FILE UNDER -- Nordic

Soldier Hollow nationals: Freeman, Wagner win pursuits

Soldier Hollow nationals: Freeman, Wagner win pursuits{mosimage}SOLDIER HOLLOW, Utah – Olympians Kris Freeman and Wendy Wagner took early leads Tuesday and led all the way to win the final events of the U.S. Cross Country Championships – the men’s 30-kilometer and women’s 20 km pursuits – at sunny Soldier Hollow. Wagner overcame a ski malfunction midway through the race.

It was the second gold medal of the week – and fourth of his career – for Freeman, who took the 10 km classic technique race Saturday. Wagner collected her fifth national title.

Freeman, a diabetic who is healthy this season after being hobbled a year ago by viral problems, followed his game plan to win in 1 hour, 15 minutes, 54.4 seconds. Andrew Johnson, the pursuit champion a year ago, took the silver medal in 1:16.23.9 while James Southam completed the podium in 1:17.20.5.

‘I enjoyed racing today and the other days I didn’t, and that’s the difference when you’re on and you’re off. Andrew’s skiing well, James is skiing well and I’m sure we’re going to have a great Olympics’ Freeman said.

He won Saturday in the 15 km classic race but said he didn’t have the snap he wanted, so he skipped Sunday’s 10 km, which was won by Southam, and the day of rest paid off with his pursuit victory. He likened the Soldier Hollow course to the Olympic tracks in Pragelato next month. ‘These trails are very, very similar to Pragelato – and the exact same altitude; the only difference is there’s more humidity in Pragelato, but I like that, so it’s all right.

‘My plan for today was the attack from the start and that’s what I did. I just wanted to ski off the front and be in control of the race.’

Wagner, whose best previous result was fourth last Thursday in the 1.3 km freestyle sprint, finished in 1:01.57.1 after overcoming a lost ski midway through the race. Northern Michigan University senior Lindsay Weier, an Olympian teammate in 2002, was silver medalist. Abi Larson, who appeared to have clinched an Olympic berth with Wagner as nationals got under way after they both had top-30 results in World Cup races in Canada before Christmas, was bronze medalist in 1:03.15.1.

In the pursuits, skiers race in classic technique, then pull into a ‘pit stop’ and change into skating skis and poles.

However, as Wagner headed back onto the course, her right ski popped off because she hadn’t closed the toe-binding and she had to retrieve it, get back into the binding and try to resume her quick tempo. Fortunately, she had enough of a lead that no one was able to gain appreciably on her.

‘I had to dive on my stomach’ to catch the ski,” she said with a grin. ‘The ski was going across the snow and I was going to have to dive on it and chase it across the snow for 10 meters. I dove on it, put it on and lost a few seconds.’

However, she said, she didn’t ‘fret’ too long about the situation because that would have cost her even more time. She refocused and resumed the lead … and came in unchallenged. With her dad and boyfriend cheering – ‘my mom thinks she’s bad luck, so she wouldn’t come down’ Wagner laughed, the win was especially sweet because of all the support she’s received from local donors so she could reach her second Olympics.

‘I really, really wanted to win for everybody in the community that’s helped me out’ said Wagner, who plans to retire from World Cup skiing after this season. ‘I wanted to show them, y’know, their money was going to a good place and I’m gonna do the best I can with it. I’m really, really happy to win this championship for that reason.

‘I heard so many cheers out on the course. I was smiling from the bridge [last 300 meters] in, I was ao happy when everyone was cheering. This is really neat to win at Soldier Hollow in front of everybody who’s supported me, not just my hometown.”

The Olympic team of up to 16 skiers, no more than eight of one gender, will be announced Jan. 17.

– Courtesy USSA News Bureau

U.S. Cross Country Championships
Soldier Hollow, Utah – Jan. 10, 2006
(Only Americans are eligible for medals)
Men’s 30 km (15 km CL+15 km FR) pursuit

1. Kris Freeman, Andover, N.H./U.S. Ski Team, 1:15.54.4
2. Andrew Johnson, Greensboro, Vt./U.S. Ski Team, 1:16.23.9
3. James Southam, Anchorage, Alaska/Team Rossignol, 1:17.20.5
4. Dave Chamberlain, Bethel, Maine/Team Atomic, 1:18.11.8
5. Lars Flora, Anchorage, Alaska/Subaru Factory Team, 1:18.12.4
6. Chad Giese, St. Paul, Minn./Subaru Factory Team, 1:18.29.2
7. Dve Stewart, Ripton, Vt./FSX, 1:18.29.7
8. Erik Flora, Anchorage, Alaska/APU Nordic, 1:18.47.7
9. Carl Swenson, Park City, Utah/U.S. Ski Team, 1:19.00.3
10. Kjetil Dammer, Norway, 1:19.32.7

Women’s 20 km (10 km CL+10 km FR)
1. Wendy Wagner, Park City, Utah/Team Atomic, 1:01.57.1
2. Lindsay Weier, Mahtomedi, Minn./Northern Michigan University, 1:03.13.6
3. Kristina Strandberg, Sweden/Subaru Factory Team, 1:03.14.6
4. Abi Larson, Bozeman, MT/Subaru Factory Team, 1:03.15.1
5. Kate Pearson, Anchorage, Alaska/Team Rossignol, 1:04.16.0
6. Karin Camenisch, Switzerland/Team Rossignol, 1:04.31.9
7. Caitlin Compton, St. Paul, Minn./Subaru Factory Team, 1:04.54.4
8. Kate Whitcomb, Limestone, Maine/Maine Winter Sports Center, 1:05.23.2
9. Martina Stursova, Czech Republic/Subaru Factory Team, 1:05.51.3
10. Anna McLoon, Limestone, Maine/Maine Winter Sports Center, 1:07.37.0

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