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XC champs to decide Olympic team

XC Champs to Decide Olympic Team{mosimage}SOLDIER HOLLOW, Utah – Kris Freeman, who has produced the best American cross-country results in two decades, and Carl Swenson, who comes to town with 11 U.S. titles, will lead the throng Tuesday as the 2002 Olympic venue hosts the U.S. Cross Country Championships.

The event features a pack of 451 skiers registered for five days of racing, which forms the final piece to the puzzle in Olympic team selection.

Unseasonal temperatures have created some problems, but Howard Peterson, who runs Soldier Hollow and heads the organizing committee, had his crews create a massive stockpile of snow on the biathlon range. 'We'll move snow wherever we need it' he said.

It was at Soldier Hollow, during the nationals of 2000, that the big-crowd element was brought to the championships, triggering the largest fields in U.S. championships history. Six years ago, about 360 skiers poured into the former American Indian and then military bivouac site, which – at that time – still was moving earth and cutting brush in preparation of the final gem, the Olympic trails designed by Hermod Bjoerkestol and two-time U.S. Olympian John Aalberg.

Sprinters Andy Newell and Torin Koos are competing on the World Cup tour in Europe – they competed before New Year's in the Czech Republic and race next weekend in Estonia. But they're the only key competitors who will be missing.

In addition, the disabled U.S. championships are being staged in conjunction with nationals, as they have ever since 1986 when they became the nation's first sport to become included with an able-bodied championships. The Paralympics will be held in March following the Olympics in Torino, Italy.

"We're using a base 2.5K loop and then we'll spin out from there' Peterson said. 'We'll move snow wherever we need to but, really, we're good to start [Tuesday, the men's 30 km and women's 15 km freestyle races] and then we've got the sprints, so it wouldn't be until next Saturday. I'm not envisioning any major problem.'

U.S. nationals schedule
Tuesday (9:30 a.m. start) – men's 30 km, women's 15 km freestyle (8:30 a.m. disabled start)

Thursday (9:30 a.m.) – freestyle sprints

Saturday (9:30 a.m.) – men's 15 km, women's 10 km classic (8:30 a.m. disabled start)

Sunday (9:30 a.m.) – men's 10 km, women's 5 km classic (2:45 p.m. disabled start)

Tuesday (10 a.m.) – pursuits (men's 15 km +15 km, women's

Freeman, a diabetic who self-injects his insulin up to seven or eight times a day, is a 2002 Olympian who had a pair of top-10 World Cup results during the 2004 season. Last winter, he and Swenson were both sidelined by virus and flu problems, but they've both rebounded this season with strong results before Christmas in World Cup races in Canada.

Among the top women racers will be local favorite Wendy Wagner, a 2002 Olympian who also has raced in the last four World Championships; Rebecca Dussault, who has raced in three worlds and has collected three U.S. gold medals at each of the last two championships; defending U.S. sprint champion Lindsay Williams, a senior at Northern Michigan University; and Sarah Konrad, who is attempting to make the Olympic biathlon squad as well as earn a place on the cross-country team.

The Olympic team of up to 16 athletes is expected to be named Jan. 17. Selection will be based on a combination of World Cup, SuperTour and U.S. Cchampionships results, according to U.S. Nordic Director Luke Bodensteiner.

Skiers from some 30 colleges and a wide variety of club programs from Maine to Alaska are entered for the races. The busiest day is expected to be Jan. 8 with the men's 10 km and women's 5 km free technique events, with about 400 skiers competing.

'These are important races as athletes look to earn a berth at the Olympics' Bodensteiner said. 'We're looking for some tense competition because these final results could put someone on the team for Torino.'

– Courtesy USSA News Bureau

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