Feb. 09—In the late January weeks leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympics, Torin Koos was one of many United States athletes playing the waiting game.
The Leavenworth native’s body of work wasn’t strong enough to merit an automatic spot on the U.S. Nordic Ski Team, but he had certainly done enough to be among the athletes feeling confident, hoping for a spot and keeping their fingers crossed. His first-place finish in the 2014 freestyle sprint at the U.S. Championships in January at Soldier Hollow in Utah certainly helped stake his claim.
Of course, Koos — who specializes as a cross country sprinter — did make the final cut of 14 and is one of four skiers from the North Central Washington area who will rep the Stars and Stripes at Sochi this month.
At 33, Koos is the second oldest member of the 14-person team. He is making his fourth Olympic appearance and said, with a degree of certainty, this will be his final excursion.
“This is my last Olympic go-around, for sure,” he said in mid-January while visiting Wenatchee, before the U.S. Nordic Ski Team had been named. “It’s been a great ride starting (at age) 20-21, making it to the 2002 Olympics, and (I’ve) still been chasing this dream for 13 years since then.”
Not many Olympians make it this far into their career and still have enough juice left to compete with the fresh blood that cycles in every season.
So often the waves of incumbent young talent — rife with promise and propelled by youthful ambition — weed out the old guard as training regimens and scientific advances shift the nature of the sport.
Yet here is Koos, one of only a few Olympians making their fourth tour.
While he’s something of a wily veteran figure, Koos doesn’t exactly look the part. He wears a flat-billed baseball cap and a clean long sleeved button-up shirt, a sign of a man who knows how to ride the turning tide. He has a youthful aura to him, and, obviously, is in peak physical condition, which contributes to the persona.
While his physical makeup states energetic youth, his outlook on life and competition reflect a man with plenty of mileage.
Koos is clearly capable of thinking about the big picture, of recognizing the inherent narrative in an athlete’s career arc.
“Your athletic career is like a cycle or story,” he said. “I guess you kind of learn something from that adventure.”
Plenty has changed in the span of Koos’ Olympic lifespan.
For starters, cross country skiing itself has changed markedly, thanks to advances in training.
Koos said cross country skiing has shifted from an endurance sport to a power-endurance sport, and he’s seen the evolution unfold even in just the last decade.
He used the development in one of his strongest races — the classic sprint — as an example. In the past, skiers would race a mile in the traditional ski technique. But somewhat recently, skiers started double poling throughout the race and stopped waxing their skis and used upper body strength to pull them through the course.
“That’s where the sport has been getting push from some individuals,” he said. “It’s kind of changed the sport a lot.”
Koos isn’t a contrarian or traditionalist. His workout regimen — while still rooted in lower body exercises — pays careful attention to developing strength in the upper body.
While the sport itself has changed, so to has Koos’ place in it.
The broad-shouldered skier is no longer viewed as a budding talent with limitless potential. As a result, he isn’t afforded the same number of opportunities to showcase his abilities, a shift he recognized immediately after the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“(Early on) You’re given more opportunities because you’re seen as a young talent,” he said. “When you’re somebody like myself, you have to fight a lot harder for the chances you get.
“It’s definitely a change. You know, sometimes, you’re like, ‘I’m ready to show what I can do.’ And it’s like, ‘Yeah, you won’t get a chance this month, or maybe this year.’ That can be frustrating.”
The path that’s led to this juncture in Koos’ career has been anything but manila.
He likens himself to a gypsy, because of the nomadic lifestyle he’s adopted during the last decade. While he still considers North Central Washington home, he spends long stints on the road, often out of country, and much of that time is dedicated to training. He derives pleasure in training with foreign athletes and has spent long stretches away from North America.
He’s spent extensive time training in Davos, Switzerland, a small town of just over 10,000 people on the Landwasser River in the Swiss Alps. There, in the European skiing hub, Koos trains with a bevy of like-minded athletes who share many of the same traits that make him a world-class athlete, with one key exception; a great many of the training buddies aren’t native Enlglish speakers.
Koos said that over the course of his career he has spent more time away from North America than many of the U.S.-born competitors in his field.
“You should embrace the opportunity,” he said. “Getting to live in a foreign country has a lot of benefits and makes you a man of the world.”
The nomadic skier has seen plenty during his Olympic career. He has made runs in Salt Lake City, Utah, Turin, Italy, and most recently Vancouver. And now Sochi, Russia, awaits.
He does have unfinished business at home. He’s involved in a program called In the Arena, a program that pairs youths with elite athletes to help teach children good habits, and works with children in the valley.
Additionally, the 2004 University of Utah graduate is working to attain a master’s degree in professional communication.
So much has changed, even in the relatively short span of Koos’ career. The sport itself has shifted and so has Koos’ role in it.
But there remains one constant:
“It all comes down to competition and desire and feeling confident in what you’re doing,” he said. “All those things are the same.”
Don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
Reach Jon Frank at 509-664-7157 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @JFrankWW.