VANCOUVER, British Columbia — His Winter Olympics debut will come five days later than planned, but Ben Koons is good to go today.

A Messalonskee High and Dartmouth College graduate from Sidney, Koons will compete in cross country skiing for his native New Zealand.

The men’s 30-kilometer pursuit — Koons’ primary event — consists of 15 kilometers using the classic style and 15K freestyle.

”My plan is to go out there and ski my hardest race,” he said Friday night. ”Leave it all on the course and see what happens.

”This is kind of the one I’ve been focusing on from the start. It would have been nice to get a couple under my belt to get the prerace jitters out of the way, but now I’ll be extra fresh.”

Koons, 23, was to have competed in Monday’s 15K freestyle, but was barred for five days because his hemoglobin level tested high.

He was one of a dozen Nordic skiers who were issued a ”start prohibition” by the International Ski Federation (FIS). The ban also kept Koons out of Wednesday’s individual sprint.

”I was pretty disappointed that I didn’t get to start early, but now it’s just a relief and I’m looking forward to getting the start,” he said.

Koons said he hasn’t tested high for hemoglobin levels before and it was ”great news” when he was well within the acceptable range when retested Thursday.

An FIS statement noted that the ”start prohibition is not a sanction, but is in order to protect the health of the athlete.”

Hemoglobin is the protein molecule in red blood cells that carry oxygen.

”I was surprised with the first test because I was tested unofficially several days before and I was low,” Koons said. ”But I guess at the time of the first official test, when I tested over, I was probably a little dehydrated.”

Koons, a 6-foot-2, 196-pounder, was born in Dunedin, New Zealand. He is a dual citizen of his homeland and the United States. His parents, Gean and Peter, plus his sister, Linnea, will be among 10 to 15 local ”friends and family” supporters on site today, along with 20 or so New Zealanders.

Koons said he’s ”definitely more of a classic skier, so I’ll be planning on going out hard early in the race and then when it comes to skating, just try to keep going.

”It’s a pretty hilly course, very technical. Some fast, technical downs, which I tend to like, and then there are big, long, consistent climbs in the classic course.”

The leading contenders include the world champion and World Cup leader, Petter Northug of Norway; the 15K freestyle gold medalist, Dario Cologna of Switzerland; and the bronze medalist, Lukas Bauer of the Czech Republic.

Koons also will compete on the final day of the Olympics, Feb. 28, in the 50K mass start.


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