HOUGHTON, Mich. (Jan. 5) - Defending champions Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) and Kikkan Randall (Anchorage, AK) led every heat Saturday en route to winning the men's and women's freestyle sprint titles at the U.S. Cross Country Championships at Michigan Tech Nordic Ski Center. Randall, the first U.S. woman to win a World Cup cross country race, won her eighth U.S. gold medal while Newell earned his second.
Randall survived a spill in her quarterfinal heat at the Michigan Tech Nordic Ski Center and went on to register her third consecutive sprint championship. She has won five U.S. sprint crowns and has three gold medals from distance races.
Earlier, Newell and other U.S. Ski Team men survived a few upsetting moments before the 1.3K qualifying lap when it turned out the weather wasn't as warm as they had expected and they needed to change wax on their skis. And then he needed time to let his stomach calm down.
Weather muddles wax plans
"It turned out to be colder than we anticipated last night, so we had a lot of warmer skis out to test. We had to change skis around, think quick, scrape skis and get the right wax," he said. Head Coach Pete Vordenberg, Sprint Head Coach Chris Grover and development coaches Matt Whitcomb and Pat Casey jumped in to overcome the weather change.
"The coaches filled in as wax techs. Grover and Pete and Pat and Matt really worked wax to get the right [new] wax. But that's nothing new for them. They're not afraid to put in a long day," he said.
"I felt okay in the qualifier. I just tried to go out hard and try to win it and qualify by as much as I could. But maybe I started too hard," Newell said. "I didn't feel good coming in." Fortunately, with 217 men and 159 women skiing, there was enough time between the qualifying lap and the final heats for any stomach butterflies to go away.
"As the day went on, I felt stronger," he said.
The course started with a flat section and led into a long downhill, which brought skiers into a small uphill. After the downhill on the other side, it was a long, gradual uphill to the finish. Newell said his plan was to grab the lead by at least the bottom of the second downhill and try to break as everyone headed back to the finish line.
"There was a lot of jostling, but that's fun when there are some tactics in the race," he said.
Newell beats Koos to the line
In the end, he edged Torin Koos (Leavenworth, WA), his Olympic and World Cup sprint mate. Third place went to Estonian Vahur Teppan, but only U.S. citizens are eligible for medals at the championships so fourth-place finisher Simeon Hamilton, a Middlebury College racer, was the bronze medalist.
In the women's race, Randall cruised to her victory with Laura Valaas (Wenatchee, WA) as silver medalist. Caitlin Compton (Minneapolis), the 5K freestyle champion on New Year's Day - and Valaas' partner last winter in winning the team sprint, was bronze medalist. Karin Camenisch of Switzerland finished third, so the bronze went to Compton in fourth place.
The classic technique team sprints are set for Sunday to end the 2008 U.S. Championships.
The championships are being use to determine not only berths at the World Cup races later this month in Canmore, Alberta, but for Junior World Championships Feb. 3-10 in Poland, Scandinavian Cup races for juniors and the U-23 Championships, which coincide with Junior Worlds. Team announcements are expected to be made in the coming week.
2008 U.S. CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS
Michigan Tech Nordic Ski Center
Houghton, MI - Jan. 5, 2008
Freestyle Technique 1.3K Sprints (6 made finals)
(Only U.S. citizens eligible for medals)
1. Andy Newell, Shaftsbury, VT (U.S. Ski Team/Stratton Mountain School)
2. Torin Koos, Leavenworth, WA (U.S. Ski Team/Leavenworth Winter Sports Club)
3. Vahur Teppan, Estonia (University of Alaska Fairbanks)
4. Simeon Hamilton, Aspen, CO (Middlebury College/Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club)
5. Leif Zimmermann, Bozeman, MT (U.S. Ski Team/Bridger Nordic)
6. Lars Flora, Anchorage, AK (Alaska Pacific U. Nordic/The Factory Team)
1. Kikkan Randall, Anchorage, AK (U.S. Ski Team/APU Nordic)
2. Laura Valaas, Wenatchee, WA (U.S. Ski Team/APU Nordic)
3. Karin Camenisch, Switzerland (Team Rossignol)
4. Caitlin Compton, Minneapolis (Team CXC/U.S. Biathlon Team)
5. Lindsay Williams, Hastings, MN (U.S. Ski Team/Northern Michigan U.)
6. Sadie Bjornsen, Winthrop, WA (Methow Valley Ski Team)
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Click here for complete results.