On another beautiful day in Val Di Fiemme, Kris Freeman made the day almost perfect for anyone supporting Cross-Country skiing in the US.
The race started at bit later than normal, but as scheduled at 11:45 am. The Red Group nations coaches had asked the Jury (a small group of officials managing the technical aspects of the competition) the day before to move the seeded group (Red Group) up – and the individual start race therefore started with the best skiers (seeded skiers) at the front. Kris had drawn a great start bib, – 34 – just starting as the red group skiers passed the stadium in the 3 times 5 km race.
Kris started a bit conservative, at about 20th place on top of the first long climb that ended at 1.6 km. From this point he rapidly picked up the pace, already at 6.4 km being in 3rd place. Through the stadium after the second lap he was still in 3rd place, and even moved up to 2nd at the 13.7 km point. At this point we could see that some of the experienced red group skiers in the top 6 excelled in the pursuit of the medals.
The whole red group was in the finish while the US contingency still waited to see Kris coming into the stadium. As the announcer counted down the seconds towards a medal, Kris double polled as the World Class skier he has now become, but still lost the bronze medal by 2 seconds.
In any case, after the finish most of the numerous TV stations in the finish area wanted to speak to the big surprise of the race, Kris. The CC ski world has long been waiting for a new Bill Koch, and is very pleased to see this now perhaps happening.
This is perhaps a new situation for Kris, but he handled the exiting moment very well. Going from interview to interview (some of them live on TV), causiously taking his own blood sample to check his sugar levels in the blood (everyone now knows he is a diabetic), and being selected to anti-doping testing as number 4 in the race.
The whole US support crew was of course extatic, from coaches to wax technicians. The waxing was easy according to the technicians, with base klister and purple hard wax on top, and fluoro as glide wax.
We now look forward to the mens pursuit race in a couple of days (the women go tomorrow), which this year is in the new style – a 10 km mass-start followed by a direct transition to a 10 km skate (as in triathlon). The skiers are required to change skis (and poles), but can choose if they want to change boots.
Good job Kris!
More from USSkiTeam.com:
VAL DI FIEMME, Italy (Feb. 21) — Newly crowned U-23 champion Kris Freeman (Andover, NH) came in under everyone's radar Friday and missed a medal by 2.1 seconds, finishing fourth in the 15-km classic race at the 2003 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships — the best finish by an American cross country skier since Bill Koch earned the bronze medal in the 30-km race that opened the 1982 Worlds in Oslo.
“After winning the U-23 championship [in the 30-km classic mass start a week earlier], this is all a bonus,” said Freeman, 22, a diabetic who takes up to a half-dozen insulin injections a day. “I may have surprised a lot of people but I didn't surprise myself.”
NBC will televise two hours of World Championships coverage beginning at 1 p.m. EST March 2.
Germany's Axel Teichmann, skiing 14th in the bright sunshine and 40-degree weather bathing the Lago di Tesero course, was the surprise gold medalist in 35:47.5 with Jak Mae of Estonia second (35:54.4) and Norwegian Frode Estil collecting his second bronze medal of the championships in 35:56.0. Freeman was fourth in 35:58.1.
Television cameras focused on the top skiers in the so-called Red Group, who skied first to take advantage of the tracks before they began to crumble in the sun. Freeman, a 2002 Olympian in his second World Championships, started 34th and was third at the 6.4-km and 10-km checkpoints, second at 13.7 Ks
only to fall short as Estil, who skied 20th, gained speed at the end and moved up from fifth to third.
“I had no idea who I was racing against,” Freeman said. “I don't even know who was in the top three.”
With the concentration on the top skiers, Freeman quietly kept pounding away to stay in the top three. At the end, the public address announcers picked him up as he was in second place with about two Ks remaining.
“All I knew was I was in second place at that point, two seconds in front of third and apparently I lost some time.” He collapsed in a heap as he came across the finish, then adjusted his ski cap with the Lilly logo on the front (Lilly makes the Humalog pen he uses to dispense his insulin injections daily) and answered questions from an inquisitive European media pack — TV, radio and print journalists.
He felt the track was slowing as he neared the end of the race but Freeman refused to claim the softening snow cost him a medal.
“I was going as hard as I could. I gave it all I had,” he said. It wasn't quite hard enough but I'm happy with fourth
“The first lap I went out easy. I didn't want to bury myself. I've had a hard time pacing myself in 15Ks. I always try to ski 'em like they're 10Ks and then I die with three Ks left,” he explained. “I think I probably skied the best race I ever have. I just could've usesd a couple of more seconds.
“I was a little stunned for fighting it out for medal,” Freeman conceded, “but it's good for the mental toughness and the next time I'm there I won't be surprised and I'll do better.”
Freeman, who came out of the Andover Outing Club program before going to the University of Vermont for a year and then moving to Park City, UT, to participate in the U.S. Ski Team development program, gave major credit to the Ski Team's waxing technician Ola Berget, noting simply, “I think Ola Berget is the best waxer in the world. He's waxed my skis all season and I've never skied so fast.”
U.S. Head Coach Trond Nystad said, “He was top-4 and easily could've been much better. Kris is definitely someone to work on for the future. He's quite a talent, as we know.”
He said Freeman's race plan — to ski into the race, then open things up over the back half of the three-lap event, “Was obviously good for him. He's normally a very smart racer, and that's what he felt was right for him and it worked well. He stayed tight to the leaders the whole race and in the end he was so close to a podium. It was quite good.”
Justin Freeman (Andover, NH), four years older than Kris, was 45th with Lars Flora (Anchorage, AK) 50th in the field of 87 and Dave Chamberlain (Bethel, ME), recovering from sickness, was 63rd.
In 1982, Koch was in the middle of popularizing the skating (or free or freestyle) technique, which is faster than diagonal stride, when he finished third in the 30-km at Holmenkollen's Worlds, a time when there was no such “free” or “classic” technique. He went on to the win the first official World Cup title that season; in 1986 — after four years of wrangling over skating vs. the diagonal stride, the World Cup formally adopted the two-technique approach, down to the point where relay races are evenly split — two legs of classic (both skis in prepared tracks) and two legs of “free” technique, i.e., no tracks and a skier is free to use whatever technique he or she wants.Â
The women's double-pursuit race, or duathlon — 5-km of classic and then 5-km of freestyle — will be run Saturday.