Kris Freeman is from Andover, New Hampshire and while you may not have heard of him he’s a big time cross-country skier. But this three-time Olympian has found himself in an unfamiliar position this season: on the bubble. For the first time Freeman has had to fight for his spot in his fourth Olympics.
Over his career, Kris Freeman has had some of the best results in the history of American Cross-Country skiing.
“He’s for sure, one of the athletes in the last decade and a half that have put US cross country skiing on the map,” says head Coach of the US Team Chris Grover. Freeman has won 16 national championships, a world championship for racers under-23, and countless smaller races.
But on the biggest stages, his career has been full of “almosts,” like in 2003 World Championships in Val Di Fiemme, Italy when he missed the podium by two seconds. Though Freeman has often knocked on the door with a smattering of 4th and 5th place finishes at World Championships, a podium finish or an Olympic medal has eluded him, and it’s been a few years since he’s had a real stand-out performance.
Then, last spring, he got some bad news. When the US ski team was announced, his name wasn’t on the list.
“No-one as successful as I’ve been has ever been cut from the US ski team,” said Freeman in an interview in December, “So I was very surprised and disappointed.”
The team carefully avoids using the word cut. “It’s a little bit of semantic difference but we just did not re-nominate him for the 2013-2014 season,” explains Grover.
It was a surprise to many that the US team would choose to focus its resources on younger, less-proven skiers, but those who have been watching closely aren’t shocked.
“A lot of it comes down to age,” says Topher Sabot editor of Fasterskier.com, which covers North American Nordic skiing news, “Kris is in his thirties and based on his results over the last years, his career trajectory over the last years… it’s not going up at this point.”
Over the last two years Freeman has struggled to break into the top 30 in World Cup races, and he ended last year ranked 75th in the world. Freeman has type I diabetes, and Sabot says managing his blood sugar and insulin levels have made his results inconsistent.
“On his best day, I still believe he can be one of the top skiers in the world. And he’s obviously dealing with the diabetes, and that’s just huge, so having his best day doesn’t happen very often,” says Sabot.
Those who have cheered for Freeman over the years may feel that he deserves one last shot at the Olympics with the support of the US team at this level it’s survival of the fittest.
“At the end of the day the US ski team is a performance organization,” says Grover, “and we don’t select teams based on playing favorites, based on hard luck stories, so it came down to a performance issue.”
This doesn’t mean Freeman won’t make it to Sochi. Most of the year the US ski team has been traveling with three or four men, and they might bring as many as eight to the games.
When asked in December how confident he was that he would do well at the US Championships and make the Olympic squad, Freeman said he was “very confident” and “on any given day I can be the fastest guy out there.”
But at Nationals Freeman’s best result were two 3rd place finishes and a 4th in the sprint (though he bested some of those same skiers in a smaller race this weekend). For him they weren’t great races, but it should be enough to hold onto a high ranking on what’s called the FIS points list, which is an international standard used to rank skiers.
“I think he’s in pretty good standing,” explains Grover, saying that the first two criteria are first if a skier is ranked top 50 in the world and second coach’s discretion, neither of which will be of help to Freeman. However, “he will most likely make it using FIS points, which is what we use to fill out the team.”
For his part, Freeman has got no plan to throw in the towel. “I’m not going to plan retiring from ski racing, I think it’s just going to happen when it does,” he says he hopes he can still inspire young skiers and “I also still continue hoping that I can continue to kick some international ass.”
On Wednesday the US ski team will announce its Olympic selection and Freeman will find out if he’ll get one more crack at attempting just that.