Elite field expected for U.S. XC nationals
HOUGHTON, Michigan — The U.S. Cross-Country Championships open Wednesday at Michigan Tech, and racers have a chance to earn a place on one of several teams — the Nordic World Championships, the Junior World Championships, the Under-23 Championships and a Continental Cup trip in Europe.
More than 450 skiers — from Olympians to marathon racers and collegians, to all manner of ski racers — are registered to compete in one or more of the four days of racing on the Michigan Tech trails, which hosted the highly successful Junior Olympics last season.
"I'm really excited because everyone's going to be there," U.S. head coach Pete Vordenberg said Sunday. "There's a lot at stake and a lot of opportunities for skiers to see how fast they are."
Course crews have battled a lack of snow in Houghton by moving snow from areas surrounding the course to construct a 6- to 8-inch base on the track, according to media reports. Racers will test the track during training Monday and Tuesday.
In addition to the national title races, the races represent part of the $130,000 Cross Country SuperTour, with double points awarded. Two-time Olympian Kris Freeman, who won four straight races after returning from snowless Europe earlier this month, and Caitlin Compton from the Central Division's fledgling CXC squad, are the overall leaders coming into Houghton. Anders Haugen and Laura Valaas are the sprint leaders.
The races also include the U.S. disabled championships, as they have every year since 1986 when USSA became the first federation to roll the disabled cross-country championships into the able-bodied nationals.
"The community has really come together for these championships and it's great to see that kind of support. They've put in a lot of work," Vordenberg said, "and I'm looking for some outstanding racing at all levels.
"We've got everybody on the national team healthy and fit, and I know a lot of athletes want to see how they measure up with our best, so that should make for some terrific racing ... and the SuperTour just adds to the fun."
The 2006 U.S. Cross-Country Championships schedule
Wednesday (Jan. 3) — Men's 10 kilometer classic technique, women's 5 km classic
Thursday (Jan. 4) — Men's 15 km freestyle, women's 10 km free
Saturday (Jan. 6) — Classic sprints
Sunday (Jan. 7) — Team (i.e., two-skier) sprints (each skis three 1 km laps)