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Participants From Around The World to Ski the Birkie

Sun, Jan  27, 2008 - By Leslie Hamp

HAYWARD, Wis., January 22, 2008 – They come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life. Some have done it dozens of times while others are embarking on their first long-distance ski journey. Some come to compete against themselves. Others simply want to mark it off their “to do” list. They’re cross country skiers and they’re gearing up for the 35th annual American Birkebeiner ski races from February 21-23, 2008 in Cable and Hayward, Wis.

More than 9,000 skiers will join the colorful pageantry. While 7,000 skiers set their sights on the American Birkebeiner and 23-kilometer Kortelopet, another 2,500 are bound for the shorter races and events that dominate the three-day event.

And they’re doing all kinds of things to get in shape for it.

“This year with early season snow and great ski conditions many are flocking to the Birkie Trail and other trails to meet ski friends, kick out the kinks, and get ready for race day,” said Ned Zuelsdorff, Executive Director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation. “You will find others from warmer climates preparing by roller skiing, biking or running.”

The Birkie attracts serious athletes.

Zack Simons: Zack Simons, champion of the 2007 American Birkebeiner, excelled on the 2008 US Supertour in both sprint and middle distance races, capturing numerous top 10 finishes including one second place so far this season. Simons will be at Birkie 2008 to defend his title.

Ivan Babikov, formerly of Russia, raced in the 2006 Olympics, the 2007 World Championships, and several other World Cup events as a member of the Russian National Team. With a World Cup 4th place finish, American Birkebeiner 4th and 6th place finishes, numerous top 20 finishes and a World Cup relay victory, Babikov is the preeminent distance skier in North America. He'll be at Birkie 2008 with his sights set on the podium.

Sarah Konrad, the only American woman to secure a position on two 2004 Olympic teams (Biathlon and Cross Country), plans to return to the American Birkebeiner after spending the last three years on the World Cup Biathlon and Cross Country circuits. Sarah earned a fifth place overall finish in the 2004 American Birkebeiner and was the first American women to cross the line that year.

Lars Flora, two-time Olympian and 8th place Birkie 2004 finisher, is one of the best skiers in the United States. With the addition of several more World Cup starts, Lars is anxious to bring some of that experience back to the US for another season of US dominance. His sights are set this year on a World Cup breakthrough and an American Birkebeiner victory.

The Birkie attracts recreational athletes.

• Three skiers - Ernie St. Germaine, John Kotar and Dave Landgraff - have skied every race since its inception. While they never intended to be one of a handful of skiers to complete all 34 Birkebeiners, they just can’t seem to stop. They represent the spirit of the Birkie community, and they'll be on the start line for the 35th anniversary race.

Debbie Hultman, 46, of Ely, Minn., used skiing as a way to cope with chemotherapy and treatments during her fight against breast cancer. She says, “Skiing saved me mentally. I would just go out and walk around on my skis. It was better to be sick outside than inside.” She will wear a pink bib, with other breast cancer survivors, as she skis in her first Birkie.

Arne Lagus, 69, will be skiing his 30th Birkie and 50th Worldloppet race during Birkie 2008. The 69-year-old family physician from St. Croix Falls, Wis., trains year-round biking, roller skiing, hiking and skiing. The Worldloppet Master skier has classic skied 8 Birkies and skate skied 21 Birkies. He says he's not a super skier but "manages to finish and have fun."

“It’s inspiring to hear skier stories and discover how the Birkie motivates them to stay in shape year-round,” Zuelsdorff said. “And there’s no doubt about it; Birkie Fever is on the rise as skiers’ anticipate the big day. We encourage new skiers and those who haven’t been on the Birkie Trail for a while to join us for the 35th anniversary. It’s easy to register online at www.birkie.com or to call 715/634-5025.”

For more information or to register for the Subaru American Birkebeiner, Kortelopet sponsored by the State Bank of Drummond and Cable Chamber of Commerce, 12K Johnson Bank Prince Haakon, CenturyTel Junior Birkie, Salomon/Swiss Miss Barnebirkie, Cheqtel 5K/10K Race for Families, Elite Sprints, and the Ski for the Cure III, log on to http://www.birkie.com, email birkie@birkie.com or call 715/634-5025.

Sponsors of Birkie 2008 include Subaru, State Bank of Drummond, Cable Chamber
of Commerce, Johnson Bank, Sawyer County Record and Superior Publishing, and other businesses throughout the region and country.