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Nordic Worlds Open Thursday in Japan

Opening sprints sold-out, 30,000 expected

Tue, Feb  20, 2007 - By US Ski Team

SAPPORO, Japan (Feb. 20) - The FIS Nordic World Ski Championships return this week to the Far East for the first time since the 1972 Olympic Winter Games.

The U.S. Ski Team has sent 19 nordic athletes including 12 cross country skiers, 10 with Olympic experience, five nordic combined skiers - including four Olympians, and two Olympic ski jumpers to compete over the 11 days.

Racing action starts right away - classic technique sprints Thursday evening for the first night-time and indoor races at Nordic World Championships. U.S. cross country skiers have stepped onto three podiums since last March for the best results since 1983 and U.S. Head Coach Pete Vordenberg and sprint Coach Chris Grover are looking for strong results.

The sold-out Thursday night races are the first of six cross country races opening the three sport competition schedule. Expected to compete for the U.S. that evening are Chris Cook (Rhinelander, WI), Torin Koos (Leavenworth, WA), Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) and Lars Flora (Anchorage, AK) for the men, and Kikkan Randall (Anchorage, AK), Laura Valaas (Wenatchee, WA) for the women.

The individual sprints open the racing card Thursday and Friday with the team (i.e. two skiers) sprints in a tag-team format: one skier racing a loop, coming in and tagging his or her teammate to ski the next loop.

Newell was third in a freestyle (skating) sprint in Changchun, China, after the 2006 Olympics, Randall scrambled her way to third in another skating sprint last month in Rybinsk, Russia, making her the first American woman to be on a World Cup podium, and Koos followed a week later with the third third-place result for the Team, this time in a classic technique sprint in Otepaeae, Estonia.

In March 1983, Tim Caldwell was second to the great Gunde Svan of Sweden in a 15K race in Anchorage, AK, with Bill Koch third. The previous year, Koch won a 30K race in Falun, Sweden, with Dan Simoneau second. This current grouping of Newell, Koos and Randall is only the second time in history that the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team has had three skiers reach the World Cup podium.

Friday nordic combined and ski jumping will have their opening competitions. For a complete schedule visit sapporo2007.com.

Historic Moments
In 1972, the Olympics (on the northern island of Hokkaido) doubled as the World Championships; the men had three individual races and the women had two - and each had a relay. By 1998, when the Olympics returned to Japan in Nagano (on the main Japanese island of Honshu, where Tokyo is located), the schedule had changed - Worlds shifted to odd-numbered years with the 1985 season, so the Nagano Games did not double as World Championships.

On another historic note, it was in 1972 that the U.S. women's cross country team made its Olympic debut. The squad, formed in the late Sixties, competed in the 1970 World Championships in Vysoke Tatry, then-Czechoslovakia, and skied in its first Winter Games in Sapporo.

The Sapporo Dome will host the opening ceremony Thursday night and then the first indoor cross country races - and the first nighttime cross country races - in Worlds history. Thursday's sprint is already sold out with an expected capacity crowd of 30,000. One of four venues, it will be used for nordic combined sprint races, too.

The four competition venues include not only Sapporo Dome, but Shirahata cross country courses and the large hill jump at Okurayama and the normal hill jump at Miyanomouri.

For sport-specific information:
www.fis-ski.com

For further details (e.g., event information):
www.sapporo2007.com/english/index.html