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Two weeks have gone by since the nation’s elite sprinters, skate and classical skiers, competed at the Official 2009 US Cross Country Ski Championships (Dec. 31-Jan. 9th) in Anchorage, Alaska. Around 500 competitors made the journey in hopes of realizing their athletic dreams at arguably the most important domestic races of the season.
Providing the perfect final tune-up, the Methow Valley USSA Super Tour offered one last chance to lay down on the line years of focused training before the world descends on Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics. The Methow stop, one of eight in a nationwide race circuit, that provides skiers the opportunity to compete for cash prizes and series points; with the many complexities involved in choosing the U.S. team — the fact that the Olympics are in Canada this year opens up the possibility for a larger contingent from the U.S. team, the Methow race could be what puts some skiers over the top for getting the nod.
“We kind of lucked out securing this date,” MVSTA event director Kristen Smith said. “This is the last time the athletes will do a major race before they start to taper and get ready for (the Olympics). “The team will be chosen primarily on Monday (Jan. 18),” Smith said
Leading Saturday's sprinting charge, two-time Olympian Torin Koos of Leavenworth, Wa. put his signature on the race while mixing it up with other hopefuls such as 2006 U.S. Olympians Leif Zimmerman and Chris Cook, 2006 Canadian Olympian Drew Goldsack, Kenyan Olympic hopeful Philip Boit, and Iranian Olympic hopeful Beejan Kangaloo.
Wenatchee’s Laura Valaas, who was vying for a U.S. Olympic Team berth, and recently named to compete in both distance and sprint events at the Canmore, Alberta, World Cup races Feb.
“I feel like I’ve chased this dream to its potential in how I’ve trained and lived my life the last couple years,” said Valaas, who's dream of competing in the Olympics now hangs in the balance. “I have no regrets. I’ve really devoted myself and put 100 percent into my training, so I guess I feel peaceful about what I’ve done in the past.”
As it stands right now, the U.S. Nordic Ski Team has eight Olympic spots, but that number could grow if other countries don’t use all of their allotted slots.
Kris Freeman, Andy Newell and Kikkan Randall have already qualified, based on their position in World Cup points standings, leaving five slots available.
Leavenworth’s Torin Koos, the two-time Olympian, is expected to get one of those spots.
The National Ranking List standings will play some role in determining who gets the remaining slots, though coach Pete Vordenberg has quite a bit of discretion when picking his team.
Valaas is currently ranked fourth in the sprint category, and eighth in distance and overall. Randall is the top women’s skier across the board, and Liz Stephen is second in all three categories. Valaas is one of just three other skiers in the top eight in both sprint and distance, though the overall category carries the most weight.
After a pesky week of overcast, warm and drippy skies, the racers were treated to Saturday's good ski conditions as platforms firmed up with windless blue bird weather.
“The race was held on Methow Valley ski trails specifically created for the competition,” Smith said. The course, being very spectator-friendly, allowed for viewing from the stadium bleachers of adjacent Liberty Bell High School as well as alongside the track.
“The spectator view was amazing. You could see almost the whole course (from one spot).”
A chance to see the top skiers without going to the Olympics, the MVSTA (Methow Valley Sport Trails Association) also mixed in Junior Olympic qualifying races.
“It was a tremendous opportunity for junior skiers to race right alongside some of the best skiers in the world,” Smith said. Youth ski teams from across the West took advantage of the incredible opportunity.
After seeding qualifiers (J7-OJ, Masters, Senior Men and Women), 3-4 eliminations then a final produced gut wrenching finishes that cast the fate of competitors by mili-seconds. Raving about the events friendly atmosphere and professionalism, participants reluctantly loaded Team vans while soaking up the sun's last warming rays in preparation for Sunday's classic style rematch.
Changing venues to Loup Loup Ski Bowl, where snow depths allowed for better track setting, a 4 inch overnight layer of fresh snow made early ski and course testing a challenge. As racers maneuvered within an ominous fog, the core of what it's all about often surfaced with grins and hoots from the tracks idyllic ridge run, to the high speed downhill that produced many a glazed face auger. Intertwined with all the serious business of visualizing an athletic outcome, the appreciation of gliding purity and spontaneous ski fun rose to inspire...it never gets old.
Let the Games begin!
May 26, 2009, the U.S. Ski Team announced the six athletes of the A Team and the five of the B Team, but the 2010 Olympic Team won't be announced until January 19, 2010. And that team will be based on the results of the upcoming season.
Morgan Arritola (5/13/86; Ketchum, ID; Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation)
Kris Freeman (10/14/80; Andover, NH; Andover Outing Club)*
Torin Koos (7/19/80; Leavenworth, WA; Leavenworth Winter Sports Club)*
Andy Newell (11/30/83; Shaftsbury, VT; Stratton Mountain School)*
Kikkan Randall (12/31/82; Anchorage, AK; Alaska Pacific University Nordic)*
Liz Stephen (1/12/87; East Montpelier, VT; Burke Mountain Academy)
Noah Hoffman (8/1/89; Aspen, CO; Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation)
Garrott Kuzzy (11/26/82; Hayward, WI; CXC Elite)
Taz Mannix (6/14/86; Talkeetna, AK; Alaska Pacific University Nordic)
Morgan Smyth (2/10/86; Vernon, VT; Northern Michigan University)
Lindsay Williams (6/16/84; Hastings, MN; Northern Michigan University)*