Continental CupRacingUS NationalsU.S. Cross Country Championships: Women’s Freestyle Sprint Preview and Predictions

Avatar Audrey ManganJanuary 1, 2012
Rossland NorAm
Jessie Diggins (CXC) ahead of the pack in the NorAm 1.4 k freestyle sprint heats in Rossland, British Columbia, on Dec. 17, 2011. (Photo by Dan Roycroft/AWCA)

RUMFORD, Maine — The sun was out at Black Mountain on Sunday, and with the skate sprint set to start on Monday morning at 9:00 am, U.S. Cross Country Championships are practically upon us.

The only trails open on Sunday were the overlapping 1.4 k and 1.6 k courses, and with nearly 400 athletes on the sprint start list, the loop was packed all morning. Athletes could be seen getting in their final pickups off the line while their coaches  and wax techs tested and re-tested skis.

All the preparation in the world isn’t always enough in sprint racing. One misstep or off pole placement can throw a perfectly executed race out the window — just ask Jessie Diggins (CXC/USST). In the final of the skate sprint at Nationals last winter, she fell in the final 500 meters. Though the race ended up working out in her favor, Diggins said she’s focused on staying upright this time around.

“Hopefully I’ll stay on my feet this year,” she said late Sunday morning. “It ended up being a good thing; maybe someone should just take me out!”

Kidding aside, Diggins is hoping to keep her nerves under control and have fun moving through the rounds. The USST rookie has dominated the domestic circuit this season, with 9 out of 11 possible wins, and will be the athlete to watch in both sprint and distance disciplines throughout the week.

If she wants to keep her win streak going, though, she’ll have to fight off fellow U.S. teammates Sadie Bjornsen (APU/USST) and Ida Sargent (CGRP/USST), who spent the first part of their winter on the World Cup. This week will be the first time the women have faced off against each other this season in an official race.

Bjornsen is coming off the high of a World Cup podium. Though she was helped by teammate Kikkan Randall’s performance in the Dusseldorf team sprint, Bjornsen held her own to keep the U.S. in the running, and has repeatedly proven herself in domestic sprints—she was third here last year. Sargent got off to a rocky start on the World Cup this fall, but is back in familiar territory. She was also 4th in the U23 freestyle sprint in Estonia last winter, so she knows how to get it done in the heats.

Dartmouth College senior Sophie Caldwell could also be a contender for the sprints. She hasn’t seen much action yet this winter, but was 2nd in this race last January, and put in solid training this summer with the USST on Eagle Glacier.

University of Colorado’s Eliska Hajkova is another collegiate skier to watch out for. The 2011 NCAA champion was fourth in the classic sprint at Nationals last year, and could be mixing it up at the front. She’s had a strong start to the season so far, including an 8th in West Yellowstone.

Central Cross Country (CXC) has had a strong and consistent early season thus far. Caitlin Gregg is a long-time threat at any distance, and has numerous top results to her name. With a win in the West Yellowstone skate sprint this November, she will be right in the thick of things. Teammate Jennie Bender posted a 3rd-place finish in the Silver Star classic sprint, and though she is a stronger classic skier, her overall sprinting ability could put her in the running.

Alaska Pacific University (APU) has once again brought a sizeable contingent Nationals. After Bjornsen, keep an eye on Kate Fitzgerald, who was 3rd in the West Yellowstone skate sprint. Rosie Brennan could also be a threat—her powerful technique will be an advantage in the long final straightaway.

Most attention will be paid to the elite senior skiers this week, but there will be serious racing for the juniors as well. The J1/OJs will contest separate sprint brackets, but don’t be surprised to see Corey Stock (Cambridge Sports Union) mixing it up in the big leagues. The high school senior and multi-time Junior National champion recently posted the fastest qualifying time at the opening Eastern Cup in Craftsbury, VT by 6.5 seconds—ahead of Caldwell—over a mere 1.5 k.

Though she is not a strong sprinter, it’s worth noting that Morgan Arritola will not be seeing action on Monday, or for the rest of the week. The SVSEF skier recently came down with appendicitis, and is recovering from surgery at home.

Staff Predictions:

Audrey:

  1. Sadie Bjornsen
  2. Jessie Diggins
  3. Ida Sargent
  4. Caitlin Gregg
  5. Sophie Caldwell
  6. Jennie Bender

Matt:

  1. Jessie Diggins
  2. Sadie Bjornsen
  3. Ida Sargent
  4. Caitlin Gregg
  5. Corey Stock
  6. Sophie Caldwell

Kieran:

  1. Jessie Diggins
  2. Sadie Bjornsen
  3. Ida Sargent
  4. Eliska Hajkova
  5. Alana Thomas (Go Canada!)
  6. Caitlin Gregg

Steve:

  1. Jessie Diggins
  2. Sadie Bjornsen
  3. Sophie Caldwell
  4. Eliska Hajkova
  5. Corey Stock
  6. Rosie Brennan

 

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Audrey Mangan

Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.

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