PARK CITY, Utah (April 25) - The U.S. Cross Country Team showed great strides of momentum in 2008 with an historic win by Kikkan Randall (Anchorage, AK), a personal best by Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT), and the continued success at the Continental Cup level with athletes like Liz Stephen (East Montpelier, VT) who won a bronze medal at the U23 Championships.
"Even though there was no championship this year, there were still some important highlights," said Nordic Program Director John Farra. "We saw top-level results with Kikkan, Liz and Andy collecting podiums. And we saw a great group of young athletes start to distinguish themselves as real international contenders."
"Preparing the athletes takes constant refinement," added Farra. "But we feel like we're in a good position to compete for a medal at the World Championships next season, particularly in the sprints." Randall, a trailblazer for women's XC
It was obvious after she became the first U.S. woman to break the top three of a World Cup cross country race in Russia December 2006 that there was something special about Randall. She had the drive and determination that could take her to the top. Nearly a year after her historic marker, Randall continued with a "no guts, no glory" mentality to become the first U.S. woman in the 27-year history of cross country World Cup to attain a victory when she won the Rybinsk, Russia sprint event in December. It also was the first U.S. victory since Bill Koch in 1983.
"When I hit the finish line, I threw my arms up and thought, 'Oh my gosh. What did I just do?' Everything worked so well for me," Randall said. "It's pretty cool. It's hard to put it into words. For me, it was a personal goal and it was really cool to see the impact it had on people and the sport."
"It has taken Kikkan years and years of really good preparation, working with the good coach she has up there at the Alaska Pacific club program and the coaching staff with the U.S. Ski Team," said U.S. Cross Country Head Coach Pete Vordenberg. "Although it's an individual sport, it's a team effort and she has a great team behind her. That's what got her where she is and more of the same is going to get her where she's going."
"Getting a win this year was the main goal and we were happy to achieve that," said Farra. Newell marks a career best
With the season about to come to a close, Newell took a step up in his skiing when he captured the second podium of his career in March. Newell's second place finish was his career best after a breakthrough when he was third in China two seasons ago.
"It was great to be able to get second. That's my best World Cup finish in my career so far so I can't complain," Newell said. "In the back of my head I knew I had what it took to get on the podium."
Newell said he drew on inspiration from the success of other teammates as well as wanting to honor the passing of Paul Robbins, a renowned sportswriter and a man who always championed the success of nordic athletes.
"I knew that he was frustrated with a lot of his results this season so it was good for him to get that win so he knows he is on track," Vordenberg said. "We pushed him really hard and that's what it takes to get better, but it doesn't always happen right away.
"We've pushed some aspects of our training pretty hard this year and he was tuckered out. Then towards the end of the year he started to come into it more and that's when he got his second place." Developing athletes for the future
Westminster College's Liz Stephen pushed her cross country skiing to the next level when she took the bronze medal at the U23 World Championships, marking her first international medal. A member of the U.S. Ski Team's Continental Cup squad, Stephen narrowly missed winning the USSA SuperTour distance title when she finished second and teammate Morgan Arritola (Ketchum, ID) took third in the standings.
Stephen's success in the development program illustrated the program's ability to shape and advance the success of young athletes.
"We've had two medals at the U23s and to me that's a good indication that what we're doing is working well. We're really pleased with that," Vordenberg said. "The next step with those athletes is to see them jump to the World Cup level."
Garrott Kuzzy (Hayward, WI) is another up and coming athlete who illustrated the positive influence the development program can have on people in the sport. Kuzzy had astounding back-to-back wins in the Madison, WI SuperTour.
"We're really happy with what's happening on the development side right now. We have a good group of young women who are right now some of the best distance skaters of their age in the world with Liz, Morgan and Taz Mannix [Talkeetna, AK]," said Farra. "We're also seeing some good new men pop up into the ranks with Noah Hoffman [Ketchum, ID] and Reid Pletcher [Hailey, ID]."
"We didn't reach all of our goals this season but the year has to be looked at as a success," Vordenberg said. "We still have goals to accomplish and we're focused on those now."
The Team now moves into summer training with the first camp beginning April 30 on the Olympic trails in Whistler, BC.