Friday, December 7, 2001 - Perspective
A Future Perspective

- By: Chris Jeffries

The race season has officially been under way for a month now, and unfortunately the big news surrounding the Canadian senior men's program is not stellar results, but rather whether a men's relay team should be permitted to race in the upcoming World Cup relay in Europe. I always find it disheartening when political controversy is more newsworthy than a podium finish in a World Cup by a Canadian skier, but the sad truth in today's society is that everyone is dishing for dirt.

In the last week and a half, many of the opinions of both sides of the debate have been circulating in the media and via skier gossip circles, be it either from the men who have traveled to Europe, or from the powers that be at Cross Country Canada (CCC). I hope to provide a more neutral opinion on the subject. A logical assumption would be that, considering myself being a member of the National Ski Team and Olympic hopeful, that I would be in favour of sending a group of skiers to Europe to test our luck. However, I'm also a firm believer in the system that is in place in Canada, and to allow for this team to compete would compromise the integrity of not only our federation, but our sport as well. As everyone is by now aware of, senior men were given the oppurtunity to meet a standard in Silver Star in order to qualify for the December World Cups. I'll be the first to admit that myself, my teammates and fellow Canadians did not race up to our abilities, and quite frankly had our asses handed to us by our American counterparts. Call it a case of early season dead legs, or not being properly prepared, the bottom line is besides a victory by Donald Farley, the rest of us did not ski at a level that would allow us to be competitive in a World Cup competition.

The men that have traveled to Europe in the hopes of racing the relay are using the slogan "give the men a chance" as their main argument for competing. CCC argues that ample oppurtunity HAS been given. As far as this current ski season is concerned, we have been given the oppurtunity. The sad truth is we have not entered a men's relay in a major international event since the 1999 World Championships. This does not justly reflect the agenda of CCC, but more accurately reflects the state of elite men's skiing in Canada. If you look closely at our pool of talent, besides Robin McKeever and Donald Farley, the vast majority of our top skiers are under the age of 23. There is a massive gap that is missing between the age of 24 to 28, which helps to explain our absence at the international level for the past 4 years. CCC has had no choice but to focus on the future, and considering our limited budget, has done a good job with programs like Team 2006, and the B-tour which runs every February in Europe. Right now we have a great group of young athletes from across the country training here in Canmore with our sights set on 2006, and the same can be said for our other two centers in Canada. This is where CCC is focusing much of their attention, and I'm confident that the international results will be there in a couple of years.

Secondly, I also do not feel that the "best" have been sent in attempts to qualify, and justifiably, the "best" is not there. This is a difficult statement for me considering my friendships with all the team members, and I respect them all as racers, some for as long a time as my days in grade 4 watching them race my father. But when you look at the team, only one member is ranked in the top 4 in Canada. Only one of the three World Cup eligible men in Canada is represented. Two are biathletes who have yet to compete in a Cross Country event this season, and only once each in the last year and a half. I hope not to sound bitter, but I have to be considering the fact that this whole mess is burning up money in the National Team budget through lawyer fees and wasted time of CCC employees, which has already been allocated for other purposes. This trip is supposedly at no expense to CCC, but that is furthest from the truth.

My last point is that allowing this team to compete sets a dangerous precedent. By allowing this team to pay their own way there, where do you draw the line in the future? You would then have to grant permission for anyone with a thick wallet to race internationally if they chose to. Also, criteria is legally binding. There is no way to get around it. And it's not as though the criteria has been locked away deep in the bowels of the Bill Warren Training Center and was dusted off just prior to Silver Star. It was made public during the summer, with ample time for comments and suggestions. After everything is said and done is not the time to make proposals and lots of public noise.

In a perfect world I would like them to race, of course. Would I hope they qualify? Without a doubt. But, my energy and that of all my teammates will better focused on the 2006 Olympics, where medals will be the goal, rather than participation.

Chris Jeffries is a member of the Canadian National Ski Team and is one of Canada's top ranked male skiers. He had a major break through last season by winning the 10km classic Continental Cup race in Val Cartier, PQ and posting top results on the European OPA tour. Chris trains with the National Team in Canmore, AB.

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