Lars Flora, Sarah Konrad capture final events at XC nationals

Lars Flora, Sarah Konrad capture final events at XC nationals{mosimage}USSA — The 2004 Chevrolet U.S. Cross-Country Championships concluded Sunday with Olympian Lars Flora and Sarah Konrad capturing the long distance, free technique titles — the men’s 50km, 30km for women — in relatively balmy single-digit weather at Black Mountain in Rumford, Maine.

Flora covered the eight-lap race in 2:08.09.0 with fellow Olympian Andrew Johnson taking the silver medal in 2:08.31.4. Marc Gilbertson, a 1998 Olympic skier, was bronze medalist with a time of 2:08.39.5. Everyone else was five minutes and more off Flora’s time.

Konrad finished ahead of Aubrey Smith, a 2003 World Championships racer, and former Estonian Olympian Katrin Smigun. Her winning time was 1:30.22.4. Smith was 3.2 seconds back with Smigun finishing 1:30.27.1. The bronze medal, however — since medals go to only U.S. citizens — went to Hilary Patzer in 1:31.45.4.

After enduring near-Arctic cold and wind Thursday for the sprints, the calm weather on the final day was welcomed by all skiers.

“I think this was my most successful nationals,” said Flora, who was silver medalist a year ago in the 50K. He leaves Rumford with four medals — gold in the 50km, silver in the 30km and 10km classic and bronze in the 10km freestyle. “It’s been a hard week on everyone. The weather was so brutal. After the sprint, I was worried about the 50, but it wasn’t too bad. It got a little warmer.”

What was hard, he said, was eight times up Black Mountain’s infamous High School Hill, one of the course’s toughest climbs. “It’s about a minute climb and is some of the steepest out there,” he said.

He and Johnson and Gilbertson pulled away from the pack with about two laps remaining. Johnson and Flora dropped Gilbertson but then slowed their pace and the 1998 Olympian skied back to the front heading into the final lap.

“After the big downhill, I picked up the pace,” Flora said, “and wanted to gap ’em [build a lead]. I gapped ’em a little and then I worried I’d broken too soon. Going up High School Hill I was seeing stars. I kept telling myself ‘Keep going, keep going.’ I got about a 10-second gap and then kept going.”

The women raced on a slightly different course, not involving High School Hill, “and it was fun,” said Konrad, who tried unsuccessfully to make the U.S. Biathlon team earlier this winter. “Five of us skied together for most of the race, then Hilary and Sarah [Peters, from Ottawa, Ontario] fell back in the fourth lap, so it was the three of us for the last lap.

“Coming toward the finish, maybe with a K to go, I was leading. I’m a bike racer so I didn’t want to be leading because I know the advantage of coming from behind…but I was. So, I gunned it from there and they couldn’t catch me.”

The championships, organized by the Chisholm Ski Club for the second year in a row, drew record crowds — 559 registered, 478 racing on one day.

Black Mountain, Rumford, Maine
January 11, 2004
Men’s 50km Freestyle

1. Lars Flora, Anchorage, Alaska, 2:08.09.0
2. Andrew Johnson, Greensboro, Vt., 2:08.31.4
3. Marc Gilbertson, Hyde Park, Vt., 2:08.39.5
4. Eli Enman, Huntington, Vt., 2:13.18.2
5. Chad Giese, St. Paul, Minn., 2:13.53.0
6. Matt Weier, Mahtomedi, Minn., 2:15.20.4
7. Pat Weaver, Newmarket, N.H., 2:15.40.3
8. Erik Wickstrom, Fairbanks, Alaska, 2:15.51.0
9. Jason Lemeiux, Worthington, Mass., 2:16.43.4
10. Cory Wubbels, Marquette, Mich., 2:17.43.2

Women’s 30km Freestyle
1. Sarah Konrad, Laramie, Wyo., 1:30.22.4
2. Aubrey Smith, Seward, Alaska, 1:30.25.6
3. Hilary Patzer, Sun Valley, Idaho, 1:31.45.4
4. Kikkan Randall, Anchorage, Alaska, 1:37.28.6
5. Kate Pearson, Anchorage, Alaska, 1:37.28.6
6. Tara Sheahan, Boulder, Colo., 1:38.28.8
7. Diane Tremblay, Hayward, Wis., 1:40.14.6
8. Corey Coogan, Hudson, Wis., 1:46.46.9
9. Jennifer Ryan, Marquette, Mich., 1:48.38.4
10. Brandy Stewart, Caribou, Maine, 1:52.26.8

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