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Alaskans headline ski team

Posted: Wednesday, January 20, 2010

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.

Still, 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 thepeople that have been named so far have shown that they're ready to compete at the Olympic level."

So does Kris Freeman, of Andover, N.H., who, like Randall, is a third-time Olympian.

"I think it will be good in some ways, bad in others," he said. "It stinks when you're denied a chance to go to the Olympic Games, but at the same time it gives our limited coaching staff more of an ability to focus on the top athletes, on the few athletes that are there and figure our skis out that much better, just less chaos. We're ready to do a great job and I think we have a really good team going."

The quota system, however, will be a topic of conversation with the International Ski Federation (FIS) after the Winter Games.

"When it's all done and said and this Olympics is over, then countries like us need to look at that system and advise FIS what our feeling is on how that's done," Farra said. "But right now it is what we have and I think they were trying to make an effort to have a fair way to express the balance or the strength of each country. In our case it dropped us quite a bit. In other countries' cases, it didn't."

The Americans may be taking fewer athletes to Vancouver but they boast their best team in decades.

Randall, of Anchorage, Alaska, is America's best hope for a medal. Her silver medal at the world championships last year made her the first American woman to reach the podium at the world championships or Olympics.

Newell, of Shaftsbury, Vt., is making his second trip to the Olympics. Other past Olympians on the team are Torin Koos, of Leavenworth, Wash., who has a World Cup podium finish and is competing in his third Games, and James Southam, of Anchorage, who was on the 2006 team in Torino.

First-time Olympians are Morgan Arritola (Ketchum, Idaho), Caitlin Compton (Minneapolis) and Liz Stephen (Montpelier, Vt.).



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