PARK CITY, Utah - Anchored by sprint stars Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT), Torin Koos (Leavenworth, WA) and Kikkan Randall (Anchorage, AK), the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team opens the 2008 season with three World Cup podium performers and a top-5 distance skier.
The Team's major focus will be on the World Cup, which includes four races in Canada in late January, traditionally renowned events in Estonia and Norway, pre-World Championship races in Liberec, Czech Republic, and a visit to the 2010 Olympic venue at the end of the winter.
"We have high performance goals," Nordic Director Luke Bodensteiner said. "They are to place high in the overall World Cup and a World Cup win, which is something the athletes on the team have been building toward for a few seasons now."
Newell, who was sixth last season in the World Cup sprint standings, ended a 23-year World Cup podium drought by American skiers when he was third in China after the Olympics in Torino. Koos and Randall each reached the podium last January - Randall in Rybinsk, Russia, and Koos a week later in Otepaeae, Estonia.
Joining the sprinters is Laura Valaas (Wenatchee, WA), a 2007 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships Team member and sprint silver medalist at the 2007 Under-23 Championships. Valaas is also the reigning SuperTour sprint champion with nine wins and a co-gold medalist in the team sprint at the '07 U.S. Cross Country Championships.
In addition, Kris Freeman (Andover, NH), another two-time Olympian, has the best U.S. distance results since the Bill Koch era in the early Eighties. He was fifth and sixth in two World Cup races before being sidelined for two seasons by various illnesses. He has since rebounded with his best results since the 2004 season.
Extra spots set for Canada World Cups
"We'll be able to have additional athletes start the World Cup races at Canmore [Alberta - Jan. 22-26], and that's critical as we really begin to rev up things heading toward the 2010 Olympics in Canada," Bodensteiner said. There also will be pre-Worlds races in Liberec, Czech Republic, site of the 2009 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, and late-season participation in the Canadian Nationals March 17-23 at the Callaghan Valley nordic Olympic venue north of Vancouver.
After a strong preparation period that included the annual three-week camp in New Zealand, the Ski Team will have an early October camp in Lake Placid, NY. Newell and Koos then head to Europe for the World Cup season opener Oct. 27-28 in Dusseldorf, Germany.
The World Cups Jan. 22-26 in Canmore - west of Calgary - have additional appeal, Bodensteiner said, because they come shortly after the completion of the U.S. Cross Country Championships. U.S. racers will have a chance to recover and be in good condition for the world's top skiers when they come to Canada. The International Ski Federation has granted the U.S. Ski Team a "nation's quota," which means extra start positions for U.S. skiers. Those starters will be named after the U.S. Championships.
The U.S. Championships will also be of special significance for development-level athletes. The short-distance title races will be held Jan. 1-6 for a second consecutive season at Michigan Tech in Houghton, MI, while the long-distance championships will be March 28-30 in Fairbanks, AK. The championships also double as SuperTour races and the Fairbanks races will be SuperTour Finals.
The Under-23/Junior World Championships Feb. 3-10 in Szczyrk-Wisla, Poland, with its races for juniors (i.e., 20 and under) and racers 21-23 years old and the J1 Scandinavian Cup (a.k.a. Nordic [Nations] Junior Championship) are other vital international races.
Daehlie, Ulvang, Smigun to help guide VIP Tours
"Between the additional World Cup quotas we've been able to open up, the U23/Junior World Championships, and the Junior Nordic Championships, we're able to provide opportunities for about 60 additional athletes a year to compete with us internationally," Bodensteiner said. "The work we've done over the past decade to increase these international opportunities is paying dividends at the development level, and is driving opportunity for our regional teams and elite development clubs.”
The Ski Team is bringing along additional vocal support during the World Cup races Feb. 9-10 in Otepaeae and March 5-8 during the Holmenkollen Ski Festival in Oslo and sprint World Cup in Drammen. The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team Foundation will be conducting its inaugural VIP Tours to the World Cup. Olympic champions Bjorn Daehlie and Vegard Ulvang will guide the fan club in Norway while Torino Olympic double champion Kristina Smigun will be a local guide in Estonia.
For complete details on the trips to Estonia and Norway, go to http://foundation.usskiteam.com/trips.html.
"These trips will be excellent chances to not only see the World Cup up close," Bodensteiner said, "but also to enjoy the nordic enthusiasm of Norway and Estonia with some of their greatest superstars."