It will be an action-packed day at Soldier Hollow on Thursday as the fastest skiers in the country compete in the US National Sprint Race. Olympic berths are on the line all week, and for the speed demons, today is the day to make a move.
It is supposed to be below freezing overnight, meaning that the wet, sloppy track will freeze up nice and fast for the prelims. Look for the speedsters to be out in front early. But then the temperatures are supposed to rise quickly. If it gets soft and mushy, the lighter skiers (and stronger skiers) will have an advantage.
In the women's race, 2005 Sprint Champion Lindsay Williams is back to defend her title. Kikkan Randall will be tough to beat after winning the first two sprints of the season handily, but that was two months ago and she hasn't raced much since then. Wendy Wagner and Rebecca Dussault are always tough to beat in any race. Also look for Brooke Hovey and Karin Camenisch to be in the mix. Or perhaps one of the 'wonder juniors' such as Liz Stephen could pop in there. It will certainly be an exciting race as we find out who is America's best female sprinter heading into the Olympics.
On the men's side, one of the most notable aspects of today's race is who WON'T be competing. The US Ski Team's sprint specialists, Torin Koos and Andrew Newell, are currently in Europe competing on the World Cup. With the top two men gone, an interesting question is whether the men's national sprint race will make any difference in the Olympic team selection. Koos and Newell presumably already have their Olympic spots secured (or else they would be in Soldier Hollow to secure them). So will the US team really take another pure sprinter based on today's race?
My money says that they won't take another sprint specialist. But then again, many of the big names who could win today are not sprint specialists. They are well-rounded skiers who could compete in multiple events in Torino. Lars Flora won this race in 2002 to clinch his first trip to the Olympics. Chris Cook, Leif Zimmerman, and Chad Giese are some of the other top ranked skiers in today's race who also excel in distance events. They will certainly be looking for the win today, but for them it is just one of five opportunities to show their best effort this week. For sprinters like Zack Simons, Kevin Hochtl, and Steve Scott on the other hand, today is their only shot.
All the guys listed above, along with a handful of others like Colin Rodgers and Eli Enman, have a chance for the win.
It is a day for the sprinters, but in the end I suspect that the sprint performance of the top distance skiers will have the most impact on Olympic Team selection.
FasterSkier will be posting results as they happen so stay tuned.
You can also get Eli Brown's play-by-play sound bites on the the Team FSx site: http://www.teamfsx.com/