Ivan Babikov (Factory Team) won the 35 annual American Birkebeiner in a time of 2:07:08.9, 38.4 seconds ahead of defending champion Zack Simons (Rossignol). This was Babikov's second consecutive World Loppet victory after winning last week's Gatineau Loppet in Canada.
Simons came in at the front of a large pack of 17, narrowly edged Adam Swank (Fischer/Craft) at the line. Lars Flora (Factory Team) took fourth and Brian Gregg (CXC) fifth. The top 19 skiers all finished within 1 minute.
The 27-year-old Babikov said he made his move on the last uphill five kilometers from the finish.
â€œI knew it was my last chance to break away,â€ he said. â€œComing down Main Street was the best feeling in the world for me. A race like that and all the people standing there was an amazing feeling.â€
In the women's race, Evelyn Dong (Factory Team) won by a similar margin, putting 40 seconds on teammate Kristina Strandberg and Madshus' Sarah Konrad who took second and third respectively . Nicole DeYong just missed the podium, finishing less than a second behind Konrad.
Like Babikov, Dong also pulled away on the final climbs and then increased her lead over the final kilometers, and finished with a time of 2:23:43.
The women's field was not nearly as closely packed as the men's – with six skiers finishing within two minutes of the winner, compared to twenty-one for the men.
Ned Zuelsdorff, Executive Director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation, said skiers from 20 foreign nations, including Argentina, Iceland and New Zealand, and 48 U.S states, including Hawaii, North Carolina and Alaska, had perfect conditions for the 35th anniversary event.
Honorary Starter Barb Klippel, a 19-year Birkie skier from Cable, Wis., sent 4,665 Birkie skiers and 2,081 Kortelopet skiers on their way beginning at 8:30 a.m. on race morning. Temperatures hovered at 10 degrees, then climbed as 18 waves of skiers left the starting gates.
Yuri Kozlov of Russia, and Kelly Skillicorn skied to victory during the 53-kilometer classic event
Kozlov finished in 2:32:25 with Skillicorn taking the women's division in 3:00:43. Shawn Miller was four minutes back in second with Grant Nelson third. Kerrie Fabius was second in the women's race, with Josie Nelson third in 3:08:18.
In the 23-kilometer Kortelopet, Ocarz Santiago, Spooner, Wisc., took top honors in the men’s freestyle division in 58:27.3; Nick Maki from Aurora, Minn., placed second in 1:00:29, and Tim Cook, Rhinelander, Wisc., placed third with a time of 1:00:31.
In the women’s freestyle Kortelopet division, Jessie Diggins, Afton, Minn., took top honors in 1:05:35; Hilary Patzer, St Paul, Minn., placed second with a time of 1:07:40; and Ingrid Fjeldheim, Marquette, Mich., placed third with a time of 1:09:27.
In the men’s Kortelopet classic division, Anders Bowman, Plymouth, Minn., took first place with a time of 1:09:20; Kyle Demerath, Green Bay, Wisc., placed second in 1:09:54; and Dale Niggemann, Stevens Point, Wisc., placed third in 1:11:12.
In the women’s Kortelopet classic division, Staci Gilpin, Duluth, Minn., took first place with a time of 1:30:04; Cindy Storm, Savage, Minn., placed second in 1:31:54; and Erin Blow, Minocqua, Wisc., placed third in 1:31:56.
The American Birkebeiner is modeled after the Norwegian Birkebeiner Rennet, which in turn was inspired by the historic rescue of the infant who would become a celebrated king, Haakon Haakonsson IV. The race symbolically re-creates the flight of the prince, carried on skis by warriors called birkebeiners for their protective birch bark leggings.
Gary Gerst, a high school biology teacher and 27-year Birkie skier from Maple Grove, MN and brother Thom, a family practice physician and 17-year Birkie skier from Coon Rapids, MN, portrayed the Norwegian warriors who rescued the infant prince on a treacherous cross country trek in the middle of a 13th-century civil war.
In the final stretch before the finish line, the brothers, dressed in full Birkebeiner regalia including helmets, shields and wooden skis, exchanged the baby doll they'd been carrying for 53 kilometers for 1-year-old Bjorn Rogall, the infant portraying baby Prince Haakon. Bjorn's mother Gail Moede Rogall, a skier from Madison, dressed and skied the Kortelopet as Inga of Varteig, the mother of Prince Haakon. She met up with warriors Torstein and Skervald and the baby and skied up Main Street behind the trio.
“The historic re-enactment, along with some of the best snow conditions and weather in recent memory, made the Birkie's 35th anniversary one for the books,” Zuelsdorff said. “We couldn't be more pleased.”