It’s official! Today, Feb. 23 2003, marks the first day that the United States is once again a major player in international cross-country skiing. It has taken many years for the US to rebound from the days when Bill Koach and the Putney crew dominated the world cup scene, but the bridge between Scandinavian countries and us has finally been crossed.
Several events have led up to this success in American XC skiing, including last years Olympic Games and several top finishes at Junior and U-23 world championships. Kris Freeman’s 4th place in the 15k classic was a true eye opener for everyone and showed what was achievable for the US ski team, but today’s finish sealed the deal.
In today’s duathilon event at World Championships Carl Swenson was 9th and Kris Freeman 14th. Although on paper neither of their results seems better than the 4th place earned by Kris in Fridays 15k classic, but it shows that the United States can be a continuous threat to the podium. At one point during the race today we had skiers racing in 2nd and 3rd. Carl Swenson was even leading the pack in 1st place through the stadium with only 3k left in the race. The rest of the world was just stunned to see just as many Americans in the lead pack as Norwegians. When it came down the finish it was extremely close and we were only seconds away from having 2 in the top 5. More importantly; by having two different skiers have such great races proves that in any given race we can have someone knocking heads with the best. All of the US ski team racers are so close in the states; it shows that any of us could be on the podium in a major Championship event.
Above all today’s races showed that we can be consistently competitive with top skiers in the world. Our great results at the Olympics were just the beginning, and now we have proved the US can race well anytime anywhere. Not only the skiers that have earned the results are responsible for the increase in American success, but everyone who races and pushes competition in the US. We now know that in our own country's competitions we have skiers among the best in the world.
Since the United States is now once again a major player in international skiing everyone can be confident that they can hold their own against the world’s best competition. This doesn’t mean we need to have someone near the top every race (no country does), but we do have the power to be up there. So from now on when you imagine great cross-country skiing don’t think of Norway, Sweden, or Estonia but of the USA! We are back near the top, and with this momentum I think we’re here to stay.