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Youthful skiers shine at U.S. Cross Country

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SOLDIER HOLLOW — The general consensus is that the future of the women's cross country program rests with the youths of this country.

Results this weekend in the U.S. Cross Country Nationals would certainly support the claim.

Sunday's 5 kilometer race ended in a tie between senior racer Kikkan Randall of Anchorage, Alaska, and junior racer Liz Stephen of Montpelier, Vt.

Saturday's race was won by Randall, but right behind her were two juniors — Morgan Arritola of Fairfield, Idaho, and Stephen.

All this, now, from a field of more than 200 collegiate, national and international racers.

On Sunday, the two skied the Olympic course in 14 minutes, 48.7 seconds. Third was Kristina Strandberg of Sweden in 15:16.5 and fourth was Katherine Pearson with team Rossignol.

In the men's race, a 10 kilometer freestyle, Ivan Babikov of Russia continued to dominate this event. He has won every race he has skied. But, since he is not a U.S. citizen, he's not eligible for the U.S. national title.

As a result, the national title went to James Southam of Anchorage, Alaska, followed by Kjetil Hagtved Dammen of the University of Alaska.

Pete Vordenberg, a coach for the U.S. team, said it was great to see young talent doing so well in the women's event.

He also admitted that if one of the U.S. women skiers finished in the top 20, he'd think that was "great."

"That would not only be good experience, but that would be a good result. Most media only care about the top three, but to finish among the top 15 to 20 women in the world would be excellent," he said.

"Really, the future of women's cross country looks super bright. Unbelievable. There is a huge list of 10 young women who are showing they have the potential to be great athletes in the future."

Stephen admitted she came to this event, the event before Olympic team selections are made, with the Games being little more than a "distant goal."

"I really had to race well to be considered, and it just happened to work out that way," she admitted. "We'll just have to see what happens. Nothing is set in stone, but it would be a great opportunity."

With respect to Sunday's race, she said she wasn't expecting to win, "Just to go out and ski and whatever happens, happens."

Her results are all the more impressive considering four years ago she was an alpine skier in the Burke Mountain Academy. Tired of alpine, she went looking for something to compliment her favorite pastime — running.

"So I switched to cross country and now running is complementing my skiing. It's the best decision I could have made," she said.

If selected, Southam said his goal is to place in the top 30 in the Olympics.

"This will be my first Olympics. Last year was my first in international racing and I think I've made a big jump up in a year. And, if I make the team, hopefully I can make the relay team and if everyone has a good day we could win a medal," he said.

As for his race on Sunday, he said he went out too hard Saturday, "and I paid. My goal today was to build, to ski fast throughout, to go as fast as I could, but not faster than I should."

Babikov had the fastest time of 25:08.5. Southam was 30 seconds behind with a 25:38.2. Dammen's time was 26:15.7.

The event will conclude in Tuesday with the pursuit races.


E-mail: grass@desnews.com