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2010 US Olympic XC Ski Team Curve Ball

There has been much buzz lately in the elite ski world of the US about the number of people that will be included on the US Cross Country Olympic Team at the rapidly approaching 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Canada. While many CyclovaXC members may be stressing about which wave of the Birkie they'll be starting in (including myself), imagine what it would be like to have been working toward the Olympics for years, only to find that the qualification criteria has changed...

On the latest FIS Olympic Winter Games team simulation list, only 7 US skiers currently qualify for the games. This is due to a relatively ambiguous change made to the qualifying rules, forcing skiers to compete and do well in both distance and sprint events. In the past, athletes were able to focus on one disciplan over the other, but now athletes need to do well in both distance and sprint length competitions.

In a recent press release, John Farra, USSA Nordic Director, a healthy number of athletes to take to the games would be in the range of 12-14. In recent history (the past 5 Olympics), the US has taken anywhere from 14 to 18 athletes with a maximum quota of 20, which is rarely reached due to Olympic or National Team qualifying rules/criteria.

This image, taken at the 2004 US National Championships includes several athletes who will face additional challenges in making the US Olympic Team.

So, what does this mean for Olympic hopefuls and the US Olympic team?

For starters, our Olympic team in 2010 will likely be smaller than normal. Additionally, it places increased focus on early season Super Tour races this season at places like West Yellowstone, Bozeman, Methow Valley, and others. Expect to see some major fireworks at these races with all of the Olympic Team contenders battling it out for a place on the team.

My own personal thoughts lead me to believe that this will take the pressure off of a few US skiers like Kikkan Randall and Andy Newell who are both very strong distance and sprint race skiers. However, this may really put some folks in the hot seat such as Kris Freeman, Chris Cook, and Kristina Strandberg.

It doesn't sound like anyone really expected this coming until just recently as the latest advice for folks on the bubble is now to simply "ski fast" and focus more on the aspect of racing that is not your specialty leading up to the final team selection date of Jan 28.

The question also begs to be asked, why? Why make it difficult/impossible for the fastest skiers in a distance to make it to the Olympics? Don't we want the fastest racers in the world competing, even if they're specialists in a particular distance? I think so. It is great to be an all around racer, and I think we all strive to be. However, my opinion is that this is a bad idea that FIS came up with. Only time will tell.

In the end, regardless of the size of the team, the US does have some incredibly strong athletes going into this Olympic Year, with very realistic chances of winning Olympic hardware. Ski fast! We'll be rooting for you!

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