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Kemppel, Wadsworth win U.S. Olympic spots

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SOLDIER HOLLOW ? Nina Kemppel became the first American woman to qualify for four Olympics in cross country skiing by winning the Gold Cup Saturday at Soldier Hollow.

On the men's side, two-time Olympian Justin Wadsworth won a thrilling race in a sprint to the finish with 21-year-old Kris Freeman.

Besides an automatic berth on the U.S. Olympic team, Kemppel and Wadsworth won $10,000 each.

"In cross country racing, $10,000 is like hitting the jackpot," said Kemppel, who dominated the field of 19 in both of her races Saturday.

The first race was in the classic technique, which means racers keep both skis in prepared tracks. The outcome of that race determined where skiers would start in the second race ? a freestyle pursuit, in which there are no tracks and skiers push off side to side like a speedskater.

Kemppel won the preliminary 5-kilometer classical race by 35 seconds over Aelin Peterson, giving her a good head start in the 5K freestyle pursuit held just a few hours later.

Kemppel, of Anchorage, Alaska, never gave up her lead in the pursuit ? winning the race by 28 seconds over Peterson, and 51 seconds ahead of third place finisher Barb Jones.

Hometown favorite Wendy Wagner, a Salt Lake native who lives in Park City, finished fifth.

It was little surprise that Kemppel, a 16-time national champion, won the race and earned a spot on the Olympic team.

"It's nice to know, it's definite now," Kemppel said of her record-breaking performance and berth on the Olympic team.

Winning the men's race didn't come as easily for Wadsworth, who finished six seconds off the lead in the preliminary 10K classic race.

In the pursuit, Wadsworth quickly made up that time and took the lead at the beginning of the race. Wadsworth, Freeman and John Bauer raced closely until about halfway through the race, when Bauer fell back.

From that point, Wadsworth and Freeman skied nearly neck and neck. Freeman briefly took the lead on the last hill, but Wadsworth overtook him on the downhill coming into the stadium.

As the skiers came down the final stretch side by side, the crowd erupted in cheers, some shaking cowbells. After an all-out sprint to the finish line, Wadsworth raised his arms, winning by .05 seconds.

After the race, Wadsworth kissed his skis and pointed to his heart.

"I knew I had it in me. I let him take the lead and then I put the wood to him," he said.

Wadsworth credited his skis and the wax on them for his victory as well as his experience sprinting to the finish on the Soldier Hollow course.

Freeman conceded that Wadsworth's experience was the difference in the race.

E-MAIL: jhyde@desnews.com