PARK CITY, UT (Jan. 19) - It's a team of eight individuals, many of whom will race against each other. But they are going to Vancouver as a Team - well prepared, enthusiastic and confident. That was a consistent theme as the Team's three international stars Kikkan Randall (Anchorage), Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) and Kris Freeman (Andover, NH) spoke to media following the announcement of the 2010 U.S. Olympic Cross Country Ski Team Tuesday.
"The momentum of nordic skiing as a whole has contributed to my skiing," said Randall, who won silver at least year's Nordic Ski World Championships - one of a record six U.S. nordic medals. "It's been steadily building. We've been working side-by-side every single day building up to this. It's fun to go into these Olympics. It takes pressure off when you go in as a Team. We're going to have fun together."
Four men and four women were named to the Olympic Team, with the possibility of additional quota spots next week.
"I feel good about this Team," said Cross Country Head Coach Pete Vordenberg, a two-time Olympian. "They have an incredible drive to succeed - not just as individuals, but to succeed as a team. When one person has success, it is success for the Team."
"I've been around for 10 years and this is the best environment ever," said Freeman, who has had some of his best career results this season and at the end of last year. "I feel I've prepared much better than ever before."
Freeman has made somewhat of a career of fourth place finishes - something he wants to kick in Vancouver. But he narrowly missed another World Cup podium earlier this year, after being fourth at World Championships in the 15K classic last season.
"It's awesome to be part of a team that is so well prepared - much better than four years ago," said Newell, who has already eclipsed his total World Cup points from last year in just two months. "It feels like a completely different team."
Newell and the others also pointed to the success of U.S. nordic combined skiers, as well as biathletes like Tim Burke. "That whole energy is really motivating," added Newell.
The Vermonter's strategy this year has been to get as much racing as possible, even skipping the ConocoPhillips U.S. Cross Country Championships in Anchorage to compete on the Tour de Ski stage race. "I wanted to race as much as possible to boost my fitness," he explained. "It's been a great start to the season and my fitness is improving."
Both Randall and Newell are generally known as freestyle sprinters, with both focusing on their classic technique for the Olympic sprint. But Newell was quick to remind that he was fifth in the classic sprint at World Championships in 2007. "You have to prepare for all the races," he said. "But I know what it takes to make finals [in a classic sprint.] I want to carry that big stage experience [2007 Worlds] to the Olympics."
Randall, too, is ready to shed the label. "I'm looking forward to the classic sprint," said Randall, speaking from an Anchorage media event at her club program, APU Nordic. "I've been working specifically on my double pole power and spending more time training classic. I've spent lots of time at the venue [Whistler Olympic Park.] And I've been improving my confidence with as many classic starts as possible. If I'm fit, I can do anything!"
The Team is small, but it's long on experience with five past Olympians and three rookies. That experience is vital. "My first Olympics (2002) was to gain experience. My second (2006) was to get my feet wet. And this time is to be in the hunt for medals," said Randall.
Vordenberg also pointed to the Team's strategic direction of spending as much time as possible on the Whistler Olympic Park trails. "We've tried to make Vancouver our home course," he said. "No other country - maybe not even Canada - can claim to have put as many skis on the snow and time on the trails there as we have, both summer and winter."
One of the key factors in spending on-snow time at the venue is weather and ski preparation. Newell praised the Team's wax technicians, who will be faced with challenges that can make or break a race. "Those guys are incredible," said Newell. "They should be wearing white lab coats out there - it's incredible what they do. It's their heart and soul."
The athletes are home now for final rest and training before heading to Canmore, AB - site of the 1988 Olympic cross country trails - for a final training camp and World Cup Feb. 1-8.