Hayward, WI (January 6, 2009). Nationals: Day 1 (or is it day 3?)
Forecast for Anchorage, Alaska on Monday, January 5: High of -2° F. This is what we'd been waiting for all weekend!
The first two days of the 2009 National Championships were spent going through the pre-race motions. Coaches ironed layers of blue hardwax and cold powder. Athletes consumed plates of pasta and pancakes and skied countless warm-up laps on the sprint course. Both days saw races first postponed and eventually cancelled. The CXC athletes were ready to race all weekend and couldn't wait to get going as soon as the temps warmed past the -4° F limit set by the FIS.
Monday morning was finally warm enough to race and the CXC Team took full advantage. The scheduled freestyle races, 10km for women and 15km men, were shortened to 5km/10km to reduce the time necessary to complete the overall event during the narrow "warm window".
CXC's Caitlin Compton kicked off Nationals with a bang! Splits at the half-way point had Compton leading the field by over 25 seconds. She eased off the gas pedal slightly in the second half of the race and won the National Title. This was Caitlin's second consecutive National Championship in the freestyle event and her 3rd total title. Ms. Compton edged across the line 3 seconds ahead of Anchorage's own Kikkan Randall. Caitlin was excited, saying "I definitely had the fastest skis on the course today. The skiing has been slow all week with the cold temps, but today my boards were amazing!"
Propelled by the fast Salomon skis waxed by coach Bryan Fish, the CXC women came in very close to one another, with Kristina Owen leading the black train (as in our flashy new black suits) in 17th place, followed by Johanna Winters in 18th, Maria Stuber in 20th, junior Jesse Diggins in 21st, and Heather Zimmerman in 60th. It was exciting to see such a close group among the women's team.
The CXC men's team started their race in an equally tight group. In the "random" bib draw for the red group, all four men drew their starts in consecutive order: Matt Liebsch, Bryan Cook, Garrott Kuzzy, and Brian Gregg. Kuzzy jumped out to a fast start, leading the race and coming through the stadium tied for first, but shortly slid back a couple of notches. Matt Liebsch had the race of the day and thus far For the CXC men's season, pacing the 10km perfectly and increasing his speed throughout the race. Liebsch crossed the line in 3rd place behind US Ski Team racers Kris Freeman and Lief Zimmermann.
This was Matt's first podium finish at a National Championship. He is especially excited about his $300 payday for third place and says the check "will buy a lot of diapers for Grant", Matt's 9 month old son. The rest of the team finished shortly behind Matt with Garrott Kuzzy in 8th, Bryan Cook in 14th, and Brian Gregg in 39th. A big thanks to everyone out here helping; volunteers and race organizers, for making the best of challenging conditions, as well as the CXC wax team of Wayne Fish, Brandon Ostroot, and John Hugus for their long days of wax testing and waxing - the skis have been great!
Stay tuned for the rest of the week. Assuming FIS legal temperatures, there will be a 10km/15km classic on Tuesday, Classic Sprint on Wednesday, and end with a Skate Team Sprint on Thursday.