The cold front covering nearly the entire state of Alaska this week managed to squeeze out warm enough temperatures to allow the 2009 US Cross Country Ski Nationals to begin with a distance skate race today. Kris Freeman of the US Ski Team unofficially won the Men’s shortened 10K skate race 50.3 seconds in front Leif Zimmerman, followed by Matthew Liebsch another 12 seconds back.
Freeman, who hadn’t arrived in Anchorage until Saturday, raced conservatively to watch his blood sugar in the rough weather.
“I’m more focused on balancing my blood sugar, which is more of a concern on a cold day like this. I hit the start of the race maybe a little flat, not quite jazzed to go, and then about 3K I started feeling better,” Kris recounted after finishing.
Freeman was almost three seconds down on Garrott Kuzzy at 2.5K, but then put the hammer down to make up a full 53 seconds over the next 6.5K. This will be Kris’ 11th National Championship, but the first in two years.
Caitlin Compton unofficially picked up her second straight freestyle National Championship, finishing 3.5 seconds ahead of home-town skier Kikkan Randall. Caitlin made a dramatic choice to return from biathlon this year, considering this is the last season before an Olympic year.
“This was by far the most difficult race I’ve had in a long time. This course just didn’t have any rest because it was really hilly and I think the slow snow combined with just constant transitions is what made it so tough. There was just no real recovery so it was constant effort the whole way,” the CXC skier said. “My whole sense of colder weather has shifted maybe fifteen degrees colder now!”
Compton was out of the start gate 15 seconds behind Liz Stephen who finished third, but caught Stephen by 2.5K. “I just tried to stay with her. I struggled to maintain – I kind of felt my legs turn to jello and thought ‘Oh my goodness’. It was everything I had just to get to the finish line.” Caitlin added “I don’t collapse too often at the finish line but I definitely did today,” reassuring the rest of us that even fast races don’t always feel good.
Anchorage home-town girl and sprint specialist Kikkan Randall produced a positive result as well, finishing 3.5 seconds behind Caitlin in second. Randall said that the race proved a good outlet for the nervous energy built up from the last couple of days of race cancellations. “It was a little bit nippy but I’m glad we raced.”
The national star ditched the idea of using a breathing mask in the cold weather because she’d never tried one in a competition situation. After the race Randall lamented, “[Wearing a mask] may have been a good idea in retrospect. My face got totally white. I was trying to cover it on the downhills, but I was just trying to get to the finish so I could take care of it later.”
$1200 dollars were awarded to first place finishers today, while $600 went to second and $300 to third. The winner of the women’s event will be awarded the Martha Rockwell award, which recognizes the fastest woman in the 5-km at the U.S Cross Country Championships.
The classic distance event has been rescheduled to take place tomorrow, which was originally intended to be a rest day. As it stands, the race will be 10K for the women and 15K for the men, and will start at noon for the women and 1:30 for the men. If the race needs to be postponed it will be shortened to 5 and 10K, and started at 1pm and 2pm, respectively.
The individual freestyle sprint has been rescheduled for Wednesday in an effort to squeeze the event into the time slot most likely to have the best weather for the sprint. “What’s that boxing term again? Ah, we’re ‘bobbing and weaving’ here,” said John Farra, USSA’s new Nordic Director, describing the scene among the race officials.
One of Farra’s jobs for the event is to ensure this week’s events meet the American qualification standards for World Cup, World Championships, U23’s and other teams. Farra added that “for example, we wanted to provide the juniors with 2 of 3 races this week, but now they’ll have 2 of 2, so we’ll do the best we can for them. Wednesday would be the best day for the sprint regardless of what happens tomorrow. We chose the day based on the largest predicted weather window, which would allow for the greatest possibility of holding an entire event.”
An official decision regarding tomorrow’s classic race will be made at 11am, but if it’s too cold to hold an event, the possibility has been considered to run it in place of the freestyle team sprint on Thursday.