U23 World Championship Preview

FasterSkierJanuary 28, 2009
Liz Stephen catches her breath after earning her first World Cup Points
Liz Stephen catches her breath after earning her first World Cup Points

This winter has been a tough one for young elite cross-country racers across the U.S. Two of three USSA Super Tour events held in November and December in the Lower 48 were canceled due to a lack of snow. Those races, combined with results from the abbreviated U.S. Nationals, were used in selecting the athletes for several international U.S. teams. A less than ideal qualifying season has nevertheless produced a team for this week’s Under-23 championships that is extremely capable and experienced on the international stage.

Official training has already begun at the race venue—that of Praz de Lys in Sommand, France—and races will be soon under way. The U23 women’s 10k freestyle opens racing action on Thursday, January 29th with the men’s 15k shortly thereafter. Friday is a day of recovery before the 15/30k pursuits on Saturday morning. The individual sprint on Sunday wraps up U23 action while also serving as the first race for those in the World Junior category.

The women’s U23 team brings high expectations to the week, hoping to challenge for the podium in each event. The team is comprised of six women, five of whom were on the U23/Junior World team last year and the sixth (Morgan Smyth) who had been on the team three times in the past. Liz Stephen of the U.S. Ski Team may be the skier with the highest expectations this year. Stephen snagged a podium spot when she took 3rd in last year’s 15k skate at the U23 championships in Malles, Italy, and has proven herself a threat in each discipline.

Teaming up with Kikkan Randall at the World Cup in Whistler, Vancouver two weeks ago, Stephen helped the duo to a fourth-place finish. She added a 24th at Whistler in the 15k pursuit and was recently named to the 13-member US World Championship team.

USST member Rosie Brennan was on last year’s World Junior team and returns as a U23 skier this year. Brennan excels as a sprinter but has shown improvement as a classic skier as well. The Dartmouth product took a 5th and a 6th at this year’s NCAA championships and 6th in the U.S. Nationals sprint. Brennan has potential for solid results in both the sprint and distance races.

Alexa Turzien of Ketchum, Idaho, has found her greatest successes in distance races and returns as a U23 team member. Another USST member, Turzien picked up a 4th and a 6th at the NCAA’s this past year. She has found success internationally as well, posting two top-20’s at the 2007 Junior Worlds in Tarvisio, Italy. Her 7th in Anchorage last month solidified her spot on the team, and look for success from Turzien as the races move into the climbs.

Morgan Arritola, joining Sun Valley teammate Turzien in France, has been a perennial member of the U23/Junior World teams, dating as far back as Rovaniemi, Finland in 2005. She posted two top-20’s last year and has been skiing well of late. This November she bested a strong field at the West Yellowstone Super Tour, winning the skate race and taking 3rd in the classic. Her 25th in the 15k Whistler pursuit placed her right behind Liz Stephen. Along with Stephen, and U23 athlete Morgan Smyth, Arritola was named to the World Championship team last week.

Morgan Smyth, of Northern Michigan University, is the lone member of the women’s’ team who did not race last year in Malles, Italy, but is a three-time Junior Worlds racer. Her top results have come in sprinting of late – Smyth took 7th in the US Nationals sprint, and 25th at the World Cup sprint in Whistler. She also pulled a 5th at NCAA’s and will compete at the World Championships next month in Liberec, Czech Republic.

Alaska native Tazlina Mannix rounds out the womens’ side of the U23 team. Also on the US Ski team, Mannix posted an 8th place finish in last year’s 15k skate. A 5th in the 15k skate at this winter’s Nor-Am Cup further proved her mettle in longer races, and both distance races set up well for her this week.

The men’s’ team is less proven but has shown potential for some top results. The five-man team does have experience, with several returning team members.

Karl Nygren, of the University of Colorado, was on last year’s U23 team. Typically a classic specialist, he earned his way onto this year’s team partly through his efforts at West Yellowstone, where he took 3rd in the 15k classic at the SuperTour event.

Tad Elliot, of the Factory Team, was a member of the 2007 Junior Worlds team in Tarvisio, Italy. Thursday’s skate race is an excellent opportunity for a top result, if this winter is any indication. At Nationals he was 9th in the skate race, and he finished 5th at the West Yellowstone SuperTour.

Simi Hamilton of Middlebury was successful on last year’s U23 team. He posted a top-20 in the sprint and has high hopes for this year’s sprint race as well. Hamilton also showed strength in the skate race at NCAA’s this year, taking 13th.

Max Treinen of Anchorage traveled as a Junior World team member last year. The UAA skier also went to NCAA’s, where he posted a top-20 in the 20k classic race. He was also 17th at Nationals in the skate race.

Matthew Gelso of the US Ski Team has the potential to do some damage in France this week. Described by US coach Matt Whitcomb as “arguably the most talented racer in the country,” Gelso grabbed two podiums two weeks ago at the Aspen SuperTour. His top-10 at the NCAA’s in the 20k classic was a good result for the University of Colorado skier, who is a hopeful for the 2010 Olympic Games.

Mike Hinckley, a member of the 2006 World Junior Team, is back on the international stage.  Hinckley finished 2nd in the classic sprint at US Nationals, and took 5th in a loaded field in the recent Aspen SuperTour 10km classic.

Skiers arrived in Southern France on the 20th to acclimate and get comfortable with their surroundings. While some mixed precipitation is expected for the week, conditions are excellent and the base snow is more than sufficient to handle any weather. Complete lists of the U23/Junior World Teams are below, and a look at the Junior World Team will follow later in the

Canada also has a full contingent of skiers in France, led by Alex Harvey.  Harvey teamed with George Grey to take third in the Team Sprint in Whistler, and has three World Junior podiums under his belt, including a2nd in the 10km classic last year.  Harvey told FasterSkier that he is looking for a victory in Praz de Lys.

Brent McMurtry looks to improve on his 20th in the 15km freestyle at U23 Championships last season.  Frederic Touchette posted three top-20 results at World Juniors last year.

Len Valjas, the final member of the Canadian team, cracked the top thirty at World Juniors in the sprint in Italy last season.

Amanda Ammar leads a group of three Canadian women competing in the U23 Championships.  Last season in this event Ammar posted two top-30 finishes, including a 23rd in the sprint.  Ammar had two top ten results at the World Junior Championships in 2006.

Brittany Webster did not race at these events last year, but posted two top ten finishes at World Juniors in 2007 and is coming off her first World Cup points performance – an 18th in the pursuit in Whistler.  She has five podium finishes on the NorAm circuit this season.

Alysson Marshall rounds out the women’s team.  Marshall placed 25th in the World Junior sprint last year.

Women’s 10k Skate Start List

United States

Liz Stephen
Morgan Arritola
Alexa Turzian


Alysson Marshall
Brittany Webster
Amanda Ammar

Men’s 15k Skate Start List

United States

Tad Elliot
Simeon Hamilton
Mike Hinckley
Matt Gelso


Len Valjas
Frederic Touchette
Brent McMurtry



U23 World Championships: Women
Elizabeth Stephen – East Montpelier, VT USST/Burke
Alexa Turzien – Ketchum, ID USST/SVSEF
Morgan Arritola – Ketchum, ID USST/SVSEF
Rosie Brennan – Park City, UT USST/Dartmouth
Morgan Smyth – Vernon, VT USST/NMU
Tazlina Mannix – Talkeetna, AK USST/APU

U23 World Championships: Men
Karl Nygren – Minneapolis, MN U. Colorado
Tad Elliott – Durango, CO Saab/Salomon Factory Team
Simi Hamilton – Aspen, CO Middlebury
Max Treinen – Anchorage, AK UAA
Matthew Gelso – Truckee, CA USST/CU
Mike Hinckley – Anchorage, AK DU

Junior World Championships: Women
Becca Rorabaugh – Fairbanks, AK APU
Sophie Caldwell – Peru, VT Dartmouth
Jessie Diggins – Afton, MN CXC
Sadie Bjornsen – Winthrop, WA UAA
Adele Espy – Freeport, ME Maine Coast Nordic

Junior World Championships: Men
Noah Hoffman – Aspen, CO USST/Sun Valley Ski Edu. Foundation (SVSEF)
Lex Treinen – Anchorage, AK UAA
Patrick Johnson – Anchorage, AK Middlebury
George Cartwright – Lander, WY Lander Nordic
Erik Bjornsen – Winthrop, WA Methow Valley Nordic


Junior World Championships: Women
Marlis Kromm – Foothills Nordic/AWCA/NST
Heidi Widmer – Foothills Nordic/AWCA/NST
Lauriane Ouellet – Skibec/NST
Janelle Greer – Whitehorse
Catherine Auclair – Nordique Mont Ste Anne

Junior World Championships: Men
David Greer – Whitehorse/NTDC Quebec/NST
Graeme Killick – Banff Ski Runners/NST
Julien Nury – Skibec/NTDC Quebec/NST
Jess Cockney – Foothills Nordic/AWCA/NST
Ghislain De Laplante – Big Thunder Nordic

U23 World Championships: Women
Amanda Ammar – Edmonton Nordic/NST
Brittany Webster – Highlands Trailblazers/NST
Alysson Marshall – Larch Hills Nordic/AWCA

U23 World Championships: Men
Len Valjas – Team Hardwood/NTDC Québec
Frédéric Touchette – Nordique Mont Ste Anne/NTDC Québec/NST
Alex Harvey – Nordique Mont Ste Anne/ NTDC Québec/NST
Brent McMurtry – Foothills Nordic/NTDC Quebec/NST


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