WHISTLER, BC (Feb. 10) - Although the U.S. has just one cross country medal in Olympic history - Bill Koch won silver in 1976 - results for men and women have improved dramatically on the international stage, and Americans are poised to chase medals on both sides of the draw in Vancouver. The 11-member U.S. Olympic Cross Country Ski Team met the media today in Vancouver before heading north to Whistler.
"It's just a matter of taking that consistency from the top 10 and moving it onto the podium," said second-time Olympian Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT). "I think there's really no better place than to do it here in Vancouver, because we've spent so much time training here, and we're all really prepared for this venue."
Newell, Kris Freeman (Andover, NH) and Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) are among those hoping to become the inspiration for new generations of cross country skiers that Koch, a fellow Vermont native, was to Newell.
"He showed everyone that Americans can be competitive in this previously European sport," Newell said. "I think this team is really built up on that kind of mentality, that we can do it the American way the same way Bill Koch kind of did it his way."
Newell, with five top-10 results in International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup sprint events this year, is considered one of the world's fastest cross country skiers and says he's in great position for these Games.
"Cross country skiing is one of those sports where we say the harder you work during the summer, the more fun you can have in the winter, and that's kind of the way things have been going for me so far," he said.
Taking part in her third Olympics, Randall became the first U.S. woman to win a World Championship silver medal in the freestyle sprint in Liberec, Czech Republic, last year and is ready for some more firsts.
"It's a pretty fun sport to be in, in that the history books are wide open right now," she said. "I'm super excited to be on a team that has a ton of momentum.
"We've put together, as a team, the best results ever in U.S. skiing history over the last few years. The team atmosphere we had last year in Liberec really contributed to my success, and our success as a team."
Medal expectations are tough enough, but Freeman has an added onus, carrying the torch for diabetes sufferers everywhere in his third Olympics managing the disease. Freeman says his approach won't change, however.
"I approach every race the same way," he said. "The biggest difference between the Olympics and everything else is you guys out there. It's the attention in the media, and certainly the nerves can play a part in affecting your blood sugar, but I'll take that into account. I've been doing this a long time with diabetes."
Torin Koos (Leavenworth, WA) is yet another third-time Olympian, and he said Wednesday that growing fears of bad weather at Whistler don't bother the Americans – if anything, they even the playing field because the Europeans lose a technological advantage.
"We really look forward to racing in what we consider bad conditions," he said. "That's where we hope to shine the most."
The U.S. Olympic Cross Country Ski Team added a trio of skiers since its announcement, the result of an increase in the U.S. quota.
Holly Brooks (Anchorage) will compete with the women's squad and Simi Hamilton (Aspen, CO) and Garrott Kuzzy (Minneapolis, MN) join the men.
Brooks took part in her first World Cup events just last week in Canmore and finished in the points both times, lessening the shellshock of an Olympic call-up.
"It was a real confidence booster to go out there and race with all the other women and see that I could compete with them and kind of get to know the system and pace," she said.
Hamilton, the 22-year-old winner of the final quota spot, said he had to train as though he was on the team during the 10 days he was in limbo.
"What I did to keep myself prepared just in case we did end up getting those extra quota spots was to tell myself every day that I was going to ski in these Games," he said.
James Southam (Anchorage) tops off the men's lineup, while Caitlin Compton (Minneapolis), Morgan Arritola (Ketchum, ID) and Liz Stephen (East Montpelier) will compete with the women.
The team will begin training Thursday at the Whistler Olympic Park. Cross country competition opens Monday with the women's 10K freestyle in the morning and the men's 15K in the afternoon.