Futuristic cross-country comes to Truckee
A glimpse into the future of cross-country skiing was available last Thursday in Truckee as several of the top skiers from the United States and Sweden participated in the Yoko/FIS sprint races at Tahoe Donner Cross-Country Ski Area.
Instead of venturing out-of-sight on the trails surrounding Tahoe Donner, skiers participating in the sprint raced on a 450-meter oval around the area’s meadow, making the event “spectator-friendly.”
Two eight-foot high jumps on the course served to give both skiers and spectators some thrills on each lap. The last-place skier on each lap was also eliminated from the race, giving the participants no time to become complacent in the back of the pack.
“It’s a cross between super-cross motorcycle racing and skiing,” said Tahoe Donner Cross-Country manager Andrew Hall. “It’s an exciting format for both the spectators and the competitors.”
Hall said sprint races are becoming more popular worldwide.
“It’s what they’re doing in Europe these days,” Hall said. “There will be a sprint a day or two before the big, traditional races in Europe where the ‘stars’ come together and do lap races in front of the spectators. Sprints won’t take the place of traditional cross-country racing, but they can ‘spice it up.'”
Adding some “spice” to the field was the Swedish Junior National Team, which was in Truckee to participate in the three-race spring series which continued at Auburn Ski Club Saturday and Sunday following Thursday’s sprint race.
“The Swedish team added a lot of competition to the field and really got into the spirit of the sprints,” Hall said. “They had never heard of jumps in a race before today.”
The Swedes lack of jump practice didn’t deter Anders Hoegberg and Tobias Longberg from taking the early lead in the men’s final, with U.S. National Team members Marcus Nash and Justin Wadsworth biding their time behind the Swedes.
With five laps remaining, Wadsworth came up short in a sprint with Ely Brown, leaving the race a two-on-two battle between the Americans and Swedes. Brown was dropped with four laps to go, leaving only three racers remaining.
With three laps to go, Nash finally bridged the gap to the Swedish pair. He surged over the final 100 meter of the lap to drop Longberg.
Nash and Hoegberg slowed a bit a the start of their decisive lap, but Nash went all-out over the fianl two jumps to leave Hoegberg gasping for air.
“I hadn’t done a sprint before but it was fun,” Hoegberg said. “Our problem was that we weren’t used to the altitude.”
Nash said tactics come into play in a sprint race more than in a usual cross-country race.
“It’s very hard to go hard from the start,” Nash said. “”For the first few laps, my goal was to just not be the last guy across the line.”
Nash said shorter races are becoming more common even on the elite, international level.
“They’re going that way in World Cup events – with the shorter races,” Nash said. “In Norway, they even have indoor sprint races inside the Olympic Ice Arena.”
In the women’s race, U.S. Team member Suzanne King opened a wide gap on the field early in the race, leaving Swede Helena Sunberg and Cindy Hellemeyer to race for second, a battle which Sunberg eventually won. It was the second victory of the week for King, who won the national championship at 30 kilometers at the Silver Rush at Royal Gorge March 22.
(The results of Saturday’s and Sunday’s spring series races are on Page 2B.)
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