The first week of January was a busy one. In random corners of the world, some of the top-ranked nordic skiers competed for various titles: at the Tour de Ski in Switzerland, Germany and Italy, at U.S. Cross Country Championships in Houghton, Mich., and at the U.S. Paralympics Sit Ski Nationals and International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Continental Cup in Craftsbury, Vt.
In Craftsbury, about 30 miles south of the Canadian border in northern Vermont, five races were held in a span of four days, Jan. 6-9, after anticipated rain prompted organizers to move up the last two races to the scheduled off day.
“Busy for sure, but the OC [organizing committee] did an amazing job and the athletes got a big bang for their time and investment in being there,” U.S. Paralympics Nordic High Performance Director John Farra wrote in an email.
The Craftsbury Outdoor Center hosted 25 participants in three cross-country races followed by two biathlon races. U.S. Paralympics A-team members Andy Soule and Oksana Masters won the opening men’s 7.5-kilometer and women’s 5 k mid-distance sit ski races, respectively, and Masters went on to sweep the remaining races of nationals.
Soule won four out of the five, placing second to longtime teammate Sean Halsted in the men’s 2.5 k short-distance sit ski on the second day of racing.
That day entailed back-to-back races: the short-distance in the morning and a full sprint — complete with a qualifier and heats —following in the afternoon.
“It was a busy day, but from a development perspective it was a great model,” Farra wrote.
Interestingly, the 850-meter sprint was scored as a “mixed” event, ranking both genders on a single results sheet. Masters topped the coed field, winning with an adjusted time 11 seconds faster than Soule. Halsted was the second male and third overall.
“This year for the first time we were able to take advantage of a new rule by IPC that allows us to combine men’s and women’s fields for the purposes of establishing a points base when the numbers of points-holding athletes in a single field would otherwise be too small,” Eileen Carey, head coach of U.S. Paralympics Nordic explained in an email.
“There is a precedent for this in IPC in the relay, where women get an additional 18% off their compensation to equalize the field and combine everyone in one event. As an example when Oksana is racing against women’s only fields, she has a 100% compensation, so her calculated result is the same as her real time,” Carey continued. “In this event, her calculated result was 82% of her real time. This made for a much more exciting event and a better competition for athletes. For our World Cup regulars and new skiers alike, it meant more practice going into technical sections in groups and having to ski more tactical races to qualify for finals.”
Looking at the overall field, Farra and Carey noted they were impressed by some “brand new” athletes.
“This was the first major competition for a majority of the field,” Carey explained. “As a group, they arrived impressively fit for skiing and improved throughout the week. It is exciting for us to have a bigger community of adaptive athletes in the same place each year.”
In her first IPC Continental Cup and sit-ski nationals, Joy Rondeau, who trains with the National Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colo., placed second to Masters in all three cross-country events and the 6.5 k biathlon race.
“We had participation in all 3 classes and both genders… which was really cool for us,” Farra wrote. “Great to have some new talent in standing and visual impaired classes especially.”
“The development group as a whole came to the event more fit and more skilled than in the past so we think that means good things for the future of the sport,” Carey added.
This season, sit skiers Halstead and Bryan Price are on the development team. Halstead reached the podium in all five races, Price landed on it three times, and B-team member Aaron Pike tallied two podiums in Craftsbury.
“I was impressed with the group as a whole and am excited to see what is to come,” Carey wrote. “Our National Team athletes are skiing well and are on track for a good winter.”
As for the conditions in Craftsbury, Carey described them as “great.”
“The crew there is incredible with what they can do with small amounts of snow,” she wrote. “They worked hard making and moving snow and (once again!) made excellent courses for our skiers. I have learned to never underestimate what they are capable of, and they did not disappoint. We are lucky to have such a dedicated organizer in Nordic sport and the fact that they pulled out all the stops for our field of 25 athletes was amazing. They put together World Cup quality competitions.”
The national team is headed to Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the IPC Asian Cup Jan. 28-Feb. 1 and a chance to preview the 2018 Paralympics venue.
“We will get eyes on Pyeong Chang for the first time this winter so we will learn specifics from that trip that we will apply to our training,” Carey wrote.
Jan. 6 mid-distance
Jan. 8 biathlon sprint
Jan. 9 biathlon indvidual