At an event called U.S. Cross Country Championships (U.S. nationals for short), you might be expecting to see lot of Americans racing. What you might not expect is the large Canadian contingent at Soldier Hollow this weekend and next week in Midway, Utah.
Aside from the obvious attraction of racing in a more competitive field, the 2017 U.S. nationals are a selection event for Cross Country Canada (CCC). At stake for Canadians are starts at World Championships, Junior and U23 World Championships, and World Cup starts in Otepää and PyeongChang later this season.
The complete selection details are in the selection criteria, but we can summarize by event.
Junior/U23 World Championships (Soldier Hollow), Jan. 30-Feb. 5
The selection for Junior Worlds and U23’s is almost entirely based on race results at U.S. nationals, which allows the athletes to qualify on the same courses that will be used for the championships.
CCC first automatically selects athletes with World Cup points from 2015/2016 or Period 1 of 2016/2017. Maya MacIsaac-Jones, of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) and Canadian National U25 Team, is selected for sprint based on her 29th in Gatineau last season. Her AWCA and national U25 teammate Dahria Beatty is selected for both sprint and distance based on top 30 results in Canmore, Davos, and La Clusaz.
The top Canadian in each of Saturday’s freestyle interval start, Sunday’s classic sprint, and Tuesday’s classic mass start will become eligible for selection.
If this doesn’t result in the maximum 14 athletes (four per gender and age bracket, less the two preselections), the team may be filled using athletes ranked in the top five in the Canadian Points List (CPL). The CPL is essentially the same as the FIS points, which means the deeper field at Soldier Hollow provides a great chance to move up.
Otepää World Cup and World Championships (Lahti, Finland), Feb. 21-March 5
The Lahti team will be going to Otepää first, which means the selection process is combined.
Canadian World Cup Team members Alex Harvey (red-group member) and Devon Kershaw (who scored a World Cup top-10 earlier this week in Oberstdorf) are automatically selected.
The next automatic selection is for a top-six result at U23 or Junior World Championships, which for most is predicated on U.S. nationals results.
Beatty and Len Valjas (Canadian World Cup Team) are next in the selection priority, based on World Cup points from Period 1. Any other athlete with a World Cup top 30 by Feb. 5 will be selected. Pyeongchang World Cup results may be downgraded as the field there is expected to be much sparser than usual, with Canada joining the list of countries that will keep their World Championships favourites in Europe.
Additional athletes may be named to fill in the quota, based on results from U.S. nationals and CCC objectives. Saturday’s freestyle interval start, Tuesday’s classic mass start, and Thursday’s freestyle-sprint qualifier count towards this selection.
Pyeongchang World Cup (South Korea), Feb. 3-5
Canada is required to send a men’s team to all but one World Cup this season, courtesy of ranking fifth in nations points. CCC is using this event to get experience at the venue and develop ‘NextGen’ athletes. The highest-priority selection criteria effectively selects athletes from the World Cup Team. Since the distance skiers will stay in Europe, this is only Valjas.
This leaves up to four athletes of each gender (two sprint, two distance) to be selected to reach the team size of 12.
Athletes who also qualify for U23 Worlds will have a dilemma as the two events overlap, with most expected to choose U23’s. As this selection process is likely to come up short of 12, the final selection is based on coaches recommendations, using guidelines that strongly favour younger athletes. For athletes in the 23+ age group, U.S. nationals success will be critical.
With all these selections hanging on a single week of racing in a foreign country, it is reasonable to ask what value there is in the NorAm series this season. The NorAm leaders, Katherine Stewart-Jones and Evan Palmer-Charrette (both U23 eligible and both on the Thunder Bay National Team Development Centre), get automatic World Cup quota spots and reduced event costs, which means they can enter any World Cup in the next period that CCC agrees to wax skis for. The NorAm races are also important for maintaining CPL ranking, but this still leaves many of the Canadians choosing U.S. nationals as one of peaking targets of the season.
— Gerry Furseth