Directly from the US speedskating fall board meeting, here is a mildly important piece of breaking news-
There will be 2 Olympic trials to represent the USA at Vancouver. The first, and most important one, will likely be in Milwaukee in late October 2009, and the second in late December 2009.
Here is the nutshell explanation as to why-
In the past, a country knew how many “slots” it would have at the Olympics from performances the previous year. Therefore during an Olympic year, the world cup seemed not as important, and often skaters & whole teams would skip parts of it, or train through it, building for the games.
The ISU did not like this. So for the Vancouver games, they decided that each country will earn their start spots for the Olympics through performances in the 5 world cup events immediately before Vancouver.
This makes the world cup leading up to the Olympics dreadfully important.
But this launches the following problem; If US speedskating picked our Olympic team the way it has always been done, it’s very likely that a world cup team, picked in October, will undertake a grueling traveling & competition schedule (where they will try and put in peak performances), earning spots for the USA.
Then they will come back in December, and with no time for rest & regeneration, at trials will face athletes who have been training and peaking for just one race. These athletes could take spots away from the people who directly earned them..
What then would the motivation be, for athletes to perform in the world cup? When we desperately need them to perform to earn start positions in the games?
Also, the sports physiologists who work for US speedskating said that so many weeks of intense competition in a row would lead to emotionally and physically fried athletes, just a few weeks before the start of the games.
The solution that was voted in, during the US speedskating fall board meeting, is that there will be 2 Olympic trials.
At the first one in October, the world cup team will be picked. For example, in the men’s 500m, 5 skaters will earn world cup starts. Through their performances, they could earn the USA up to 4, 500m starting spots in the Olympics.
What US speedskating has decided, is all but one of these spots will be given to the skaters who earned them at the world cups. The last spot will be awarded at the “second Olympic trials” in December, the traditional US speedskating national champs.
This is the same for all the Olympic distances, all spots but one will go to the world cup team picked in October.
Having 2 trials also gives everyone else something to skate for, so the season is not “over” in October, and also gives skaters who might make small mistakes in October, or skater who never skate well that early in the season, a way to come back & still make the team.
However, there is the “Needham clause” added to the selection process. (Chris, if you have a better name for it, please dub it otherwise). Basically it states, that if the person who earned that final spot consistently places very highly in world cup racing, and does not finish worse than 6th, (or 4th in long distance races) at US trials, then they get that spot anyway, and there is no spot available at the 2nd Olympic trials.
There is some moral logic in that, but I think the rule is written in a way that left many quite confused.
So it is possible that the 2nd Olympic trials will be meaningless, depending on how individual performances at the world cup shake out.
Or it could be incredibly exciting, nail biting racing. I am hoping for option 2.
Other notes worth mentioning is that for the October trials, you can skate your qualification time in the previous season.
This is an excellent addition to the rules, and has profound implications for those outside the national team womb who are trying to qualify for the once in a lifetime experience of skating Olympic trials.
It means that this year is really important for a lot of people, as you can earn your spot at trials by skating qualifying times this year!
For the December Olympic trials race #2, you do need to skate the time in that season. But the way it’s shaping up, the October race is vastly more important.
Also worth noting, the times to qualify have gotten faster, noticeably faster for the 1500m. Here they are-
But again, to skate these times, to qualify for Olympic trials, it really means something. This is not just a weekend time trial, it’s vastly more intense, nerve-wracking, and amazing.
For a lucky few, it’s a stepping-stone to other things, but for the majority of us who race this event, it’s a singular moment that will echo in our hearts for as long as we live.
It’s crazy that such long & dry meetings can product such important changes. This is my old skating buddy/current US speedskating employee, Chris Weaver at the podium, flanked by board president Brad Goskowicz, Executive Director Bob Crowley, and board member Beth Bedford.
There were other important things discussed at the meeting including something that might have a huge impact on what I do here. The banning of video cameras (possibly including mine) from all events that US speedskating webcasts is one of them. They also are banning picture taking/videos at practice.
I think it’s great that they are webcasting events! But where is an archive of past events?
They called this policy “culling the herd to make it stronger”. I did make a few comments on this policy at the meeting, and I hope something will be worked out, not just for what I do here, but for parents who want to video or take pictures of their kid racing.
But I will say this: in the 21st century; trying to control & limit media is a terrible idea for a small sport trying to grow. The way to make the “Digital Herd” stronger to benefit speedskating is to HELP IT GROW BIGGER.
Yes, it’s a sometimes messy & disorganized herd, there will be dissenting voices in the herd too, that’s called democracy, a good thing on multiple levels. Overall speedskating will THRIVE if access is as open as possible.
I am optimistic that working with the good people I have come to know on staff at US Speedskating, some kind of compromise can be reached.
Ugh… too much thinking…
However there is a perfect antidote for endless meetings- A long mountain bike ride, & seeing the sunset from the trails at the ridgeline of the Wasatch, overlooking downtown Salt Lake where I started.
Nothing can clear the mind like a long, painful climb, and nothing can focus it like dancing on ragged edge of destruction & “more fun” during the fast descent off the mountain.
I could almost feel my soul exhaling the crust of too many hours in a meeting room chair, and right at the edges of my imagination, I can almost feel the approach of Olympic trials in October, 2009.
Only 13 months from now—
24 Comments »
Filed under: from home