PARK CITY, Utah (April 26) – American cross country ski racing took a major stride forward this winter as young U.S. sprinters put up the best international results in history for the women and in two decades for the men.
Two-time Olympian Kikkan Randall (Anchorage, AK) and Olympic first-timer Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) set the standard. But they were not alone. Torin Koos (Leavenworth, WA) and Chris Cook (Rhinelander, WI) had World Cup top-15s while Randall and Wendy Wagner (Park City, UT), another two-time Olympian, were 10th in the inaugural team sprint (three 1.1K classic technique laps by each skier) in Pragelato Plan during Torino's Olympic Games.
Newell, 22, a Stratton Mountain School product before being named to the U.S. Ski Team, finished the 2006 season ranked eighth in the sprint World Cup rankings, which began in the late Nineties. His final standing was a first for American skiers in sprinting and his 25th overall is the best by any U.S. skier since 1984. (In 2006, there were 17 world Cup races, seven more than in 1984 when the three Olympic races were considered part of the World Cup schedule. Olympics and World Championships races were counted as World Cup races until the end of the 1999 season.)
Additionally, Newell turned in the top American World Cup result since 1983 when he finished fourth in a sprint in Oberstdorf, Germany, before the Olympics. He was second in qualifying in the Olympics before eventually finishing 16th, but he led the qualifying March 15 in Changchun as cross country's World Cup schedule made its first stop in China. He went on to finish third – the first U.S. podium since March 1983 (Tim Caldwell second, Bill Koch third in Anchorage, AK).
Randall, 23, who skis out of the Alaska Pacific University nordic program and had won three more titles at the U.S. championships in January at Soldier Hollow, went on to produce the best Olympic finish since U.S. women began racing in the 1972 Olympics. The niece of two Olympians, she was finished ninth in the individual 1.1K freestyle sprint. After the Games ended, Randall had the best World Cup result by an American woman when she finished fifth in a 750-meter sprint in Borlaenge, Sweden, in early March.
“It's all about patience. They're learning patience,” said Vidar Loefshus, the Norwegian who was hired before the 2005 season to give the American sprint program some muscle. He promised two years of coaching and announced at Holmenkollen's World Cup that he would return to Norway, as planned. Several days later, Newell led the qualifying and charged to his podium in China – and said it was his retirement present for Loefshus.
Two U.S. skiers made the Red Group, i.e., the top 30 in each discipline in World Cup cross country. Newell was 25th overall and eighth in the sprint standing while Koos also made the sprint Red Group. Those results indicate not only their progress but also will mean some financial help next season as race organizers pay for the Red Group. [Editor's Note: Kris Freeman ended the 2004 season in the red group for distance races].
Three-time Olympian Carl Swenson (Park City, UT), who said it would be his last season of racing before entering law school, started the season with the best classic technique of his career, finishing 11th in a 15K race in Kuusamo, Finland. The next day, he was 12th in a 15K freestyle race.
Source: US Ski Team