FAIRBANKS, Alaska (March 28) – The U.S. Ski Team's Liz Stephen (East Montpelier, VT) and Leif Zimmermann (Bozeman, MT) skied their way to titles in the pursuit event during the U.S. Cross Country Distance Championships on Friday evening in Fairbanks. The events were held in the late evening twilight in Fairbanks.
The event also served as the finale of the USSA SuperTour. Russian Ivan Babikov took the win, with Zimmermann the top American in fourth to grab his third U.S. Championship gold of the season. Zimmermann was a double winner at the U.S. Cross Country Championships in Houghton, MI in January.
“It is her first year as a senior, and for someone that young to win is great,” Cross Country Head Coach Peter Vordenberg said of Stephen. “It shows that her development is really coming along and that's exciting.”
Stephen, a Westminster College student, has had a sensational season, also taking bronze in the 15K mass start during the Under-23 Championships in Italy.
She led pretty much wire-to-wire yesterday. There was a pack of 4-5 skiers together for the first classic lap, but things strung out after the first trip down the lap lane. Runner-up Morgan Arritola hung with Stephen for the two classic laps (3.75Km each lap), but Stephen began pulling away over the skating leg to win decisively by 50.2 seconds.
Taz Mannix was third, after being dropped in the early portion of the classic. However, she skied the second-fastest skate leg of the day, just more than a second faster than Arritola, but more than 45 seconds slower than Stephen.
Kassie Rice and Nicole DeYong rounded out the top five. Kristina Owen, Lindsay Williams, Laura Valaas, Kristina Trygstad-Saari and Lindsey Dehlin placed 6th-10th.
“Morgan and Taz are very young, as well, and for them to finish one, two and three is great,” Vordenberg said.
There was a bigger pack in the men's race. For the first two-to-three laps a pack of 10-12 skiers hung together. Garrott Kuzzy led early, but usually Kris Freeman and Ivan Babikov, the two pre-race favorites, were toward the front of the pack.
UAF's NCAA Ski Champion Marius Korthauer lost contact early in the race, but pulled himself back up to the pack, along with Norweigan Petter Eliassen.
On the fourth and final classic lap Freeman put the hammer down on the South Tower climb to try to stretch things out. He was successful in dropping everyone but Babikov.
Freeman and Babikov came through the classic-to-skate transition with no company, and were off on the skating leg. Next through were Andre Golovko, Torin Koos, Mike Sinott, Korthauer, Eliassen, Chris Cook, sprinter Andy Newell, and Leif Zimmerman, all within 15 seconds in places 3-10.
Eliassen and Korthauer then separated themselves from that pack, with Zimmerman, Sinnott and Golovko next, then Koos and Cook drifting off the back.
Those positions stayed fairly constant from there on out, with minor changes. Eliassen dropped Korthauer with a couple of laps to go, and Korthauer looked very tired as he entered the final 3.75Km skate lap. Try as they might, Zimmerman and Golovko could not overtake him, even though they were able to drop Sinnott.
At the end, it was Babikov, Eliassen and Korthauer 1-2-3 for the overall. Zimmerman was the US Champion, with Sinnott second and Koos, fresh off a 2nd-place finish at the Canadian National Championships 50Km, in third, earning some more street cred as a distance man.
“Leif is also a fairly young guy, so it was good to have him as the first American. But, we want to win the races outright,” Vordenberg said. “Beating those guys is what we're aiming to do.”
The U.S. Distance Championships finish Sunday with a men's 50K and women's 30K classic.
Complete Results – (scroll down after clicking the link)
Sources: Cross-Country Ski Club of Fairbanks, USSA