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Babikov and Dong win the Birkie

Sun, Feb  24, 2008 - By Leslie Hamp

HAYWARD, Wis., Feb. 23, 2008 – Russian-born Ivan Babikov, now living in Alberta, Canada, and Evelyn Dong, Bend, Oregon, skied to victory at the 35th anniversary Subaru American Birkebeiner freestyle race in Hayward, Wisc. today. Babikov captured the championship title after skiing 51 kilometers to a Main Street finish in 2:07:08.9. Dong captured the women’s championship title with a time of 2:23:43.

Zack Simons, Park City, Vermont, skied to a second-place finish in 2:07:47.4 followed by Adam Swank, Duluth, Minn., with a third-place time of 2:07:47.7.

In the women’s freestyle division, Swedish-born Kristina Strandberg now living in Bend, Oregon, skied to a second-place finish in 2:24:22 followed by Sarah Konrad, Laramie, Wyoming, with a third-place time of 2:24:23.

The top finishers all agreed that conditions were fast and ideal.

The 27-year-old Babikov said he made his move on the last uphill five kilometers from the finish.

“I knew it was my last chance to break away,” he said. “Coming down Main Street was the best feeling in the world for me. A race like that and all the people standing there was an amazing feeling.”

Dong said she, too, knew she could break away from the pack on the uphills. She gradually increased her distance to Main Street to easily capture the Birkie title.

Ned Zuelsdorff, Executive Director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation, said skiers from 20 foreign nations, including Argentina, Iceland and New Zealand, and 48 U.S states, including Hawaii, North Carolina and Alaska, had perfect conditions for the 35th anniversary event.

Honorary Starter Barb Klippel, a 19-year Birkie skier from Cable, Wis., sent 4,665 Birkie skiers and 2,081 Kortelopet skiers on their way beginning at 8:30 a.m. this morning. Temps hovered at 10 degrees, then climbed as 18 waves of skiers left the starting gates.

The American Birkebeiner is modeled after the Norwegian Birkebeiner Rennet, which in turn was inspired by the historic rescue of the infant who would become a celebrated king, Haakon Haakonsson IV. The race symbolically re-creates the flight of the prince, carried on skis by warriors called birkebeiners for their protective birch bark leggings.

Gary Gerst, a high school biology teacher and 27-year Birkie skier from Maple Grove, Minn., and brother Thom, a family practice physician and 17-year Birkie skier from Coon Rapids, Minn., portrayed the Norwegian warriors who rescued the infant prince on a treacherous cross country trek in the middle of a 13th-century civil war.

In the final stretch before the finish line, the brothers, dressed in full birkebeiner regalia including helmets, shields and wooden skis, exchanged the baby doll they’d been carrying for 53 kilometers for 1-year-old Bjorn Rogall, the infant portraying baby Prince Haakon. Bjorn’s mother Gail Moede Rogall, a skier from Madison, dressed and skied the Kortelopet as Inga of Varteig, the mother of Prince Haakon. She met up with warriors Torstein and Skervald and the baby and skied up Main Street behind the trio.

“The historic re-enactment, along with some of the best snow conditions and weather in recent memory, made the Birkie’s 35th anniversary one for the books,” Zuelsdorff said. “We couldn’t be more pleased.”

More than 9,000 skiers participated in 35th anniversary events. The Birkie is a part of the 14-race Worldloppet series, as well as the American Ski Marathon Series.

Birkebiener Results

Kortelopet ResultsCXC Elite Sprints Results

Junior Birkie Results