The race season started off last weekend in Muonio, Finland, but that was just a preview.
This weekend, the Olos resort will be hosting three more races, with a start list including over 600 skiers from twenty-two different countries.
In addition, the Americans have arrived in full force: the Craftsbury Green Racing Project has been joined by the U.S. Ski Team (USST), and the Maine Winter Sports Center’s (MWSC’s) collection of athletes from around the country.
For the USST, each athlete is expected to race twice. Simi Hamilton, Andy Newell, and Kikkan Randall will contest Friday’s skate sprint, as well as Saturday’s 5 k/10 k classic race. Noah Hoffman, Kris Freeman, and Liz Stephen will only compete in the distance races – Saturday’s classic race and an identical skate competition on Sunday.
Morgan Arritola contracted the 24-hour flu before leaving the States and only arrived in Finland last night, but was skiing this morning and is tentatively scheduled to start the distance races.
USST Continental Cup Coach Bryan Fish was enthusiastic about the skiing in Muonio when FasterSkier caught him in the waxroom this morning.
“It’s great skiing here – it’s really nice to have a good set track right away. It’s like we’re jumping right into mid-season skiing,” he said.
He said that in the early season, it’s important for athletes to get race starts to compare their level to the competition. Muonio is the perfect place to do that, because there are so many top athletes in attendance, Fish continued.
He’s right about that. The start list is crammed with World Cup stars like Andrus Veerpalu (EST), the entire Finnish national team, the entire German national team, the entire Italian national team, Justyna Kowalczyk (POL), and Petra Majdic (SLO).
That’s why the private teams have come as well. In addition to Ida Sargent, who qualified second in the classic sprint on Sunday, the Craftsbury Green Racing Project brought NCAA All-Americans Pat O’Brien, Hannah Dreissigacker, and Dylan McGuffin, as well as five other athletes.
“Last weekend was a good warm-up for this weekend, because there’s definitely a lot more people. It’s exciting,” Sargent said.
Among the skiers with the Maine Winter Sports Center trip are 2008 NCAA Champion Glenn Randall, 2006 Olympian Leif Zimmerman, senior competitors Audrey Weber, Fred Bailey, and Adele Espy, and top junior Sam Tarling.
For these athletes, the draw is mainly points – and experience. With a few athletes on the start list with FIS points of zero, and a minimum penalty of 15, a good race here in Muonio could have very low points indeed.
For the rest of the American ski community, this is exciting news, because these points will be used to calculate penalties around the country during the regular season when the athletes in Muonio return. Both privately-funded trips will be heading back to the U.S. in two weeks.
The U.S. Ski Team, though, will stay in Europe. According to Fish, these races will decide which athletes will travel to the World Cup openers in Gallivare, Sweden, and who will stay in Finland for more domestic-level racing.
“Everyone has a good, professional demeanor here,” Fish said. “Our expectations for the athletes are realistic, but they’re also high.”
When asked whether he had a feel for who might pop a big race this weekend, he smiled.
“Hopefully everybody will.”