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Freestylers disillusioned over Olympic selections

Michael Traum

Two guys. That’s how many men’s mogul skiers will represent the United States in the Olympics. And the members of the U.S. team are, in a word, dumbfounded.

“I don’t know who’s making these decisions. No one tells us anything,” said Garth Hager, a five-year veteran of the mogul team. “We have a lot of depth in the United States. Shouldn’t we be able to fill at least four spots?”

Added rookie ski team member Travis Ramos, “Coaches are really secretive about all this stuff. They’re reasoning is all backwards. Ask anybody. If you think about it, it’s people’s lives they’re messing around with.”

With the team in Breckenridge, Colo., for the final World Cup event prior to Nagano, coaches Tuesday chose Jonny Moseley and Alex Wilson as the lone U.S. representatives for the world stage in Japan. Both were selected according to criteria established by the team, with Moseley having sufficient World Cup points and Wilson having won the Gold Cup Olympic qualifying event.

But there’s a catch.

With two other spots available, U.S. coaches chose not to fill those according to the same criteria. Team coach Don St. Pierre said in a previous interview that the U.S. criteria are as follows, in order of importance: (Based on World Cup performances) 1. Win the Gold Cup; 2. A win or top-three; 3. Two top-fives; 4. Three top-10s; and, 5. If no American in the top-10, highest ranking finishes. (Note: The Breckenridge event does not figure.)

Criteria listed on the ski team’s web page goes on to stipulate, rather confusingly, that a third or fourth position, “will be filled providing all three start positions ‘can be’ filled using criteria listed as 1, 2, 3.”

In addition, the web page states, “Athletes who have met the criteria listed as 1, 2, or 3 will be selected ahead of all other athletes provided quota spots and/or start positions are available.”

While no other Americans posted top results, according to the criteria the other two spots should have been filled by highest places.

But not only were they left vacant, team members weren’t even told of the selections “face-to-face”, let alone the reasoning behind them, according to Hager.

“It’s frustrating. This kind of stuff seems to be happening more and more,” he said. “There’s less communication. They have all these plans they never tell us and nothing is really ever consistent.”

As of Tuesday night, no U.S. team coach was available for comment.

In a press release issued by the United States Ski Association, Vice-President of Athletics Alan Ashley said, “We established a very high standard of performance for Olympic selection in freestyle and it has been met by this team. We’ve spoken of ‘performance, not just participation’ for the Olympics and there can be no question that through this selection, we have athletes with proven ability to be on the podium.”

Added team head coach Wayne Hilterbrand, “Everyone of this team has the potential to be competitive in the next few weeks at the Olympics.”

But it appears that reasoning was not good enough for two ski team members.

According to Hager, as well as South Shore team members Ramos and Chris Hernandez, grievances have already been filed. Reportedly Evan Dybvig and Jim Moran, two mogul athletes who claim Olympic eligibility, are pursuing legal action. According to Hager, Dybvig has filed an appeal with the United States Olympic Committee, while Moran has secured an attorney.

But details, even for the athletes, have been hard to come by.

“(Lack of communication) has happened a few times this year. It’s almost like nobody wants to talk about it. (The Olympics) are pretty much gone for them,” Hernandez said.

Added Ramos, “A lot of guys have had enough of it and they’re leaving.”

Two members of the mogul team have already quit this year to pursue other interests. “A” teamer Sean Smith left for the pro tour, while “C” teamer Curtis Tischler left to reportedly pursue an “extreme” career.

“The Olympics are all about taking as many guys as you can to the big show and taking your best shot. They’re not even going to do that. It’s ridiculous,” said Ramos, who hopes for another chance in 2002.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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