Babikov and Larson Prepared to Battle at Birkebeiner

Babikov and Larson Prepared to Battle at Birkebeiner{mosimage}Top cross-country athletes will battle for podium spots in Saturday’s American Birkebeiner 51 km ski marathon. North Americans Ivan Babikov (CAN) and Abigail Larson (USA), both of the Subaru Factory Team, will be among the favorites in the race, held in Hayward, Wisconsin.

Babikov, a native Russian who immigrated to Canada, is the most dominant North America-based skier to contest the Birkie since the USST’s Carl Swenson won the race in 1999.

Babikov has proven his speed this season with eight victories in USSA SuperTour events and two victories in FIS-US Marathon Cup competitions. At last weekend’s Canadian Keskinada Worldloppet race, Babikov challenged FIS Marathon Cup leader Stanislav Rezac for 50 kilometers, only to lose the final sprint by less than a second. Babikov placed sixth at the Birkie in 2004, just four seconds out of first.

Birkie 2004 champion Gianantonio Zanetel and 2nd place finisher Stanislav Rezac will not be racing at Birkie 2005.

Abigail Larson hopes to become the first American Birkie champion since 2002. A native of Minnesota, Larson has set her sights on peaking at this year’s Birkie. She finished eighth (third American) in her first Birkie in 2004. With podium finishes in two events at the 2005 US National Championships and dominating victories in the Noquemanon and Finlandia Marathons, Larson hopes her improved marathon fitness will allow her to challenge for the victory.

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