PARK CITY, Utah (April 19) – U.S. international cross country results showed more major improvement during the 2007 season with the first U.S. woman's podium in World Cup history from Kikkan Randall (Anchorage, AK), a World Championships top-5 from Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) and his first top-10 in three years from a healthy Kris Freeman (Andover, NH).
“This was a good season. The impressive thing for me,” said U.S. Nordic Director Luke Bodensteiner, “is that everyone came to the end of the season and, by and large, they were fired-up to get training again for next season. They can feel there's something special going on with the Team.”
Said Pete Vordenberg, the two-time Olympian and no-nonsense leader who completed his first year as head coach, “It's a start. We had some good things going on, some athletes who saw the payoff for all their hard work…and we now know some of the things we have to work harder on, whether it's classic [technique] sprinting or something else. We're just getting started.”
With the largest Ski Team since 1998, Vordenberg and his staff laid out plans to compete at all levels, domestically on the SuperTour as well as the World Cup and the 2007 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Japan. Conditioning was the top priority, Vordenberg told his athletes in the preseason, noting “Fitness is our No. 1 goal. If we do nothing else, we will be fit.” But the team did other things besides achieve outstanding conditioning.
By season's end, Newell was sixth in the World Cup sprint rankings – up two spots from the previous season – while Randall finished 12th in the sprint points. Koos was 19th in the men's rankings with Chris Cook (Rhinelander, WI) showing, in his first full season on the World Cup tour, he was ready to challenge for sprint success, too.
Freeman, who was fourth in the 2003 World Championships 15K CL and then posted two World Cup top-10s in '04, was coming back from two frustrating seasons filled with sickness. He stayed mostly in New Hampshire during the summer, working with Zach Caldwell in conjunction with Vordenberg, focusing on the basics as he recreated his original training workouts from several years ago.
Arguably the best American distance skier since Bill Koch in the mid-Eighties, he was 10th in a World Cup in China on the eve of Worlds and, overall, had four top-20s on the World Cup and two more at the World Championships. Freeman pronounced 2007 “a great season. I never had a great result all year, but I was close.” Domestically, the two-time Olympian won four more U.S. titles and set a record for most SuperTour victories with 23.
The Ski Team also revived and re-energized its development program, naming a Continental Cup squad, the B Team, of seven athletes. Matt Whitcomb and Pat Casey were named coaches. Liz Stephen (East Montpelier, VT) was seventh in the 5K freestyle at the Junior World Championships while Taz Mannix (Anchorage, AK) ended the season with her first two U.S. titles – in the 15K pursuit and the 30K classic races at Presque Isle, ME.
Vordenberg praised the cross country community “for its own hard work as well as continuing support of what we're doing at the national level. It's had a great effect on our program – Kikkan and Tazlina train with the APU [Alaska Pacific University] Nordic; they've both made excellent progress, including Taz winning a Continental Cup [a 15K race in Slovenia].
The SuperTour saw the emergence of several young skiers, led by two women from Team CXC, the new-this-season team from the Central Region – women's overall champion Caitlin Compton (Minneapolis) and sprint champion Laura Valaas (Wenatchee, WA). Both skied well enough to make the World Championships Team and Valaas was sprint silver medalist – the first medal for a U.S. woman – at the U-23 World Championships in March.
“The top-10 results achieved at Junior Worlds were due to the hard work done by junior clubs and coaches,” Vordenberg said. “All in all, I feel our ski community is coming together and working harder and better than ever. Our task with development is to continue this trend. We're all extremely thankful for what they've been accomplishing. More lies ahead, but it is happier work knowing we can succeed.”