Controversy over NSF’s new elite teams

Norway’s next-best female cross-country skiers are calling out Norges Skiforbundet for reducing the size of the women’s team while filling up the quota on the men’s side

Photo: Terje Pedersen / Aftenposten Mari Eide.

Photo: Terje Pedersen / Aftenposten
Mari Eide.

Molly Jones
Norwegian American Weekly

When Norges Skiforbund (the Norwegian Ski Federation) announced their selections for the national cross-country skiing teams for the upcoming season, not everyone was pleased with their decisions—especially not the country’s second-best female skiers.

While the federation filled up the 14 quota spaces on the men’s team—with eight on the all-round team and six on the sprint team—they decided to reduce the women’s team from 10 to eight athletes for this season, leaving two spots unfilled.

Mari Eide (26), Marthe Kristoffersen (26), and Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes (30) are three of the country’s many female cross-country skiers who are unhappy with the federation’s decision.

“The signals the federation is sending is that there is no point for the next-best women to compete,” says Eide to Aftenposten.

While she is not quite good enough to make it on the national team, Eide has shown that she can excel in international competition when she won the team sprint in Düsseldorf together with Maiken Caspersen Falla and achieved as high as a seventh-place finish in individual World Cup competition.

 Photo: Terje Bendiksby / Aftenposten Marthe Kristoffersen.

Photo: Terje Bendiksby / Aftenposten
Marthe Kristoffersen.

Similarly, Kristoffersen has been on the World Cup podium six times individually and twice for relay, while sprinter Vikhagen Gjeitnes was on the elite team last season, participated in the World Cup, and made it to the final in Falun. Nevertheless, both failed to make it on to the team for the coming season.

“We women have talked about it a long time and are very much in agreement, but we have been afraid to cause a stir,” says Vikhagen Gjeitnes.

According to Aftenposten, this is a recurring issue for the women’s team as last season there where unfilled spots on the women’s side at three World Cup events.

“The worst part is that there are quite a few good girls who are in the same situation. The ski federation should have taken care of them. The national team model is too weak when you see that there are such big gaps,” says Eide.

While there is a development team that provides young skiers with an opportunity to be eventually selected for the elite team, the skiers note that one must be 24 years or younger to join the team. Kristoffersen therefore claims that the federation has a double standard when it comes to age because while they say that skiers only start peaking at 26, their recruitment system implies that a 26-year-old is too old to invest in if she is not already among the best.

Photo: NRK Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes.

Photo: NRK
Kari Vikhagen Gjeitnes.

Responding to the criticism, Norges Skiforbund’s National Team Director Vidar Løfs­hus said: “I agree that it is a bad signal from a woman’s perspective, but in elite sports it is the results that matter. They get fantastic points, and I certainly won’t become upset that they promote such views, but there are many considerations at play when we select the team. On the women’s side, it is an example of a very large gap between the best and second best. Therefore it is not natural to fill up all the quotas for women in the World Cup in all races. It is a question of priorities and use of resources if we are to achieve our goals.”

Although he added that the federation may reevaluate their decision in later seasons, Løfshus also noted that probable changes in the World Cup quota system will likely result in the team sending even fewer athletes in the future.

Eide, Kristoffersen, and Vikhagen Gjeitnes are not giving up on their fight for a spot on the national team though, especially as long as the men’s quotas continue to be filled.

“As long as we have skiers who qualify, I see no reason why they shouldn’t get the chance,” says Eide.

This article originally appeared in the May 20, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.