STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It’s nothing new for athletes from Steamboat Springs to be nominated for a spot on the U.S. Ski Team, but in Noel Keeffe’s case, there is no question the young cross-country skier is setting fresh tracks.
Keeffe became the first Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club cross-country skier to be nominated to the U.S. Team — one of 20 total athletes and nine tapped for the D-team. In the past, Steamboat has had athletes nominated or named to the Nordic combined, ski jumping, Alpine, freestyle and snowboarding teams, but Keeffe becomes the first one to ever make the cross-country ski team.
Athletes nominated to the team open the season with the first on-snow training camp May 18 to 31 at Mt. Bachelor Ski Area in Bend, Oregon. Each athlete accepting the nomination to the U.S. Ski Team receives world-class program support, along with access to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Center of Excellence and other athletic benefits, including an elite coaching, sport science, sports medicine and high performance staff. An official U.S. Cross Country Ski Team announcement will be made in the fall.
“It was a goal of mine to meet the criteria set out by the U.S. Ski Team at the start of last season,” Keeffe said Monday. “I was able to track that criteria and achieve those goals.”
Keeffe posted several impressive results this season including a strong showing at the U.S. National Championships in Vermont, where he earned a podium. His finishes earned the Steamboat skier a shot at the Junior World Championships where he placed 12th in the sprint event.
Keeffe said because the U.S. Ski Team set out a clear list of goals, including where a skier needed to be in the final world rankings, he was able to manage his goals and work toward achieving those goals during the course of the season.
“I actually knew as soon as the last FIS list came out that I had made the criteria,” Keeffe said. “I was still pretty excited. It’s a big moment for sure. It’s what I’ve been working for, and it’s what my whole career has been leading up to.”
Josh Smullin has coached Keeffe for years and has watched as the young skier climbed his way up the ladder and finally reached a goal that he has been chasing for years.
“I think we have been working toward it for many years,” Smullin said. “We have had a lot of athletes get very close. It takes a special combination of all the pieces coming together — that talent, the desire and the work ethic. All those things need to happen to have somebody actually make it to that top level.”
Keefe isn’t letting the news that he has been nominated for the team slow him down. He is back to off-season workouts and looking forward to taking advantage of the many training opportunities that his nomination will bring.
“It’s the end of one goal but the start of many, many more,” Keeffe said.