KUUSAMO, Finland (Nov. 29) - Kris Freeman (Andover, NH) launched himself to a career-best World Cup finish Sunday, working his way just shy of the podium to finish fourth in a 15K classic in Finland.
"I did ski what I thought was my best race ever today. I'm a little pissed off that I didn't make the podium, but whenever you ski your best race, it is a good feeling," Freeman said. "Overall it was really what I had hoped to do today, except that I would have liked to have been 10 seconds faster and have won."
Freeman's fourth was the best non-sprint U.S. World Cup finish since Tim Caldwell was second in a 15k in Anchorage in March, 1983. Freeman was also fourth twice in this same event at World Championships in 2003 and 2009.
According to U.S. Cross Country Head Coach Pete Vordenberg, Freeman's finish was something they had been working on throughout his summer training.
"He finished really strong, which has been a huge focus for us to have them finish the last 5K strong," Vordenberg said. "Regardless of his place, just the fact that he finished so strong, I would have been really happy with it."
For Freeman, pacing himself on course is an important strategy in his pursuit of World Cup and Olympic success this season.
"I paced it really well. I was 32nd by the 5K and moved up to 12th by the 10K. I just picked people off over the last 5K," Freeman said. "I practiced this type of pacing all summer long. This is exactly what I have been working on doing."
But, while Sunday was a great success for him, Freeman still has preparation to do in the lead up to the 2010 Games in Vancouver.
"Everything is about the Olympics this year, and certainly I take a lot of confidence from this," Freeman said. "I haven't done a ton of hard intervals yet, so hopefully there is more fitness to be gained."
Vordenberg agrees that there is still an opportunity to enhance Freeman's fitness and make him podium-ready.
"We haven't put on a lot of extra hard training to get those last couple seconds he needs to win, but we'll definitely be doing that for the Olympics," Vordenberg said. "But, he's in a really good place fitness-wise. We've been working on having him finish these races stronger. He used to start pretty strong and fade. So we worked on him pacing it better and being stronger toward the end of the race."
Freeman also noted that Sunday's fourth would not have been possible without some new ammunition in his arsenal.
"I was on a new pair of skis that my coach picked for me and they were super easy to kick. Any time you go out on a new pair of skis and they're great, it's an exciting thing," Freeman said.
"It was really good work by the whole staff to put together good skis," Vordenberg added.
In the women's race, Aino-Kaisa Saarinen of Finland took the win, followed in second by Irina Khazova of Russia and Norway's Vibeke Skofterud in third.
World Championship silver medalist Kikkan Randall (Anchorage, AK) led the U.S. women, finishing 18th for her best finish in a non-sprint race.
"Yesterday was a real disappointment for Kikkan. She had been preparing so well and has obviously made huge progress in the classic sprint and it just didn't go well," Vordenberg said. "So she was really looking for redemption today and came through with her best distance race ever. She paced it really well."
Liz Stephen (East Montpelier, VT) and Morgan Arritola (Ketchum, ID) continued their first full season on the World Cup tour, finishing 59th and 70th respectively.
"The younger girls, Liz and Morgan, are just continuing to add more and more strength and get more races under their belts," Vordenberg said.
The U.S. Cross Country Team now moves on to Düsseldorf, Germany for sprint racing.
2010 Viessmann FIS Cross Country World Cup
Kuusamo, Finland - Nov. 29, 2009
1. Petter Northug, Norway, 35:22.2
2. Maxim Vylegzhanin, Russia, 35:23.4
3. Alexander Legkov, Russia, 35:30.1
4. Kris Freeman, Andover, NH, 35:32.3
5. Martin Johnsrud Sundby, Norway, 35:32.7
48. Andy Newell, Shaftsbury, VT, 36:47.1
57. Torin Koos, Leavenworth, WA, 37:03.6
1. Aino-Kaisa Saarinen, Finland, 25:58.0
2. Irina Khazova, Russia, 26:11.1
3. Vibeke Skofterud, Norway, 26:12.7
4. Marianna Longa, Italy, 26:21.0
5. Natalia Korosteleva, Russia, 26:23.2
18. Kikkan Randall, Anchorage, AK, 26:56.4
59. Liz Stephen, East Montpelier, VT, 28:52.3
70. Morgan Arritola, Ketchum, ID, 29:26.1