HOUGHTON, Mich. â€” Nordic ski racing isn’t just about fitness, strength, technique and tactics: sometimes it’s waxing that can help swing the outcome.
Such was the case Sunday at the classic team sprint, the concluding race of the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships, as Lindsay Williams and Lindsey (Weier) Dehlin had fast skis when it counted most while Kikkan Randall and Laura Valaas of Alaska Pacific University did not.
The Alaska Nanooks duo of Marius Korthauer and Vahur Teppan, meanwhile, took a risk by removing all kick wax for the final because they felt it gave them the best chance at the podium. They were no longer in contention, however, when Andrew Newell â€” whose U.S. Ski Team coaches opted for klister wax on the warm day â€” double-poled away from birthday boy Lars Flora of Anchorage on the homestretch to avenge a loss from a year earlier.
â€œThat was definitely on my mind because I knew Lars was right on me,â€ Newell said of being outsprinted for the 2007 freestyle team sprint title on the same course. â€œI wasn’t going to let that happen again.â€
â€œHe started double-poling and that was it, too much power for me. That’s what you do when you’re one of the fastest qualifiers in the world,â€ said Flora, who on Saturday turned a relatively old 30 (for competitive skiers) but still feels in his prime.
Flora said he was happy placing runner-up, but Sunday was a rough ending to an otherwise successful week for brother Erik Flora, the head coach of APU. â€œThe first (women’s) leg was good, the second we had equal skis, then all of a sudden it changed. The girls said the track changed a little bit,â€ said Erik Flora, who had no time to switch the women’s wax but made an emergency wax change early in the men’s final. â€œWithout a question (the difference) was skis. It’s a tough day for the coaches but that happens sometimes.â€
Said Randall as she watched the men’s final: â€œWe lost a little speed in our skis. … I felt great on the last lap. I was hoping to be right in there with those girls to really make it a fight on the hill. It was too much of a gap to make up.â€
Williams eventually overtook Rossignol’s Martina Stursova to win by six seconds over the Rossignol skier and 17 seconds over Randall. Last March, Williams and Dehlin each claimed individual NCAA titles for Northern Michigan University.
â€œI was a little nervous because Kikkan’s just coming off a World Cup sprint win and Laura Valaas got second (Saturday), but I think that might have helped a little bit,â€ Dehlin said. â€œIt made us race faster.â€
Fairbanks junior Becca Rorabaugh of APU teamed with Kristina Strandberg of the Factory Team to take fourth. An Alaskan was part of seven of the 15 teams in the women’s final.
For the men, Korthauer (from Germany) and Teppan (of Estonia) hung with Newell and Torin Koos, the Factory Team’s Andrey Golovko and Flora and USST’s Chris Cook and Leif Zimmerman for two-thirds of the race.
â€œThe U.S. is a big country. To be fourth, two college guys, I would say is not bad,â€ said Teppan, who came up with the idea to shed the kick wax and thus improve glide. His ski base instead was roughed up with sandpaper to at least offer minimal kick.
â€œWe just couldn’t find something that was giving enough kick without the drag,â€ Nanooks coach Scott Jerome explained. â€œThey’re both strong enough on a short course with only one real climb that they can muscle their way through it.â€
Jerome called the weeklong series of races â€œpretty successfulâ€ for the Nanooks but a â€œwake-up callâ€ for some of his skiers.
â€œIt was a big learning experience and an eye-opener for some people that hadn’t been here before,â€ Jerome said. â€œNow they understand the level of competition in the U.S.â€
Matias Saari writes for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. This article originally appeared in the News-Miner and is used with permission.