USA Best-ever U.S.A. Squad Headed to the Win­ter Olympics

SkiTrax - - Usa Comp - By Peter Graves

Amer­i­can cross-coun­try ski­ing fans will be fo­cused on a pos­si­ble best-ever Olympic re­sult at the up­com­ing Olympic Win­ter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea in Fe­bru­ary. Not to sound jin­go­is­tic, but many feel this will be a pow­er­ful team, es­pe­cially the U.S. women.

As with last sea­son’s Lahti com­pe­ti­tion, the U.S. Olympic selec­tion will be based upon World Cup and Su­per­tour per­for­mances. The U.S. plans to fill ev­ery start po­si­tion for Pyeongchang.

The US Na­tional Team held their first camp of the sea­son on-snow in Bend, Ore., and by all re­ports, the ski­ing was won­der­ful. Af­ter that, another very suc­cess­ful on-snow camp at the Snow Farm in New Zealand was held for three weeks in late sum­mer. Both camps are favourites with the Na­tional Team. In the fall, they had their an­nual Park City camp.

Mem­bers of the team have been around the globe at events this sum­mer. Liz Stephen and Andy Newell both com­peted at the Blink Fes­ti­val in Nor­way. Stephen joined Kikkan Ran­dall and coach Matt Whit­comb in Val­adalen, Swe­den for a camp with the Swedish Na­tional Team in Au­gust. Alaska Pa­cific Univer­sity ath­letes had a fine sum­mer, re­cently com­plet­ing their third camp on the Ea­gle Glacier.

This sea­son, the US Team squads look like this: Simi Hamil­ton and Newell will com­prise the A Team, while Sadie Bjornsen, So­phie Caldwell, Jessie Dig­gins, Ida Sar­gent, Ran­dall and Stephen will make up the women’s A Team; Rosie Bren­nan, along­side men Erik Bjornsen, Pa­trick Caldwell and Scott Pat­ter­son have been named to the B Team; and the de­vel­op­ment team, the D Team, will be made up of Ian Torchia and women Hannah Halvorsen, Ju­lia Kern and Katharine Og­den.

Head USST Coach Chris Grover feels pos­i­tively san­guine about what might loom ahead in a mat­ter of months, and with good rea­son. “The U.S.A. will bring the strong­est cross-coun­try team to Pyeongchang that we have fielded in four decades,” Grover said re­cently. “The team has a proven track record of win­ning from the last three World Cham­pi­onships, in­clud­ing a record three medals in Lahti. The women’s team is the strong­est U.S.A. squad ever. Right now, U.S. ath­letes are work­ing ex­tremely hard to be in the very best fit­ness pos­si­ble this com­ing Fe­bru­ary, with their eyes on fur­ther rewrit­ing U.S.A. cross-coun­try-ski­ing Olympic his­tory.”

Ver­mon­ter Newell is poised for what he hopes will be a strong sea­son, re­cently say­ing, “Per­son­ally, I am op­ti­mistic about the com­ing sea­son, and have been putting in the hard work as al­ways.

As a re­cently mar­ried man, I have a new out­look on life, and I think that has helped me put things in per­spec­tive as I pre­pare for my fourth Olympic Games. I have al­ways en­joyed show­ing the other na­tions that U.S. skiers can be the best Clas­sic skiers in the world, and I’m ex­cited for the op­por­tu­nity to do that in Pyeongchang.”

Caldwell re­ported that her off-sea­son train­ing was good, not­ing that “My goal for the sum­mer was to try and stay in one place as much as pos­si­ble with the ex­cep­tion of our USST camps. I’ll skip the Park City camp [although she was in New Zealand] in an at­tempt to avoid be­ing at al­ti­tude for too long.” She’ll con­tinue in train­ing mode in Ver­mont for a cou­ple of months be­fore the sea­son be­gins, train­ing at Strat­ton.

Just prior to his trip to New Zealand, Hamil­ton said that af­ter eight years of train­ing and rac­ing full-time, he is still highly mo­ti­vated. “Of course, there’s ex­tra stress that comes with this be­ing an Olympic year, but I think if you can com­part­men­tal­ize that stress, you can use it to stay hun­gry and in­spired through­out the whole train­ing year and the World Cup sea­son lead­ing up to the Games. I hope I can con­trib­ute to our col­lec­tive suc­cess in the last sea­son or two be­fore I hang up my race skis,” the As­pen na­tive noted. Hamil­ton en­joyed some top re­sults last sea­son, and should be on top of his game for the Pyeongchang Games.

U.S. star and Minnesota na­tive Dig­gins, who trains with the SMS T2 pro­gram in Ver­mont, said she hasn’t re­ally changed her train­ing from past sea­sons. “I’m train­ing the same way I have for the last few years, just slowly in­creas­ing my fo­cus, train­ing hours and the qual­ity of those hours as I get older and bet­ter at train­ing. I am re­ally pleased with how my sum­mer train­ing pro­gressed.” And who could ar­gue with her past re­sults; they are sim­ply sen­sa­tional.

The Amer­i­cans turned in some tan­ta­liz­ing re­sults at the Snow Farm in Wanaka, New Zealand. Hamil­ton took top hon­ours in the Merino Muster, which is part of the World­lop­pet se­ries, while Amer­i­can Brian Gregg took sec­ond. Dig­gins took the women’s event ti­tle, with for­mer U.S. biathlon star Hannah Dreis­si­gacker fin­ish­ing sec­ond, while third went to Britta Clark, who skied at Maine’s Bates Col­lege.

The U.S. Olympic squad will do their fi­nal prepa­ra­tion be­fore the Games in Seefeld, Aus­tria, im­me­di­ately be­fore trav­el­ing to South Korea. Seefeld is a great area and is the site of the last World Cup be­fore the Games. It’s a com­fort­able place the Amer­i­can ath­letes know well.

Coach Grover and his ca­pa­ble staff have brought a badly needed long-term pe­riod of sta­bil­ity to the Na­tional pro­gram, and all can be proud for their col­lec­tive ac­com­plish­ments. He is look­ing for­ward to the up­com­ing Olympic Games. “You know,” he said not long ago, “we had a great time in [South] Korea for the Test events, and we re­ally en­joyed the trip and ex­pe­ri­ence there. I’m ex­pect­ing some­thing truly in­spi­ra­tional at the Games.”

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