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Understanding the Olympic Quota Process for Nations

Sun, Oct  18, 2009 - By John Farra, USSA Nordic Director

There is some concern and confusion circulating regarding the "Quota" that the USA may be granted for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.  It is true that on the last FIS OWG "simulation list" the U.S. is sitting with a projected  quota of only 7.  But I am confident this will not be the case and I will try to explain why, including the strategies we have developed to increase this quota back to a healthy level (12-14+) in time for the final Quota allocation list.  I will post some thoughts and learning points for our interested member athletes and coaches here.

This is a new system for allocating quotas for each country for this Olympic year, and it is flawed in my opinion, but it is what we have to work with.  It is a complicated system and takes a good amount of time to fully understand.  In a nut shell though, it allocates "points" for people based on how high they are ranked on the FIS points lists in each discipline.  It is a 4000 point system, where the best ranked distance skier receives 4000 points and the 500th ranked distance skier (based on FIS points) gets 1 point.  Each gender is given points for both distance and sprint lists based on those who are ranked in the top 500 of each list. Then all athletes (male and female) are ranked on a "global points list"... the first 310 athletes on the list create a "quota" for their country.  When a country reaches their maximum quota they are skipped and next country on the list is chosen.

Historically (5 previous Olympics) none of the "big" XC nations have taken their entire quota of 20 (usually between 14 and 18), so when these nations give up these quota spots they get dumped back into the pool and the next group of nations are offered a quota "reallocation".   If the list was drawn today we would benefit upwards of 3 athletes by reallocation alone for instance.

This system essentially rewards highly for countries who have athletes with balanced FIS points profiles.  In other words, they regularly enter both distance and sprint races and have decent enough FIS point profiles to score in the top 500 in both disciplines.

In the US, we have many specialists who either do not have any sprint points (most common), or have not raced enough in one discipline or the other to end up in the top 500 of the FIS pts list.  So at present, we have a large group of athletes that are just out of the magic 310 athlete quota.

I have been researching this issue for awhile now, and have identified athletes who can make significant improvement up the list by taking a strategic approach to the remaining races before the allocation list is created on Jan 18th, 2010.  The final re-allocation of spots will occur by Jan 28th, 2010.

USST (World Cup) athletes:

For instance, we have two skiers on the World Cup this fall who are ranked quite high in on the FIS distance points list, and by having them do a few sprint qualifiers they can put themselves (the U.S.) into quota without having to be ranked much higher than 400th on the FIS sprint list.  The USST staff and athletes are aware of this system and will do what we can to get more of our athletes into the magic quota.

Nations group (COC) athletes:

There are a plethora of athletes who are within striking distance of this quota thanks to a strong profile in one discipline or the other.  There are 7 athletes in particular who can make huge improvements in this system by entering some sprint qualifiers and building up some points.  These are athletes who are already ranked well on the distance list, but have zero "points" on this FIS OWG allocation list.  I have reached out to all the coaches of these targeted athletes to encourage them to adjust the race strategy of the athletes when possible.  While that athlete is not necessarily creating their own quota spot for the games.. every quota added offers more oportunity for more athletes in the US to qualify for the games.  Coaches have been receptive and anxious to help.

Important to note:

SKIERS CAN CREATE QUOTAS FOR THEIR COUNTRY, BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN THEY "QUALIFY" FOR THE GAMES.  US Olympic criteria is posted at USSA.org and has nothing to do with this FIS Quota system.  The USSA OWG criteria puts a premium on USSA Overall NRL standing which for the rest of this year includes 5 USSA SuperTour races in West and Bozeman, 4 Nor-Am races in Vernon and Canmore, and 4 races at US Championships (including 2 ind sprints and 2 distance races).  All of these races are on the USSA NRL and are scored to FIS, so there is plenty of time for us to improve our standing.

MOST IMPORTANT TAKE AWAY:

Athletes should not be worried about this beast of a system.  Athletes need to stay focused on training and racing fast when the time comes.  It is that simple.

As I have mentioned, this particular system rewards people with a balanced FIS points profile.  So if you have not been entering sprints, do it. If you have not been entering distance races, do it.

Important note regarding Sprint Qualifiers:

If a distance skier enters a sprint qualifer with intent to score FIS and USSA points but does not want to race heats they do not have to.  They cannot be disqualified from the qualifier and they will keep the points they earned.  They will be placed in 30th place in the final results, but will retain their points.  This is important for "distance" skiers who don't mind doing a qualifier but do not want to do all the rounds. * The 31st place qualfier does NOT get to moved up into the heats.

Also important to note that FIS points use your best 5 races over a one year period to create your points.  So if you only do 1 sprint race and earn a 100 point result, that result is multiplied by a factor of 1.4 to give you FIS points of 140.... the more races you do will lower the factor until you have 5 races and it is multipled by a factor of 1.

So in summary, while it may be shocking to see us sitting at a quota of only 7, I feel we have a firm grip on what our athletes can do to improve this scenario.  Ski fast!