Freeman headed to fourth Winter Olympics
United States' Kris Freeman, right, and Finland's Ville Nousiainen ski during the Men's 50k mass start classic race at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
United States' Kris Freeman during the Men's 15k Cross Country race at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, Monday, Feb. 15, 2010. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Figuring out the International Ski Federation (FIS) points system might take an Archimedes or Einstein. In their absence, Kris Freeman crunched the numbers and knew one thing for certain: He needed to finish on the podium in the two U.S. national championship distance races to secure his spot in Sochi.
The Andover native and Sant Bani School graduate accomplished that goal two weeks ago, then officially was rewarded yesterday when he was named to the U.S. Olympic cross-country ski team, the fourth time he’ll represent Team USA under the five colored rings.
“I grew up with the Andover Outing Club, and that club has made five Olympians now,” Freeman said last night. “I just feel really fortunate that I grew up in such a great area for skiers. I had good opportunities and I’ve been able to make it work this long. I’m having a great time with my career.”
It’s been a circuitous route back to Olympus for Freeman, now 33.
As a budding star in 2002, he competed in his first games in Salt Lake City, helping the American 4x10-kilometer relay team nearly win a historic medal, finishing fifth. He also had two of his best individual international results, finishing 14th in the 10+10K pursuit and 22nd in the 15K classic. He improved one spot in his signature event – the 15K classic – by finishing 21st at the Turin games in 2006.
Things took a downturn in 2010 in Vancouver, however. After finishing 59th in the 15K freestyle, Freeman was skiing in the top 20 in the 30K pursuit when he collapsed because of low blood sugar. He eventually recovered to finish 45th, but his ongoing battle with Type 1 diabetes left a mark.
“I didn’t like the way the last one went. I knew I had another one in me,” Freeman said of returning for a fourth Olympiad. But it wasn’t so much the disappointment of 2010 that drove him, but rather “that I’ve always loved skiing and I have great support from my family and friends, and I wanted to keep skiing. I knew better things were in store for me.”
But, as if the rigors of being a world-class athlete with diabetes weren’t enough, last spring he was dropped from the U.S. ski team for reasons still not fully clear to him, losing funding as well as insurance. In order to train and compete abroad, he’d have to foot his own bill. But the Maine Winter Sports Center and Eli Lilly, the pharmaceutical company for whom he’s a spokesman, helped financially, and Waterville Valley came through with health insurance, hiring him to teach ski clinics.
“It’s very touching the way people stepped up for the U.S. team’s lack of support,” Freeman said.
And to make the Olympic team, he’d need those World Cup FIS points. Or maybe not.
FIS points are based on what percentage back of the best in the world a skier is, and are taken from the competitor’s five best races in a calendar year. Oddly, Freeman could gain fewer points (fewer is better) by finishing in the top five domestically against weaker competition than he could by finishing in the top 30 against the best competition in a World Cup race. So with his focus and goals residing in Europe, he ignored the points list for much of this season before realizing time was running out before Olympic selection.
“There was a lot of pressure in that I had to perform (at nationals) or not go to the Olympics,” Freeman said, “but I was pretty confident in my ability and what needed to be done.
“… After nationals I knew I was pretty safe. But the same people who pick the Olympic team are the same people who didn’t pick me for the U.S. team in the spring. So there was still something in the back of my mind, ‘oh no, what if it happens again?’ So there was some sense of relief” after receiving word of his selection on Tuesday night.
“We’re really hoping he can recapture some of his form,” said U.S. cross-country Head Coach Chris Grover, adding that in the 15K classic, “we’re really looking forward to seeing what he can do in that particular event.”
Freeman expects to compete in four events – the 30K pursuit, 15K classic, four-man relay and 50K freestyle – on a course he describes as strenuous and challenging. And though his health and results earlier this season weren’t where he’d have liked them to be, he’s feeling strong heading to Sochi.
“Right now things seem to be coming together well,” Freeman said. “In previous Olympics I had great fitness early (in the season), but by the time of the Olympics, I was struggling to hold onto it. I’m just arriving there this year. I had some frustrating results early, but you can’t be red-hot all season.”
And as for the safety concerns in what is becoming an increasingly hot topic concerning security at the games, Freeman said he’s got no worries. “I’ll let my mom do that,” he said, adding that his family will be watching from home.
Two other skiers with New Hampshire ties made the cross-country team: Sophie Caldwell and Ida Sargent, both recent Dartmouth College graduates.
Along with Freeman and Torin Koos, both four-time Olympians, the rest of the U.S. men’s team is Erik Bjornsen, Brian Gregg, Noah Hoffman, and former Olympians Simi Hamilton and Andy Newell. The women’s team is led by four-time Olympian Kikkan Randall, repeat Olympians Holly Brooks and Liz Stephen, and first-timers Sadie Bjornsen and Jessie Diggins.
The U.S. Olympic ski jumping team also was revealed yesterday, with a pair of Granite Staters among the four male jumpers.
Andover’s Nick Fairall earned his spot on the team back on Dec. 29, when he won the U.S. Olympic qualifier. Lebanon’s Nick Alexander, who competed in Vancouver in 2010, makes his second appearance on the Olympic team. They’ll be joined by Peter Frenette and Anders Johnson.
Andover’s Chris Lamb was not selected, missing out on the Olympics after ranking sixth in the selection criteria – in order: winning the Olympic qualifier, ranking in World Cup standings, and ranking in FIS Continental Cup standings.
“There is a solid amount of experience on this team considering how young they are,” ski jumping Head Coach Clint Jones said. “… However, I feel that we still haven’t seen the best jumps from any of our young team members, and I am looking forward to seeing them step up their game in Sochi and in the years to come.”
(Sandy Smith can be reached at 369-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)