Bill Koch is Andy Newell's cross-country inspiration
There's no question who led Andy Newell toward a career in cross-country skier. Newell, the top sprinter on the U.S. roster, is from Vermont, just like Bill Koch, the only American ever to win an Olympic cross-country medal.
"He's been the No. 1 inspiration for me, growing up skiing," Newell said. "He's kind of a legendary Vermonter and someone I looked up to growing up. The youth ski leagues around our country are named after Bill Koch. Just the other day he was skiing with my father and giving advice to my father to pass on to me.
"It's great to have a guy like Bill Koch in your corner. He has so much wisdom in our sport. He was a young gun American that came in and showed everyone that Americans can dominate this previously European sport. This team has built up on that kind of mentality that we can do it the American way, just like Bill Koch kind of did it his way and was successful."
Of the American men on the 2010 team, Newell may have the best chance of adding his name to the short list of U.S. medal winners in his sport. He ranks 21st in the world overall in the World Cup standings, but seventh among sprinters. He knows a medal for the United States after 34 years would do much to draw attention to his sport in his own country.
"It's definitely an underground sport in some ways in the United States and even in all of North America," Newell said. "We're used to a different style. We're used to the one we race in Europe, which is a really fast and exciting sport. It's a sport where 70,000 or 80,000 people will show up on the side of a ski course.
"In some ways we kind of live these double lives of an American cross-country skier and a European cross-country skier. You're more of a household name over there, you're on TV every weekend. But I think it's one of those sports that just like endurance cycling, events like the Tour de France, as soon as people see it, they're going to fall in love with it. The sprint events, it's incredible, every heat is going to come down to a lunge, and it's going to be decided by a few centimeters. So you're going to have these guys skiing as fast as they can to the line.
"If people are fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of a cross-country skiing event, especially one of the mass start event, they're going to see how exciting it is and they're going to be down with it."
The U.S. team brings extra confidence to
Beijing Vancouver because of the amount of the time the skiers have spent on the Whistler course. Newell said a U.S. team has never trained on an Olympic course, pre-Games, as much as it has for this one. Combine that with the experience on the squad, and Newell is feeling good about the United States' chances.
"This is the best team the U.S. has ever brought to an Olympics, both because of the men's and women's side of things," said Newell, 26. "I was able to make it onto the podium in the spring of 2006, and that was the first podium finish the U.S. has had in 23 years, since Bill Koch. That got the ball rolling.
"Since then we're scored hundreds and hundreds of World Cup points - we had barely even scored points before the '06 Olympics -- we've had countless top 10 finishes, countless top 5 finishes, we've won world championship title and had several podium finishes, so it's a whole different team. It feels completely different going into these Games."
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