or longer” on Monday night.

The U.S. women are considered an outside shot at a medal; Randall and Jessie Diggins won gold at the event at World Championships last year, but that was in freestyle technique.

The Americans have never made the podium in a classic technique team sprint.

There were several candidates for the team for Tuesday’s race, according to Grover, including Sadie Bjornsen and Ida Sargent.

Bjornsen skied the 7th-fastest time of her relay leg last weekend, compared to Randall’s leg, which was the 12th-fastest.

Sargent’s specialty is classic sprinting, and while she didn’t race the relay, she placed one spot behind Randall in the freestyle sprint last week.

Bjornsen and Sargent raced together in the World Cup team sprint in Sochi last year—a test event for the Olympics—and placed fifth.

Grover said that “we can’t really get any better information” than the assessment of Randall’s fitness by Flora, her coach.

Asked whether Flora’s observations could be expected to be objective, Grover pointed out that Flora also coaches Bjornsen.

“He’s somebody that we can trust in tough situations, on tough picks,” Grover said.

The decision, he added, was painstaking.

“You make a choice based on what you feel is the best information you have, and you walk away knowing that it can be a wrong decision,” he said. “You put together what looks like your best team on paper, but there’s lingering doubts in your mind that you could have missed somebody who’s really having one.”

However, Grover added, it’s exciting for the Americans to be in such a competitive position—where their choices could conceivably have an impact on whether the team wins a medal, or not.

“It’s actually nice to be in the situation where you have such hard decisions, that can be so impactful,” he said.

As for the men, Grover said that Torin Koos, who last month won the U.S. national championship in the freestyle sprint, will be the alternate for the team.

Koos’s last World Cup team sprint “didn’t go super-well for him,” Grover said.

That was in Italy in December, where Koos paired with Mike Sinnott, and the two finished 15th of the 15 teams in their semifinal round.

“We just like the way Erik’s been skiing,” Grover said, adding that the challenging nature of the Sochi sprint course favored Bjornsen, who has been racing well in longer events this season.

Link to women’s start list.

Link to men’s start list.

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Nathaniel Herz

Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.

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12 comments

  • Avatar
    skierout

    February 18, 2014 at 8:04 am

    Thanks for the update.

  • Avatar
    nyctvt

    February 18, 2014 at 9:05 am

    Flora and Grover are saying Kikkan is ready but what is Kikkan saying?

  • Avatar
    sugarbones

    February 18, 2014 at 9:58 am

    Grover doesn’t sound confident in his decision to pick Randall. And who is the head coach of this team? Flora? As difficult as these decisions may be you have to pick the athletes who are skiing the fastest. Kikan lost over 30 seconds in 5k in the relay. She didn’t have her usual turn of speed in the free sprint either. As difficult as it is to watch it is obvious she is off for these Games.

  • Avatar
    davord

    February 18, 2014 at 11:32 am

    Torin’s last World Cup team sprint event didn’t go well for him because he was under the weather. And last time I checked, Torin beat Erik in the individual sprint, so the statement “the challenging nature of the Sochi sprint course favored Bjornsen, who has been racing well in longer events this season” is a little strange. It’s gonna be the same course, Torin is a much better classic skier than he is skating, he’s proven the last couple years that he can win both sprints AND distance events (last year’s US Nationals classic sprint and 30km classic, Canadian Nationals 50km skate, 25th in the skate prologue at Falun WC finals, 18th in Drammen, winner of Tour de Twin Cities, etc). This course actually DOES suit him very well, and he is fresh and his form is rising, whereas Erik has raced every single race. In fact, he’s raced just about every weekend, and done every single race at the Olympics. I don’t think form or nature of the course or technique had anything to do with it, Grover, you just don’t respect Torin Koos, that’s the issue.

  • Avatar
    highstream

    February 18, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    nyctvt, Randall is quoted in the article as feeling good and in any case, she’d really have to be in trouble not to start her. I would think it a no brainer. A little bit closer call would be Norway not starting Marit Bjoergen, but only because they’ve got two top sprinters in Oestberg and Falla, and a very good high pace classical skier in Johaug. The U.S. women’s team isn’t close to that.

  • Avatar
    Tim Kelley

    February 18, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    Olympics trivia: What’s the connection between sprint relay team member, Sophie Caldwell, and the top US SL and GS Alpine racer – 18 year old World Champion Mikaela Shiffrin? Their fathers were both xc ski racers on the Dartmouth College ski team at the same time in the mid 1970s. So, if you are looking to follow more “xc skier related” sports at the Olympics, watch “daughter of an xc ski racer” Mika try to win gold in the slalom. Good luck to all!

  • Avatar
    1nordy1

    February 18, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Happy for Eric, but questioning Grover’s logic.

  • Avatar
    joeconn4

    February 18, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    You can armchair quarterback this all you want, fact is with just 2 spots available for each nation who is going to race is an incredibly difficult call for not just the US coaches but for the coaches of all 24 nations who will race tomorrow. I’ve never been an apologist for the US Ski Team, but I have to think that those of you who are criticizing the lineups selected have never been a coach in this position. Although I’ve never coached on the level of Grover or Flora I’ve certainly had to make judgment calls about who is in/out over my 10+ years on the college level…sometimes you get it right sometimes you don’t, as long as you feel in your heart and head that you made the right call that’s really the best you can do.

    In this case I don’t see either Erik B or Koos as being a difference maker in terms of the US getting a medal or not. To me it seems like a coin flip, and both of these men have strong points in their favor regarding racing the sprint relay. But anything can happen in sprints and I hope Erik and Simi ski out of their heads tomorrow and put themselves in a position to contend. One thing to keep in mind, Erik B vs Koos, if you’re looking to give your racers experience for the future, Koos at 33 vs Erik B at 22, that’s an easy call to make. Not saying that’s the right way to make this decision but it’s often a factor. As far as who beat who last Tuesday in skate sprint qualifying, yes Koos beat Erik B, but only by 1 place (.12) so it’s not like we’re talking about a significant difference.

    Same thing on the women’s side. I was talking with a colleague yesterday who asked me who I thought should be racing. Between Caldwell, Diggins, Sadie B, Sargent, Randall I think you almost have interchangeable parts as to who your best classic sprint team will be on any given day. I’m really glad to see Sophie get the start, that is a huge sign of respect for her results last Tuesday on the part of the coaching staff. But if the team was Sargent/Diggins or Sadie/Randall or any combination I’d still feel like they’re in a position to have a great race.

  • Avatar
    teamepokeedsbyn

    February 18, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    hey, it is just great to see a classic sprint course where everybody (men) will be really be classic skiing and not double poling. Somebody should talk smack to the Norskys and mention their skis seem a little slow before the starts – that’s where old time John Caldwell tactics would come to play – mess with their heads a little. All for fun, of course.
    I think Sophie, for a classic sprint with hills, is a good call – classic ski racing is in her blood, like maple syrup. I think the women have a good shot.

  • Avatar
    Tim Kelley

    February 18, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    teamepoke: Good point about maple syrup and blood chemistry. No doubt Sophie has benefitted from the legal performance boost gained from the mythical Vermont maple syrup that her grandfather John Caldwell brews. By the way, I read on the Internet (where everything is true of course) that a gift of Vermont maple syrup was left in the Norwegian wax truck. Only thing was, it was really Canadian maple syrup, tainted with the usual beaver-water, and disguised with fake Vermont labels. Sabotage! That sure explains the Norwegians’ problems.

  • Avatar
    formerskier

    February 18, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    Check again Davord, Torin won the SKATE sprint at US Nationals but couldn’t make it into the classic sprint finals at US Nationals; whereas Erik outclassed everyone there except for Reese Hanneman. And since it’s three times around a sprint loop, distance fitness has to be weighed in. Erik’s distance fitness is a known quantity and is rock solid in this field. But Torin’s? BIG question mark. As far as fatigue from the recent racing, we have to acknowledge the fact that Grover has a better idea of than us.

  • Avatar
    caldxski

    February 18, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    In the olden days, when our skiers used to buy Blauski’s, wooden, from a private ski-maker in Norway, we used to take him some VT (to be sure) maple syrup as a gift. He thought it was an after-dinner drink and used it as such. Imagine now, if the Norwegians haven’t learned much since the mid-60s’s, what a jug of NH (heaven forbid) syrup would do to their wax jobs. Kelley is right–we gotta blame NH for their relay race failures. Or Canada.

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