HOUGHTON, Mich. – Good snow, World Cup and Junior World Championships start slots plus another big field of competitors should equal intense competitions for the 2008 U.S. Cross Country Championships, starting New Year's Day at Michigan Tech.
“We'll have about 450 athletes racing again. I'm excited about what should be more great racing,” U.S. Cross Country Head Coach Pete Vordenberg said. “We're going to have another huge field and there's a lot at stake, so that will up the excitement.”
The Viessmann FIS Cross Country World Cup will return to Canada for the first time in two seasons in January. The U.S. Ski Team will have five additional starting spots during the races Jan. 22-26 in Canmore, the 1988 Olympic venue.
“That's such a great opportunity for us to have more young skiers see firsthand the level they must be competing at on the World Cup,” he said. “Nationals is the last chance for skiers to make that team. The athletes will really have to impress at these championships if they're going to be racing in Canmore.”
“My first nationals were at Soldier Hollow [Utah's 2002 Olympic venue] in 2000,” said Kikkan Randall (Anchorage, AK), a two-time Olympian. Earlier this month, she became the first U.S. woman to win a cross country World Cup race, capturing a sprint in Russia.
“It was the first year I really got into cross country training and Soldier Hollow was such an epic site for my first time. Nationals definitely were a big deal, pretty cool for a 17-year-old,” she said.
Racing at the U.S. Championships is a step on the development ladder every athlete must make. Randall's first title came in Bozeman, MT in 2002, a month before the Salt Lake City Olympics, when she charged the final uphill to overtake Tessa Benoit for the sprint gold medal. “I wanted to go home after the qualification. It was snowing and we had to sit in the van to stay warm and…well, you had to learn to be ready for anything. I'm glad I stayed,” she said.
Houghton nordic community united
A year ago, low snow forced Michigan Tech organizers to bring in snow from wherever it could be found – along roads, in parking lots, wherever. Hundreds of volunteers raked a thin cover onto small loops for the championships. That shouldn't be a problem this season.
The schedule for the 2008 championships:
Jan. 1 – Freestyle Technique: Men's 10K, Women's 5K
Jan. 3 – Classic Technique: Men's 15K, Women's 10K
Jan. 5 – Freestyle sprint
Jan. 6 – Classic team sprint
“There's plenty of snow this time. It won't be like last season. They rallied a ton of volunteers and the community spirit was unbelievable in making sure they held nationals,” Vordenberg said. “Now they'll have more trails open and there will be some more vertical [uphills], so the courses will be a little tougher, which is good for everyone.”
While members of the U.S. Ski Team have competed in World Cup races in Europe, in USSA Cross Country SuperTour races in the American West or NorAms in Canada, collegiate and club skiers have been training. Many have skied in the SuperTour events, too. “This is not the time when you want to be having your first race of the year,” Vordenberg said. “It's okay if you're a club racer, but if you're serious about racing, especially internationally, these should not be your first races.”
Freeman, Randall seek more success
In addition to the World Cup starting berths, athletes will be competing for places on the 2008 Junior Worlds Team, the Under-23 Championships Team and the annual J1 European tour.
All races double as SuperTour events with double SuperTour points. Kris Freeman (Andover, NH) comes to Houghton with 10 U.S. championships, including seven in the last two seasons, and a record 23 SuperTour victories. Randall has six U.S. gold medals, including four in the sprint.
Michigan Tech is hosting the short and medium-distance championships. The long-distance U.S. Championships (Men's 30K CL, 50K FR and women's 15K CL, 30K FR) are scheduled for March 28-30 in Fairbanks, AK.
For more details, checkout www.seniornationals.org.