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This column has been a long time coming – fortunately I am a subscriber to “better late than never” philosophy.

As most frequent FasterSkier readers know, former FasterSkier Associate Editor Nat Herz retired at the end of last season. After two hard years on the circuit, he decided to take a well earned break relaxing in New York City and spending his free time pursuing a masters degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism.

The story of how Nat came to work for FasterSkier is worth telling. The summer before his senior year at Bowdoin, I received an email from Nat, requesting a blog. Fortunately for all involved, this was early on in the dvelopment of the FS blogs, and our goal was to provide a variety of perspectives on the sport. Of course the first thing I did was look up his results on the internet—lets just say that ski speed wasn’t going to get him in the door.

But we already had Andy Newell and Kikkan Randall on board, so the “riduclous fast World Cup skier” slots were well covered. The “slow, yet enthusiastic, collegiate skier for a second-tier team” blog we were looking to fill was still open, and Nat did a good job of selling himself.

It also helped that my sister coached Nat for a year at the Putney School and bascially said “he is a great guy.”

We get blog requests all the time, and we have been fairly liberal in giving people an opportunity. Most are failures, not even once being able to post a once-a-week minimum. The fact that Nat not only wrote regularly, his entries were by far the most entertaining on the site.

Despite being a no-name in the greater US ski world, he quickly built up a following. Impressed by his work on the blog, and looking to expand FasterSkier’s coverage, I asked Nat if would be interested in spending a year working for FasterSkier. The deal was sealed over dinner at the Bowdoin dining hall following a classic rollerski in Brunswick—during which Nat was clearly trying to impress me—or at least not embarrass himself—oh how things have changed.

It would be a disservice at this point to use the tired cliche “the rest is history.” Nat had an immediate impact on FasterSkier, bringing a passion for skiing AND journalism. Despite a brief defection to an unnamed sort-of rival publication, Nat jumped in with both feet.

When I bought FasterSkier from founders Cory Smith and Torbjorn Karlsen, I received an email from Scott Jerome, the coach at the University of Fairbanks, asking what direction I would take the site. He believed there would be support for cross-country ski focussed rigorous journalism. This was definitely the biggest component in my vision for the site, but I also knew that it would take time—I did not come from a journalism background and recognized that there would be a significant learning curve. I also knew we had to increase revenue to support increased coverage.

We made steady progress, but the hiring of Nat was a watershed event. A quick look through the archives demonstrates this quickly enough. Quite a bit of our content two+ years ago  was not original, coming in the form of press releases and reprints from FIS and the like. We certainly did our own work, but nowhere near the scope of what we do now. Most of the content on FasterSkier now is original, written by FasterSkier staff.

Nat accelerated this process, constantly pushing for more and, most importantly, higher quality writing. Nat has helped shift the entire culture of FasterSkier, to one where skiing and journalistic integrity coexist. It would be exhausting to list everything that Nat was part of during his time with us, but the fact that we are now an internationally recognized publication is in no small part due to his efforts.

I have learned in both my careers (ski journalism and farming) that no one individual is irreplaceable. But Nat left a huge hole behind, one that we didn’t even try to specifically fill. It was not realistic to expect anyone to put in the time and effort as Nat, and to bring a similar skill set.

We decided, to keep moving forward, we would have to hire two people to step in. And that is with no disrespect to Audrey Mangan and Alex Matthews who have joined us. Both women are doing an excellent job and bring their own unique experience and skills, while pushing the site in new directions.

The fact that we felt we needed two highly qualified and motivated people to replace Nat speaks to that fact that he is truly exceptional. I would worry this would go to his head, but I know I only need remind him that over the course of an entire summer he only managed to defeat me in whiffle ball a single time. That should keep him on an even keel.

Nat’s work was not only valuable to FasterSkier, but to the ski community as a whole. I hope that everyone will join me in thanking him for his efforts.

The good news is that he is remaining involved with the site, pitching stories, providing advice and feedback to staff, and contributing the occasional article. He might even provide some primetime race coverage later in the winter.

On personal level, Nat has become a great friend and was a pleasure to travel with—from Vancouver to Oslo, and many places in between. I feel lucky to have shared so many great experiences with Nat over the last two years.

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Team Selection Criteria:

The naming of national teams, as well as squads for major championship events is a process often filled with disappointment, controversy and confusion. In many ways that is the nature of the beast. Bubble athletes (skiers who are right on the cusp of making the cut) will always exist, and it is the job of coaches and team leaders to balance long-term development with the desire to field fast teams in the present.

Chelsea Little’s recent article on Zina Kocher, arguably the best female Canadian biathlete of the last half-decade, highlights one of the main challenges for athletes— the lack of explicit selection criteria.

Kocher, despite her past success, was left off the Canadian A-team and offered a spot on the B-team instead. Coming off her worst season in years, Kocher declined the offer and joined the independent Biathlon Alberta Regional Training Center.

Kocher told FasterSkier that Biathlon Canada did not publish criteria for 2012 until after the 2011 season— meaning she spent the winter unawares of the accomplishments needed to remain on the team.

On an individual level, this is certainly a hardship. Elite athletes are usually extremely goal oriented— you don’t become an Olympian by just going out and simply trying your best. Reaching the highest level of a sport requires incredible focus, and making a national team or championship squad is often a culmination goal— one that a series of smaller goals will lead up to.

In most cases, however, it is difficult to plan how to achieve these goals, often coming down to “I need to ski very fast.”

But the interests of individuals do not necessarily align with those of national programs.

The main argument against explicit criteria is that it takes flexibility away from coaches. The ability to adapt to changing athlete demographics, aging teams, specific race formats, etc. is important.

The US Ski Team (USST) has opted for a two-prong approach, providing explicit criteria for the top tier. Only those skiers who are competitive on the World Cup will meet the standards, while those who are strong domestically will need to be discretionary selections.

While this may be hard for those racing at the B-team level, the approach does make sense. If you are truly an international caliber racer, you are on the team. If you are not yet, you can still make it, but a number of non-quantifiable factors will be considered, including stage of development, recent improvement, injury and illness, and a host of others.

The system is not always perfect— take for example the case of Torin Koos, who just missed the explicit criteria. He was left off the team despite being one the fastest skiers in the country, and capable of strong World Cup results. But his inconsistency and age led the team to conclude he was not going to take another step forward with the program. But the decision was controversial, and could easily have gone the other way. Koos was just a few FIS points away from hitting automatic qualification.

Many other skiers, who missed out on discretionary selections to the US B-team (or were removed from that team) might also feel that this approach is not ideal.

Age is a major component in selection, and one that perhaps creates the most significant issues. The USST has spent time developing profiles of successful athletes, trying to pinpoint where skiers need to be at certain ages in order to compete for Olympic medals during their career.

These do not lead to hard and fast rules, but it boils down to the fact that as skiers get older they need to go faster than their younger competitors to make the cut.

We see this all the time in the US, where the fastest skiers, after the truly elite World Cup racers, are not named to the team. Recent examples include James Southam, Lars Flora and Holly Brooks, all of whom established themselves at the top of the domestic racing scene and in some cases produced impressive international results as well.

But based on their ages, national team selection was not going to occur without a significant leap forward.

All of three skiers mentioned above have made Olympic and World Championship teams, and the USST has often stated that those teams are less about development, and more about present success, providing an opportunity to “reward” the hard efforts of non-national team athletes.

But the criteria for these teams is as undefined as on the national level. Discretion is listed above everything else in the official selection guide. A skier with Olympic aspirations does not know ho he or she must perform— other than very well.

Once again, however, the USST wants to be able to maintain flexibility, considering who is skiing fast as the events approach, as well as strength in specific techniques and race formats.

Internationally, there is a mix of approaches. When it comes to championship teams, some countries are purely discretionary, with performance in specific races weighing in heavily.

This was the case in Norway where the World Championship sprint team was finalized just weeks before the big event based on results of a single World Cup sprint race— an approach that involves implicit or “understood” criteria. Those skiers knew how they needed to perform in order to make the Olympic team, even though that information was not official.

Other countries, like Germany and Canada have very clear methods of qualification— for example a top-10 World Cup finish or two top-20’s.

National team selection follows similar patterns, but is arguably more critical in North America. If you miss out on the Swedish national team, there is not only strong club support, but access to elite level racing is relatively easy. And with a majority of World Cup races in Europe, “call-ups” for non-national team athletes are common.

In the US and Canada non-national team options have grown significantly in past years, and European racing opportunities are increasing. But for many, particularly older athletes, missing out on the team can have a significant impact on career-trajectory.

While the details are complicated, ultimately, the issue of criteria is fairly simple. Teams need to maintain flexibility in order to pursue a mix of long-term and short-term goals. With limited resources, as in the US, a “mistake” can have lasting repercussions.

On the flip side, athletes prefer to have goals to strive for with clearly defined benchmarks. At the very least it can be frustrating to never really know where you stand, and while optimism is critical, it can often lead to disappointment.

In Kocher’s case, it seems absurd that explicit criteria are defined after a season is complete. This is somewhat disingenuous— at that point, the team should just be considered discretionary, as retroactive criteria will be defined to create the team that coaches would like.

But we are unlikely to see a move toward more explicit criteria. Doing so would lessen disappointment and wounded feelings, but the goal is not to make people happy, or even to help any one individual reach their personal goals— it is to create the fastest teams possible.

In the case of the USST, there is only one goal— to win Olympic medals— and everything is structured with that in mind, and coaches make decisions accordingly.

Thus there will always be controversy around the naming of teams. A lack of explicit criteria will exacerbate this, but clear standards would not eliminate issues. People will take issue in both cases— either with the selections or the criteria.

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Environmental activism, or at the least, awareness, is inextricably linked with the sport of cross-country skiing. The obvious and simple connection is that of snow. To ski, we need it, and the issue of global climate change is obviously relevant.

But the ties of environmentalism and skiing extend beyond snow and climate change. The value of open space, appreciation for the natural world, and related issues involving habitat, lifestyle, water quality, and much more can factor into the discussion.

On Monday, FasterSkier published an article by Audrey Mangan on the proposed snowmaking system at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in northern Vermont. The snowmaking plans aided Craftsbury in earning the right to host the 2012 SuperTour Finals, and in its attempt to position itself as a potential Thanksgiving on-snow destination.

Snowmaking is inherently not green. Significant electric power is needed to run snow guns, diesel fuel is burned moving artificial snow around, and water is usually drawn from a pond or lake.

But we live in a world of trade-offs, and we face choices of varying degrees of “evils.”

Kermit knows all about the challenges of being green.

If snowmaking does allow Craftsbury to host November skiing, New Englanders would no longer have to fly to points west for early-season snow, to potential significant environmental benefit. When you combine plane travel and car hours to reach the various snow meccas in the western portion of North America, there’s no denying the impact.

As is often the case, however, the picture quickly gets muddy. My own personal November travel plans have little immediate impact–my absence is not going to reduce the number of 737’s taking off on any given day. If enough people cut back on plane travel, there will eventually be change. But the impact of snowmaking is immediate–fuel is burned and power consumed.

My point here is that when it comes to being green, the issues are rarely as black and white as many would make it seem. But in some sense that is irrelevant. When it comes to being green and skiing, the challenge faced by all who participate in the sport is that these two things are inherently antithetical.

It is common for cross-country skiers to assume the high ground, often with a passionate arrogance, in relation to our alpine brethren. It is easy to look at diesel-guzzling generators powering high speed chairlifts, the constant snowmaking, the infrastructure required at a resort village, and conclude the cross-country skiing can glide away free of any responsibility.

But environmental issues aren’t purely relative. Just because cross-country skiing is better than alpine skiing in some respects doesn’t mean that we, as practitioners, absolved of responsibility. And the reality is that cross-country ski racing is decidedly not green–anyone who pretends it is so is fooling themselves.

Snow cats and snowmobiles burn diesel and gas respectively, and many of the older machines are far from efficient–both in terms of their emissions, and their fuel economy.

Travel, even in parts of the world with a high density of venues and races, is frequent and lengthy.

High end equipment is manufactured out of highly processed materials, and wax is very much a non-renewable resource.

Even recreational skiers can’t escape these issues–there will always be traveling to skiing, trail grooming, etc. The only truly green form of skiing would be to construct a pair of wooden skis without power tools and use them out your backdoor.

Some of us are lucky enough to actually be able to ski from our homes, and can self-groom a trail, but in general, being a cross-country skier, especially a racer, is to make the decision to participate in an un-environmental activity.

While there are some who are so committed to the cause of environmentalism that they are willing to structure their entire lives around principles of sustainability and conservation, most who take up the green mantle will go to a point, but not the extreme. Some recognize the inherent hypocrisy; others exist in a state of denial.

Would the state of the environment be better if no ski trails were groomed, no snowmaking installed, no long trips undertaken? Certainly. Obviously, the impact of such a change would be minimal compared to deforestation and the like, but the point is that skiing is not green. You may be hurting the environment less by cross-country skiing as opposed to racing motorcycles, but you are still part of the problem, not the solution.

At the end of the day, one of the most important things is to recognize the choices we make and the impact that they have. The Craftsbury Green Racing Project, a relatively new elite racing team based at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, took the bold step of making the environment part of its mission., and in doing so have come under some criticism–mainly because, as I said above, skiing is not green.

Naming the team as such may have been a mistake, in my opinion. It sets up an unwinnable battle: no matter how much they try, the team will be participating in all sorts of un-green activities as they pursue high-level ski racing.

Their mission is clear on this front, reading in part:

–       use sustainable systems in our own lives and in our communities

–       influence others in our communities to make environmentally conscious decisions

Both of these goals are attainable within the constructs of elite ski racing. Nowhere does it say the GRP strives to be 100% green. Instead, the message is simply to reduce impact without compromising the goals of the athletes–unquestionably a positive concept.

Other clubs and programs make similar efforts at various levels, though without the glitz of the name. This is a good thing, and something that should be continued.

Is there any point here? Basically that it is important to be realistic about what it means to be a ski racer – especially in regards to the environment. Do what you can, and make your choices with intention and recognize the hypocrisy.

And be careful about riding the high horse when it comes to criticizing other sports.

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Last week a short post on the FIS website announced a relatively inconsequential format name change – we didn’t even deem it news-worthy as the impact on the actual competitions is non-existent.

But upon reflection, doing away with the title of “pursuit” for the 15/30km mixed technique event is actually somewhat important.

For any ski fan who was around when the pursuit format actually existed as a medal event, the use of the title “pursuit” for the current version made absolutely no sense.

The traditional pursuit involved a 5/10km classic individual start on day one, followed by a 10/15km skate on day two. The second race was a true pursuit – the winner of the classic event started first, with everyone else “pursuing” him or her from a deficit equal to the results on day one.

Simple enough and very exciting. The two day format left time for speculation and predictions after the first race, building drama, and the skate often provided commensurate excitement – who can forget Stefania Belmondo charging back from some obscene deficit to take a stunning victory on numerous occasions?

She would not stand waiting in the starting gate, instead she would lean into the start official straining against the arm on her shoulder like a caged animal, finally breaking free and charging down the trail – this was indeed a true pursuit with inferior skaters the prey strung out down the trail.

Of course there were plenty of races when someone – often Bjorn Daehlie – would hold such a large lead after the classic, that there would be little to thrill at the front. But such is the nature of racing – not every event is going to provide the sprint finish, and that should be just fine. It can be just as pleasurable to watch a feat of pure domination.

What I have just described is now considered a “handicap start,” and is making a comeback exclusively in the Tour de Ski and mini-tour events. The last event of a Tour is always a handicap event, with the start list based on the overall rankings. The Tour de Ski also includes several handicap races earlier in the event as well.

It has been great to see the return of the true pursuit, and it is shocking it has taken FIS so long to call a spade a spade in regards to the medal race.

The last ten years has been a time of experimentation for FIS – new formats, notably the sprint – have been added, and a push to make races more spectator-friendly have resulted in numerous tweaks.

The pursuit fell victim to the push to please the fans, and it evolved to its current format  – that which is now appropriately called a skiathlon, a mass start race involving two techniques.

The traditional pursuit made its debut in 1988 and was abandoned after the 1998 Olympics and replaced by a brutal one day affair. Athletes and support staff were not pleased – it made for a long and exhausting day – two races several hours apart in two different techniques. It was quickly replaced by the “continuous pursuit,” which as I have now pointed out on numerous occasions, involves no pursuing whatsoever.

The event as we know it now debuted in 2003 after several years of distance changes and format shifts.

Why does this matter? If you want people to watch skiing, support the sport, and be excited by the races, the formats need to be understandable and make sense. Calling the skiathlon a pursuit was confusing, and honestly pretty stupid.

From the journalists’ perspective it has been difficult to write about the format – if FIS calls it a pursuit, so must we, but it is challenging to explain the format in any way that makes sense in relation to the name.

Is this earth shattering? Will it suddenly catapult cross-country skiing to the forefront of the North American sports world? No. It won’t really make much of a difference, but it is nice to see things done right and for FIS to at least marginally simplify the sometimes daunting array of race formats by using appropriate descriptors.

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Marty Hall posted a comment on an article from last month on the naming of the 2012 US Ski Team. It is unlikely that many people will see the comment, and it had some information worth sharing.

Marty talks about head gear sponsorship as a way to support elite US ski racers.

I checked with USSA and confirmed that US Ski Team athletes are given full autonomy with their head gear sponsors – they can sell it, and keep all revenue. The most prominent examples, which Marty points out, are Kikkan Randall’s deal with Subway and Kris Freeman’s with Lilly.

Canada, on the other hand, has a different policy. According to Canadian Head Coach Justin Wadsworth, Cross-Country Canada has team sponsors who have bought the location. So all athletes wear hats with those sponsors – for the men it is AltaGas, for the women, Haywood Securities.

Wadsworth, a former athlete and coach with the US Ski Team, says that in his experience, the US is in the minority worldwide in making the headgear space available to athletes.

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April Fools Day is but a distant memory. A full eleven months remain until you have to suffer through another round of fake news stories and kitchy humor…or not…

With arrogance born of a false sense of our own self-importance in the ski world, the FasterSkier braintrust has decreed May 9th the official May Fools Day of the sport of cross-country skiing.

Johnny Klister will cry, and Cloxxi will believe whatever we write, but the tide has been unleashed, and there is no going back.

Well there is, but we just don’t want to.

We actually received a surprising number of disappointed emails and tweets regarding our lack of April Fools content. With Spring Series in full swing, meaning there was honest to goodness real ski racing to cover, we let the day of jesting slip by relatively unheralded – with several reader submitted articles the only homage to the 24 hours of pointless mirth.

I don’t want to think to hard about what it means – that we get more feedback on our lack of fake news than we do on our actual coverage – I think the likely interpretation is that we are wicked cool.

In all honesty, we did have some emails asking why we did not have any April Fools articles, and the response is simply that there was too much else to do. That said, we have a lot of fun on April Fools, and had been brainstorming story ideas.

So we are going ahead with May Fools day on the ninth. Whether you like it or not.

Of course by announcing it, we do lose the possibility of someone believing our stories – something that happens with frightening frequency.

Enjoy.

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Just a little over a year ago, the U.S. and Canadian ski teams were right in the middle of very different Olympics. The Canadian men’s team never reached the podium, but they spent the two-week period knocking on the door, and nearly breaking it down.

The U.S., on the other hand, with the exception of Kikkan Randall, turned in a series of races ranging from abysmal, to solid-yet-unspectacular. At this point, that is all water under the bridge, but on the eve of the World Championships it is worth a quick look back – not to analyze results or rehash what may or may not have gone wrong, but to be sure that the North American ski communities are in the right frame of mind for the events.

Expectations can be dangerous things, and last year, at least to this observer, the ski fans in the US had an unreasonable amount for the hometown skiers. A good portion of this was due to rhetoric coming from the U.S. Ski Team – talk that was meant to be positive and inspiring, but which ultimately led to the belief that the US would win a medal in Vancouver.

But regardless of where it came from, this idea was not a good thing – not for anyone involved in the sport. What may have been an generally disappointing Olympics, but with plenty of bright spots, came across as an unmitigated disaster – unfairly so.

When the belief is that victory is at hand, anything less is not going to shine particularly bright. It was absurd to think a medal was a likelihood in Vancouver. In the events being contested, the US had a grand total of four World Cup podium finishes – three by Andy Newell.

If you can’t podium on the World Cup, why would the Olympics be any different? Everyone is targeting medals there. That doesn’t mean that medals can’t be a goal, but expecting them is not only pointless—it is entitled and completely unrealistic.

This time around, the Americans have a much more realistic shot at a medal – Kikkan Randall is arguably the favorite in the skate sprint. But if she finishes fifth, and Kris Freeman takes a tenth in the 15k, and Newell cracks the top-20 in the men’s sprint, and Noah Hoffman is close to 30th in the pursuit, these World Championships can still be a great event for the U.S.

The point is obvious – performance should evaluated with a healthy doe of perspective. It is extremely hard to win a medal. A vast majority of talented athletes will leave without one. The goal should be to ski strong races – whatever that means for each competitor.

There is a group of younger skiers from the US who are in Norway to gain experience and see what the big show really is. Just being here is a victory.

And the veterans will try as hard as they can. At this point, that is enough.

Medals sell, so USSA wants them – that makes sense. But the US ski community should know better – that there is so much more to the sport than hardware. The Norwegians seem to get that. They want their men and women to win, but their passion goes far beyond the podium. They applaud everyone who is a good competitor, and they don’t get greedy. If Marit Bjoergen was American and left Oslo with a single gold, the reaction would undoubtedly be one of disappointment. That might not be the case here.

Perhaps the best thing to do is to shift the focus from the results. Ski racing in Norway is as much a celebration – “winter joy,” as one Norwegian described the Championships – as it is about winning. It is worth keeping that in mind over the next ten days. All the discussions about the status of U.S. skiing can wait for a bit. Those discussions never seem to go away, but now seems like a good time to at least put them on hold.

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Over the last several years, as we have worked to expand and improve our coverage of the Nordic sports, we have become ever more reliant on athletes and coaches, both from here in North America, and from around the world.

In major professional sports, dealing with the media is part of the job and par for the course. But in skiing, that has not always been the case. Before the advent of web-based journalism, skiing received almost no coverage in daily print publications. This meant that races were not reported in a timely fashion, and demands on athletes and coaches were commensurate with the level of coverage.

Things have changed as digital technology has increased reach and accessibility. Before cell phones, Skype and email, contacting racers on the road was next to impossible. Now they are rarely out of reach.

At FasterSkier, we spend quite a bit of time on the phone – the best way to get the story is from those who are part of it – and the cooperation and professionalism of elite skiers and coaches have allowed us to do this work.

While the top tier may be expected to talk with the media, there is no requirement to be overly forthcoming, honest, and easy to work with. Yet almost without exception, that has been the case.

Racers and coaches alike take our calls around the world, often within 30 minutes of completing a competition. And on the domestic level we have experienced much the same, despite often challenging connectivity.

Most whom we talk to recognize the importance of journalism for the sport, and while they may not agree with everything we write, they know it is critical that the story be told.

This is a major part of growing the sport – a piece that if neglected, would negate some of the benefits of top results, clinics, school visits, and other outreach efforts.

So thank you to all who are willing to talk, and for regularly making the work of a ski journalist a pleasure.

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I’ll start with a correction.  In our report on the Women’s 15km Mass Start in La Clusaz, we incorrectly reported the total number of Marit Bjoergen’s World Cup victories. The article has now been corrected.

A representative of the International Ski Federation (FIS) politely informed us that victories in stages of the Tour de Ski, World Cup Finals, and mini-tours do NOT count as World Cup victories.

This policy is confusing, and honestly seems foolish.  It is certainly not one of the critical issues facing elite cross-country skiing, but it is worth noting.

There is a podium ceremony following those races, there is prize money, FIS points are awarded, and World Cup points (albeit half the usual) distributed. The races are just as hard,and take just as much toll on the athletes.

This means that Ivan Babikov, who posted the top time in the Final Climb of the Tour de Ski in 2009, does not have a World Cup win.

And if win’s don’t count, does that mean all results are meaningless?  If I write an article on Devon Kershaw, and want to compare a recent race to his top World Cup finishes ever, should I ignore Tour de Ski results? How do I total Kershaw’s World Cup top-10’s?

Kershaw has two top-3 finishes in Tour de Ski events, but technically FIS does not count those as World Cup podium appearances.

I am sure there is a reason for this, but I can’t imagine a very good one.

This also explains the frustrating nature of the FIS database.  If you select an athlete and request World Cup results, individual races in the multi-day events do not display.  You need to select Tour de Ski, World Cup Finals, etc, individually to see these results.

A win should be a win whether or not it takes place in the Tour de Ski or the Davos World Cups.

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Being a gracious winner and a good loser is hardly a unique concept in sport, and fortunately in skiing the concept is more often than not practiced.

And when you take home $366,250 in prize money for the 2010 season and have an overall World Cup title, four Olympic medals, three World Championship medals, and 13 World Cup victories, one would expect that winning and losing with grace should not be too hard a challenge.

But Justyna Kowalczyk (POL), one of the greatest Polish sports stars of all time has, for some strange reason, chosen to crusade against Marit Bjoergen’s use of asthma medication, protested a clear disqualification for obstruction, and been relegated for skating in a classic sprint.

She has gained a reputation as a dirty skier on the World Cup, and instead of letting her results speak for themselves, has stooped to the level of attacking her opposition.

With each incident, Kowalczyk loses face in the public eye. She should keep her mouth shut and worry about skiing faster.

And her move on Kikkan Randall in the sprint final in Davos stank of desperation. Kowalczyk does not have the speed to close out a sprint race, and is clearly not at the Bjoergen-esque level of being able to ski away in 1.4km race.

FasterSkier had the opportunity to speak with Kowalczyk in Canmore last year, and she was accommodating and friendly. At Olympic press conferences, she was always complimentary of those who defeated her, and when asked if the minutes spent waiting for the results of a photo finish “were the worst of her life,” she laughed and made some comment about it “just being skiing” – impressive perspective for a professional athletes.

All of this makes her recent behavior even more inexplicable. There seems so little to gain, and she has already lost quite a bit. As one of the great skiers of her generation, it does not behoove her to act in such an immature manner.

She should take a page out of Pete Vordenberg’s book and only worry about the things she can control – not Bjoergen’s inhaler.

And when disqualified for a blatant case of obstruction, she should take her punishment and move on. The “this will not stand” attitude from the Kowalczyk camp is less than impressive.

I feel confident that had an American or Canadian similarly stepped in front of an opponent in the finish stretch, because they knew they couldn’t win otherwise, coaches, athletes and fans would be embarrassed, and most definitely not supportive.

Kowalczyk is an incredible athlete and an amazing skier. Along with several other women, she has brought great excitement to the sport, weekend after weekend, and her dedication is impressive.

Hopefully she can go back to making headlines with her racing and hold her line on the way to the finish.

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