U.S. XC sending eight to Winter Games
Aspen, CO Colorado
The American cross country team is focusing on the few athletes who are going to the Vancouver Games while imploring the also-rans to keep their heads up – along with their training – in case they’re added to the Olympic roster next week.
Kikkan Randall, Andy Newell and Kris Freeman headline the 2010 U.S. cross country ski team that will compete at Whistler Olympic Park. The eight-member team is smaller than in the past, the result of a new Olympic quota system.
The Americans took 17 cross country skiers to Torino and 16 of them competed.
The new quota system allows nations that are dominant in the sport like Norway and Germany to still take large contingents to the Winter Games. The Americans, while vastly improved to the point they expect medals next month, are not among the heavyweights, so their team is much smaller.
Strong performances at the national championships earlier this month in Anchorage, Alaska, were not enough for Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club alums Simi Hamilton and Noah Hoffman to earn spots.
Hamilton won a 1.5-kilometer sprint national title Jan. 2, then finished 10th in the 15K freestyle in Alaska. Hoffman took fifth in the 15K freestyle, then 15th in the 30K classic.
Both athletes, who are currently in Hinterzarten, Germany preparing for Jan. 24-31’s U23 World Championships, did not return e-mails Tuesday seeking comment. The U.S. team believes that the stronger nations won’t use all of their quota spots, resulting in a reallocation that would add some U.S. athletes to the Olympic roster.
“The team size has been a big issue among many,” U.S. head coach Pete Vordenberg said. “For us, we’re really focused on the team that we did name and I’ve actually just spoken with the athletes who were just below the team that was named today and emphasized with them that they need to prepare themselves for the Olympic Games and leave it open in their minds that they could be going.
“So, they’re focused on preparation and they’re not just sitting around stewing about this.”
Vordenberg said the smaller team won’t prevent the Americans from competing in the team sprint relays but on the distance relays, “it’s a question of where we’re going to put our priorities.”
Either way, the Americans are prepared to compete in Vancouver with just the eight who are for sure going.
“I would say that we’ve really tried to avoid looking into a crystal ball and wondering what all they’re going to do in terms of this reallocation,” U.S. Nordic director John Farra said. “Really, our focus, as Pete said, is just on the team today and if reallocation becomes a possibility for us, then we’ll deal with it at that point.”
The top Americans don’t mind heading to Vancouver with fewer team members.
“I think the new system that was put in place is a good thing,” said Randall, America’s best cross country skier. “It’s going to make the Olympics very competitive and as a nation we’ve been getting steadily more competitive over the last three years. So, I think the people that have been named so far have shown that they’re ready to compete at the Olympic level.”
First-time Olympians are Morgan Arritola (Ketchum, Idaho), Caitlin Compton (Minneapolis) and Liz Stephen (Montpelier, Vt.).
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Had Hailey Swirbul decided against going to Europe, she would not have finished with a career-best result in Friday’s World Cup opener. Yes, there was a time, and not long ago, when the U.S. ski team member and Roaring Fork Valley native questioned her desire to put on a race bib.