News Analysis: Predicting the American Team for 2023 World Championships in Planica


The official announcement of the American team for this year’s FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, which open in Planica on February 23 with the classic sprint, will come early next week. Here’s a look at who’s likely to be on the team when the formal announcement comes down.

A note on methodology: This article is based solely on my reading of the selection criteria and relevant athlete rankings, not on actual reporting in the sense of asking U.S. Ski Team coaches or personnel for comment. (I enjoy a healthy reporting relationship with the U.S. Ski Team, but I don’t think that it would be particularly productive to ask for comment on projected World Champs starters a few days before the team is actually announced, with one weekend of races yet to go.) Any inaccuracies here are mine alone.

This article draws on the posted selection criteria from USSS, which you can find here; internal points lists collated by USSS, which you can find here; and current World Cup standings from FIS, which you can find here.

So, here’s who is guaranteed to be, likely will be, probably will be, and possibly will be on the team.

JC Schoonmaker (USST/Sugar Bowl, but in a UAA suit) races in an APU/UAA time trial, Kincaid Park, Anchorage, Alaska, Nov. 12, 2022. (photo: Adam Verrier)

1. Guaranteed selections: Athletes with top-eight World Cup finishes

The first selection criterion from USSS is a top-eight finish in Period 1 through Period 3 of the World Cup season, November 25, 2022, to February 5, 2023, in any of the following race formats: classic sprint, interval-start 10km skate, interval-start 20km skate, and 20km skiathlon. (The specified formats mirror races that will be held in Planica.)

The only skiathlon scheduled for the first half of the World Cup season was converted to a straight classic race due to snow conditions, so that leaves the classic sprint and 10- and 20-kilometer skate races as events that did occur. Athletes with top-eight finishes in these three race formats are:

  • Jessie Diggins (first in Lillehammer 10km skate, first in Davos 20km skate)
  • Rosie Brennan (third in Davos 20km skate)
  • Julia Kern (fifth in Les Rousses classic sprint)
  • Ben Ogden (seventh in Beitostølen classic sprint)
  • JC Schoonmaker (seventh in Val di Fiemme classic sprint)

This is an objective criterion; these five athletes will be on the team.

2. Discretionary selection: Coaches’ picks for, like, really good skiers who wouldn’t be on the team otherwise

The “total team size across men and women is anticipated to be approximately 16 athletes,” per the USSS selection document. That’s only five athletes so far under the first criterion, so let’s move on to criterion number two.

The second criterion, coaches’ discretion, seems, on my reading, generally intended to capture athletes who would not otherwise be encompassed by these criteria, and who are also really good skiers. This criterion has three subparts:

This criterion is the hardest one to handicap. I don’t, personally, foresee USSS taking anyone under this criterion, given both the pool of athletes out there and those athletes otherwise selected to the team under other criteria. I could be wrong. Stay tuned.

Update: Many people have written in to ask about Novie McCabe. If McCabe is taken, I think it would be under the third prong of this criterion, on the theory that she could contribute to a relay team. McCabe is an amazing skier, but to select her here in good faith, I think you have to be able to make the argument that she is a necessary addition to a relay team that likely already includes, in some order, Jessie Diggins–Rosie Brennan–Sophia Laukli (or: Julia Kern)–Hailey Swirbul, which, ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Gus Schumacher, Gustravaganza kids camp, Anchorage, Alaska, October 2022. (photo: Gavin Kentch)

3. Objective selection: Athletes currently in the top-45 of the World Cup standings (individual events only)

If anyone is selected under the second criterion, it would be like one or two athletes at most, probably one. That hypothetical athlete, plus the five athletes from step one, is still a lot less than “approximately 16,” so move on to criterion number three: “Athletes ranking in the top-45 in the Distance World Cup or Sprint World Cup standings on February 5, 2023[,] shall be selected to the team.” This is done on the basis of just an athlete’s individual results, i.e., subtract any World Cup points earned for team sprints or relays.

The sprint and distance cup standings on February 5 are clearly unknown at this time; there are still two individual races in Toblach yet to come. But you can start to get a pretty good idea of what those standings might look like.

You can find those official standings here through FIS. But USSS has created its own proprietary standings, reflecting solely athletes’ individual World Cup results (list is here; you want the seventh tab on the Google doc). According to USSS, American athletes currently ranking in the top-45 in discipline standings, on the basis of individual World Cup points alone, are:

  • Sophia Laukli (30th, individual distance standings)
  • Alayna Sonnesyn (39th, individual sprint standings; also 42nd, individual distance standings)
  • Gus Schumacher (32nd, individual distance standings)
  • Kevin Bolger (32nd, individual sprint standings)
  • Scott Patterson (34th, individual distance standings)
  • Hunter Wonders (35th, individual distance standings)
Scott Patterson (APU) races in an APU/UAA time trial, Kincaid Park, Anchorage, Alaska, Nov. 12, 2022. (photo: Adam Verrier)

On the one hand, keep in mind that these standings are not final yet; there is one more sprint and one more distance race yet to come. On the other hand, I do not personally foresee these standings changing much over this weekend’s races in Toblach, at least not enough to add or remove any American athletes from the top-45. If, say, Logan Diekmann or Lauren Jortberg has the race of their life this weekend to score a ton of points and crack the top-45, I will be thrilled to have been proven wrong about this. You will know more for sprint standings after Friday’s race, and for distance standings after Saturday’s race.

As a mathematical aside, note that this criteria document was adopted and promulgated by USSS in fall 2021, before the change to awarding World Cup points down through the top fifty places was adopted. I have not done the (frankly large amount of) math necessary to represent whether these rankings would be any different under the traditional top-30 standard.

It has to be noted here that some women’s World Cup races this season have had fewer than 50 entrants, meaning that every woman who finished the race received World Cup points. It must also be noted that this is in no way the fault of those athletes who did show up.

4. Optional objective selection: Highest-ranking domestic athletes

We’re now up to 11 athletes for sure so far, maybe one more if anyone is selected under criterion no. 2. This is still less than “approximately 16” — and I would be deeply surprised to see USSS take only five women to Planica — so let’s move on to the fourth and final selection criterion.

The best way to understand criterion no. 4 is basically, in my paraphrase, “an athlete’s two best domestic finishes so far this race season, with a hefty premium for doing well at U.S. Nationals. Also, sprint points are based on your position in the qual, not your final finishing position in the heats.”

Per USSS, this criterion looks to “the highest ranked athlete on the ranking list in each of the four disciplines [women’s distance, women’s sprint, men’s distance, and men’s sprint] who was not nominated to the team.”

On the one hand, note that this criterion is optional in its operation: “remaining quota slot(s) may be filled,” “if the remaining available World Championship start positions are to be filled” (emphases added). On the other hand, as I noted, it would be quite a small team without drawing on domestic athletes, so I think it’s safe to assume that at least the three athletes mentioned below will be selected.

Hailey Swirbul, right, races at U.S. Nationals last month. (photo: Gavin Kentch)

The top-ranked domestic athlete in each of these four disciplines is:

  • Women’s distance: Hailey Swirbul
  • Women’s sprint: Hailey Swirbul
  • Men’s distance: John Steel Hagenbuch
  • Men’s sprint: Will Koch

I’m not sure how to read the fact that Swirbul is the top-ranked athlete in two of the four pools, both women’s distance and women’s sprint. The USSS selection document states that “the next best athlete” in each discipline may be considered, then defines this as “the highest ranking athlete on the ranking list in each of the four disciplines who was not nominated to the team.”

Clearly Swirbul merits consideration for selection, and I frankly think there is no question that she will be selected to the team. But there then may be a potential ambiguity for what happens after that.

If Swirbul “counts” for the team under the category of women’s sprint, then Sydney Palmer-Leger, the second-ranked women’s distance skier, has a credible argument that she is “the highest ranking athlete on the ranking list in [the discipline of women’s distance] who was not nominated to the team.” And if Swirbul “counts” for the team under the category of women’s distance, then Lauren Jortberg, the second-ranked women’s sprint skier, has a credible argument that she is “the highest ranking athlete on the ranking list in [the discipline of women’s sprint] who was not nominated to the team.”

Before I #lawyer this too much, there is another provision within the four corners of the document that may also bear on how this could play out on the ground:

“Athletes in whichever pool (sprint vs. distance for whichever gender(s) has an unfilled quota) are deemed necessary to effectively fill an open World Championships start position will be considered by the Selection Committee. The intent is to match an open start position in a specific category at the World Championships (men’s sprint, men’s distance, women’s sprint, women’s distance) to the athlete with the best points in the same respective pool who has not yet been selected.”

From left, Sydney Palmer-Leger, Hailey Swirbul, and Novie McCabe on the podium in Houghton last month. (photo: Gavin Kentch)

In practice, there may not be any unfilled start spots, and so this potential ambiguity in drafting may not really be a problem.

As for women’s distance, I foresee the USST starting some of, say, Jessie Diggins, Rosie Brennan, Sophia Laukli, Julia Kern, and Hailey Swirbul for its four start spots in women’s distance, and so not deeming Palmer-Leger “necessary to effectively fill an open World Championships start position.” Same for, say, Diggins, Brennan, Kern, Swirbul, and/or Alayna Sonnesyn, over Jortberg, vis-à-vis women’s sprint. (Sydney or Lauren, if you’re reading this, I mean all that in the nicest possible way, just attempting to give my objective take on likely starters. You’re both awesome people, and a hell of a lot faster than I am.)

But I could be wrong. And taking only Swirbul under this criterion yields only fourteen athletes total on the team (if no one is taken under criterion no. 2), which is less than “approximately 16.” And only six of them would be women, which is simply a small team for a two-week championship. So I certainly might be.

In conclusion, this is my prediction for the American team for Planica World Championships, erring on the side of inclusion for Palmer-Leger but not for Jortberg (but I would be pleased to be wrong about that re: Lauren Jortberg):


  • Jessie Diggins
  • Rosie Brennan
  • Julia Kern
  • Sophia Laukli
  • Alayna Sonnesyn
  • Hailey Swirbul
  • Sydney Palmer-Leger


  • Ben Ogden
  • JC Schoonmaker
  • Gus Schumacher
  • Kevin Bolger
  • Scott Patterson
  • Hunter Wonders
  • John Steel Hagenbuch
  • Will Koch

Per USSS, “Selections to the 2023 U.S. Cross Country World Championship Team shall be announced on or near February 7, 2023 at the offices of U.S. Ski & Snowboard in Park City, Utah and shall be published immediately upon announcement.” Tune in next week to find out who’s on the team.

— Gavin Kentch

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