Cross country skier Noel Keeffe could make the Olympics, but he’s got a lot of work to do

Noel Keeffe, wearing bib No. 15, placed 12th overall in Sunday's classic sprint at the 2019 Junior World Ski Championships in Lahti, Finland, on the first day of racing. Keeffe, a former Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club athlete and University of Utah student was the first SSWSC athlete nominated to the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team. He has a small chance of making the Olympic team in 2022.
Doug Stephen/Courtesy photo

When it comes to making the Olympics, Steamboat Springs Nordic skier Noel Keeffe is on the bubble. The University of Utah athlete and U.S. Cross Country Development Team member doesn’t have any schedule World Cup starts before the Olympics, but that doesn’t mean he’s out of the running for a chance to go to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

“I’m obviously going to race as hard as I can,” Keeffe said. “And do my best in the U.S. but it really comes down to how the world cup team performs.”

There will be 296 cross country athletes competing in Beijing, 148 per gender. How many athletes from each country can go is determined by quota allocations, which countries earn by performing well at the World Cup level.

As of November 26, eight females and five males from the United States may attend. Athletes in both distance and sprint disciplines are chosen based on their five best competition results in the qualification period, between July 2019 and Jan. 16, 2022.

First U.S. Ski and Snowboard looks at World Cup finishes, which again, Keeffe doesn’t have and won’t have in that qualification period.

However, the next thing considered are USA SuperTour competitions, which Keeffe will compete in this winter. Then, North American Tour or Nor/Am competitions will be looked at.

If all the quota spots aren’t filled by World Cup athletes, Keeffe is one of the better development athletes who has a chance to be named to the team.

There are just five men on the National A and B teams, while Keeffe is one six on the development team.

“The U.S. men’s team is, every year, getting more and more competitive,” Keeffe said. “Like last year we had some of our best results ever.”

Keeffe grew up competing against all the men on the national team, so he’s familiar with all the athletes who are vying for an Olympic spot.

“We have a super awesome atmosphere,” he said. “Everyone is really supportive and everyone’s just trying to get better together.”

This past weekend proved that Keeffe and other development team members have their work cut out for them. A Team member James Schoonmaker finished seventh at a World Cup in Ruka, Finland. Two others finished in the top 30.

Meanwhile, Keeffe is in the United States and preparing for the SuperTour, which kicks off Dec. 4 in Duluth, Minn. then moves to Cable, Wisc. the following weekend. Then, he’ll compete at the national championships at Soldier Hollow in Utah, which serves as the Olympic Trials race, according to Keeffe.

SuperTour events

Dec. 4-5 – Duluth, Minn.

Dec. 10-12 – Cable, Wisc.

Jan. 2-7 – National Champs at Soldier Hollow

Jan. 15-16 – Sun Valley

The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club veteran hasn’t changed anything in his training going into the Olympic year. He’s skiing the same amount, even if he’s switched up some of the specific things he’s doing.

“I figured it’s never good to change up what you’re doing before and important season or race,” he said.

Keeffe is still a student at the University of Utah, too, skiing for the collegiate team and studying material science and engineering. Olympics or not, Keeffe will be a speedy skier, a student, and is aiming for U23 World Championships in Lygan, Norway on Feb. 22-27.

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