Thanks to great volunteers that blew snow over the 2.5 km course at Mt. Itasca, the 2010 Team Trials got underway today. While the course was not as difficult as the 3.5 km loop, it was challenging enough for the USBA to evaluate the racing.
In the men’s 10 km sprint competition it was National B Team member Mark Johnson skiing away from the field in a time of 26:20. In the women’s 7.5 km sprint race USBA Development Team member Jen Wygant took the win in a time of 23:44.
In the women’s race, Wygant relied on the best shooting race of her two year biathlon career to ski to the 16 second victory over Susan Dunklee (USBA), with Laura Spector (USBA) rounding out the top three another 15 seconds back in 24:15.
“My skiing felt good and will hopefully get stronger as my leg speed gets better,” said Wygant. “The course was hard packed, but not my favorite terrain with the steep climbs. I typically like the more gradual stuff.” Wygant, who only had two misses shooting today remarked, “hopefully the whole field can step it up because that is what it is going to take to compete on the World Cup and that is our goal.”
As Spector elaborates on in her FasterSkier blog she had a very solid race in third despite spending some time in theEmergency Room last night. “I’m surprisingly relaxed, which is good because it helps me keep a cool head on the range and my stomach jitters in check. Despite being a little low in energy, I skied the race as hard as I could and finished third with 3 total misses at 98.95 percent back, about 30 seconds.
“What I’m most pleased with about today was my ability to transition to race mode so quickly and attack the race in spite of all that could have distracted me or discouraged me from skiing fast.”
In the men’s race, Johnson skied to a 23 second victory over Wynn Roberts (USBA), while Zachary Hall (USBA) took the final position on the podium another 8 seconds back.
Johnson’s goal was to stick to the basics. “During the time leading up to today’s race, I really wanted to keep things simple. This being the first trials race of the season (i.e. big time nerves), and really my first race on snow against a lot of the competition, I sought to stay away from trying anything out of the ordinary–simply keep all of the same procedures as in my training.
“Overall, I’m very satisfied with my performance today. In the ski loops, I felt on top of my game, and on the shooting range I took my time, but it proved beneficial seeing as I hit my goal of 90% shooting. After the race, I found out from my coach Vladimir that my shooting was a bit more on the edge than hoped. Several shots were near misses. My only miss on the day came as my final shot standing.”
Everyone that FasterSkier talked with after the race voiced the same warm thank you to all of the volunteers that made this race possible. Johnson’s words best sum up what was felt by all those attending. “I also want to give a big thank you to the volunteers here at Mt. Itasca. Many of them have had several sleepless nights in preparing the tracks with man-made snow. A thousand thanks!”
As for the USBA’s decision to issue a “same wax” protocol for the Team Trials, Upham told FasterSkier that “about a month ago they had a conference call to discuss the matter.”
Ultimately it came down to a matter of fairness and the USBA wanting to be able to compare the racers on an equal playing field whether they were members of the USBA or of a club. As a coach Upham likes the idea even more as it allows him “to focus on the athletes mental preparation for the race” instead of spending all of his time waxing skis.
Pointing out that in biathlon they also have to spend time zeroing their guns, and, as Upham stated, “if I had to aid with that as well as test skis, I would be running around all frantic. They have been doing this for years at the junior level and the USBA did not want to feel like they should send one of the techs over from Europe because we want them to stay to help over there.”
Today’s cold conditions made the waxing easy as temperatures were below 0ºF over night. As Upham said, “today worked out well with everyone on the same page.” When asked what they would have done had the temperature been warmer he remarked “we will be using high-flouro paraffin waxes, but no powders.”
The only issue that is yet to be resolved for this race series is what to do about structure. “Everyone has similar grinds on their skis, but if we need to use a structure tool we will discuss what to do at that time. We all are working in the same wax room, so we will make a group decision.”
While it is “way too early to discuss who is looking good for picking the Olympic Team” said Upham, the plan is to hold five races at Mt. Itasca weather permitting. Of those the USBA will look at each athlete’s best three races to determine the 3 or 4 men and women that the they will bring over to Europe to race against the World Cup Team.
While “Jay Hakkinen and Tim Burke have already pre-qualified based on their performances at the last two World Championships, everyone else will have to slug it out at those races in Europe to determine the final Olympic spots,” concluded Upham.
Tomorrow’s race should prove very exciting as it is a mass start, something we do not see very often domestically. With two prone, followed by two standing stops in the range the action should be tight. As Upham stated, “in a mass start it is hard not to be aware of what the guy next to you is doing in the range because you can hear what is happening with each of his shots. On the course you will know exactly where you are the entire race, especially when you come out of the 150 meter penalty lap, which should take about 25 seconds.”
“Tomorrow is going to be a good fight, the great thing about this group of girls is that anyone can win on any given day,” said Wygant. Stay tuned tomorrow for more action from Mt. Itasca and see who best handled the pressure.