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Stephen, Babikov Win USSA Distance Nationals Skiathlons

US Distance Nationals

Sat, Mar  29, 2008 - By John Estle

Liz Stephen skied the fastest time for each of the four laps of the women's race, and Ivan Babikov was almost as dominant in winning the men's USSA National Distance Championships Skiathlon on Friday at Birch Hill.

Liz Stephen led pretty much wire-to-wire in the women's race. There was a pack of 4-5 skiers together for the first classic lap, but things strung out after the first trip down the lap lane. Runner-up Morgan Arritola hung with Stephen for the two classic laps (3.75Km each lap), but Stephen began pulling away over the skating leg to win decisively by 50.2 seconds over Arritola.

Taz Mannix was third, after being dropped in the early classic going. However, she skied the second-fastest skate leg of the day, just more than a second faster than Arritola, but more than 45 seconds slower than Stephen's skat time.

Kassie Rice and Nicole DeYong rounded out the top five. Kristina Owen, Lindsay Williams, Laura Valaas, Kristina Trygstad-Saari and Lindsey Dehlin placed 6th-10th.

There was a bigger pack in the men's race. For the first two-to-three laps a pack of 10-12 skiers hung together. Garrott Kuzzy led early, but usually Kris Freeman and Ivan Babikov, the two pre-race favorites, were toward the front of the pack.

UAF's NCAA Ski Champion Marius Korthauer lost contact early in the race, but pulled himself back up to the pack, along with Petter Eliassen.

On the fourth and final classic lap Kris Freeman put the hammer down on the South Tower climb to try to stretch things out. He was successful in dropping everyone but Babikov.

Freeman and Babikov came through the classic-to-skate transition with no company, and were off on the skating leg. Next through were Andre Golovko, Torin Koos, Mike Sinott, Korthauer, Eliassen, Chris cook, sprinter Andy Newell, and Leif Zimmerman, all within 15 seconds in places 3-10.

Eliassen and Korthauer then separated themselves from that pack, with Zimmerman, Sinnott and Golovko next, then Koos and Cook drifting off the back.

Those positions stayed fairly constant from there on out, with minor changes. Eliassen dropped Korthauer with a couple of laps to go, and Korthauer looked very tired as he entered the final 3.75Km skate lap. Try as they might, Zimmerman and Golovko could not overtake him, even though they were able to drop Sinnott.

At the end, it was Babikov, Eliassen and Korthauer 1-2-3 for the overall. Zimmerman was the US Champion, with Sinnott second and Koos, fresh off a 2nd-place finish at the Canadian National Championships 50Km, in third, earning some more street cred as a distance man.