FAIRBANKS, AK (March 27) - Liz Stephen (East Montpelier, VT) made it back to back titles as she won the women's 15K pursuit for the second year at the 2009 U.S. Distance Cross Country Championships in Fairbanks Friday. Ivan Babikov of Canada won the men's 30K and Leif Zimmermann (Bozeman, MT) took the title as the top U.S. finisher in second.
"It's definitely nice to defend my title from last year. It's my favorite race and that's a good way to do it," Stephen said. "It means a lot to me to be up here and finish out the season this way."
According to U.S. Cross Country Coach Matt Whitcomb, Stephen knew her strengths and weaknesses going in to the race and was prepared with a plan of attack.
"Today went as planned for Liz," Whitcomb said. "She knows she's at the point where in her classic skating she has to prevent a gap from opening up. She was able to do that today."
"In the classic leg I was a little behind and trying to hang on and then came on in the skate. It felt good," Liz added
Following Stephen in the woman's field was Sweden's Kristina Strandberg in second and World Championship silver medalist Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) in third.
Zimmermann finished just over a minute and a half behind Babikov in what Whitcomb calls his best classic race ever.
"He was really excited. This was far and away the best Leif has classic skied all year, and maybe ever," Whitcomb said. "It was a really strong classic performance. I think coming out of that leg he was fired up and there was no turning around."
In the skate portion of the race Zimmermann solidified his second place spot.
"He was able to fight off the field and claim that first spot," Whitcomb said.
Rounding out the men's podium on Friday was James Southam (Anchorage).
According to Stephen, there's no place she'd rather be skiing than in Fairbanks.
"The volunteers up here in Fairbanks are unlike those in any other place. They are out here in full force," Stephen said. "The spectators are great and the community really pulled together. Racing in Fairbanks is always fun."
The 2009 U.S. Cross Country Championships continue Sunday with the men's 50K and women's 30K classic races.
"I think the team is healthy and poised to claim some good results," Whitcomb said.
2009 U.S. CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS
Fairbanks, Alaska – March 27, 2009
1. Ivan Babikov, Canada, 1:26:03.3
2. Leif Zimmermann, Bozeman, MT; U.S. Ski Team, 1:27:40.2
3. James Southam, Anchorage; APU, 1:28:37.6
4. Lars Flora, Bend, OR; APU, 1:28:51.9
5. Garrott Kuzzy, Hayward, WI, U.S. Ski Team, 1:28:53.7
6. Brent Knight, Anchorage, AK; APU, 1:28:59.0
7. Bryan Cook, Marquette, MI; CXC Elite, 1:29:13.4
8. Chris Cook, Rhinelander, WI; U.S. Ski Team, 1:29:20.5
9. Graham Nishikawa, Canada, 1:29:21.2
10. Torin Koos, Leavenworth, WA; U.S. Ski Team, 1:29:25.5
1. Liz Steohen, East Montpelier, VT; U.S. Ski Team, 47:36.3
2. Kristina Strandberg, Sweden, 47:51.9
3. Kikkan Randall, Anchorage; U.S. Ski Team, 48:01.0
4. Holly Brooks, Anchorage; APU, 48:10.8
5. Rebecca Dussault, Gunnison, CO, 48:46.0
6. Morgan Smyth, Vernon, VT; U.S. Ski Team, 49:12.1
7. Taz Mannix, Talkeetna, AK; U.S. Ski Team, 49:22.1
8. Becca Rorabaugh, Fairbanks, AK; APU, 49:48.7
9. Caitlin Compton, Minneapolis, MN; CXC Elite, 49:56.8
10. Kristina Owen, Hayward, WI; CXC, 50:01.1
# # #
For complete results for women click here and for men click here.