Behind the Gold

PAIN THAT NEVER FELT SO GOOD

Norwegian cross country skier Heidi Weng stood atop Alpe Cermis screaming. Below, her teammate Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg was challenging Swede Stina Nilsson for third in the seventh and final stage of the Tour de Ski. The screams came with passion deep from within her burned out lungs. Two minutes earlier, she had won one of cross country ski racing’s biggest prizes, passing out exhausted onto the snow.

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The Tour de Ski is cross country ski racing’s version of cycling’s Tour de France. Alpe Cermis is its Alpe d’Huez. Skiing up the nine kilometer face of the Italian ski resort is painful enough. But to do it after spending a week of pushing yourself well past the brink every day is beyond comprehension.

“It’s our Mt. Everest,” said Jessie Diggins of the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team, who won one of the seven stages and finished fifth in the Tour – matching the U.S. mark set by teammate Liz Stephen two years ago. “It’s the challenge of doing something so hard that most people in the world can’t or won’t do it. When you’re standing at the top look down you feel this huge sense of hard-earned accomplishment and say, ‘hey, I did that.'”

In 2008, the second year of the Tour, then 19-year-old Stephen saw a video of the climb with her idol Charlotte Kalla of Sweden chasing Finn Virpi Kuitunen stride for stride up the climb. On the final switchback, Kalla made an impressive move to pass then exploded up the hill to win.

“It was the first time I heard about the Tour,” said Stephen. “It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen – such a feat of mental and physical strength. Kalla just decided, ‘I want to win this thing.’ Immediately, I knew I wanted to do this event!”

The Tour began in 2007. The USA didn’t participate until 2010 and didn’t have a finisher until 2011. But in the years since, the Americans have become one of the most Tour’s most notable teams. In the past five years, four different Americans have won stages. Another three have had a top three time.

“It took us a few years to get the hang of such an intensive multi-day event,” said Kikkan Randall, who was the first U.S. woman to finish in 2011. “But as we got the logistics and tactics figured out and started seeing success, the confidence for everyone has built and built.”

Randall was one of her sport’s first modern day star, inspiring athletes and using her platform to grow the sport. “The Tour de Ski has become a premier event for cross country and has been really good for raising the profile of our sport,” she said. “The Tour is an event that many of our athletes make one of the major focal points of the season and it’s becoming a stronger event for us every year.”

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Other teams have watched the American women with their face paint, glitter and funny socks and wondered what it was all about. It’s as tight-knit as a team or family can be. They are true soulmates in search of the same holy grail.

“As a team we’re mentally tough and very positive,” said Diggins. “We go into each stage as a new day – a new opportunity to win. We don’t get bogged down by ‘yesterday.’ It’s easy to talk yourself out of a good result. Never mind what happened yesterday; today I’m going in to do my best.”

But a team is more than athletes.

“Our coaches and wax technicians – they’re everything,” said Diggins. “They work harder than we do. If you think it’s hard for us to climb Alpe Cermis, that’s what they do every day in ski testing. They sprint up the hill, glide test down, then do it again – three hours or more each day. They work their butts off to make our day successful. It’s take amazing stamina and humility.”

The U.S. Cross Country Team was given a small good luck token a year ago by one of its most passionate supporters – a tiny turquoise bear. That little lucky charm was handcrafted by a member of the Zuni trip in the American Southwest. The Zuni, a pueblo of the Navajo, believe the bear symbolizes strength, courage and healing.

As one of the team’s veterans, Stephen has kept a watchful eye on Diggins the last few years. “It’s been fun for me to watch Jessie grow up as an athlete and as a person,” said Stephen. “She’s been like a little sister for me.”

Over Christmas, Stephen needed a confidence boost. So she went to Diggins and they talked. A day later, Diggins passed the bear off to Stephen as they headed into the Tour. “We all know Liz has these mad skills on the Tour,” joked teammate Sadie Bjornsen. Now it was Stephen’s choice as to who she would reward.

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In stage six, it was all America with Diggins taking a 5k win in Toblach and Bjornsen third. On the long drive through the Dolomites to Predazzo that night, Stephen got to thinking.

“We don’t have as many ‘firsts’ any more,” she said. “Sadie had really shown some guts to get that first podium. And you never have another first. So the bear needed to go along with that moment.”

Much like Stephen, Bjornsen felt she needed a boost of confidence in the 5k earlier that day. “When the going got tough, I just kept thinking, ‘what would Jessie do?'”

This is a team with heart. And a team with true grit.

“The tour puts everyone on the same playing field,” said Bjornsen. “We all have the same fatigue, the same difficult travel between races, the same battle ahead each day. I love the “toughness” factor to it.”

For seven out of nine days, they have left every ounce of their being on the ski track. On New Year’s Eve day in Val Mustair, Switzerland, 65 women were on the start list. At the top of Alpe Cermis, there were only 31 remaining – earning a bond that can never be broken.

“We are dreamers, but we are also believers,” said Bjornsen. “It’s crazy how much confidence you can get from a teammate’s success if you allow yourself to stand beside them.”


by Tom Kelly, USSA Communications

 

Third Race In The Books

The CXC Youth Cup has its third race in the books with the conclusion of the Pre-Loppet on Sunday January 8th. The races took place on the newly aligned man- made snow loop at Wirth Park in Minneapolis. Over 100 kids participated in U8-U14 age categories. Despite the hilly course, spectators witnessed hard fought wins among all youth competitors throughout the day.

“The Loppet Foundation did a great job preparing the course and stadium to give our youth racers the best possible experience,” stated Amy Cichanowski, CXC Youth Coordinator. “We were all very pleased with the turn-out on a cold, but sunny, day”.

The next stop for the CXC Youth Cup will be the Birkie Trailhead Races on Jan 21st and 22nd.

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Marathon Cup Season Opener

Presented by AVANT Techno

The Seeley Hills Classic 42km and 22km races will kick off the 2017 CXC Marathon Cup Season, Saturday January 14th.

Races start at 10:00 AM at the OO warming building on the Birkie Trail.

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The Cup encompasses six most prominent marathons in the Midwest (MN, WI, MI) into one unified competition.

Contenders of the series will race in six marathons split between two classic, two skate and one skiathlon weekend and one weekend with back-to-back classic and skate races. All Marathon Cup participants are automatically scored in age group, overall and age-index overall categories.


Register as a 2016-17 CXC Supporter member.


Two final winners will be honored with high prestige upon receiving the coveted CXC Marathon Cup overall title along with monetary rewards granted at each race. Other top finishers will also become eligible for the Masters Fantasy Camp and individual rewards at each race in the series.

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The Support our Sport Fundraiser Has Reached Its Goal

A huge THANK YOU to all donors for helping us in our Support our Sport Fundraiser.

With your generosity, CXC was able to raise $30,098.

This sum will help to support our key programs that are essential in growing the sport of cross country skiing and assisting skiers of all levels and abilities reach their highest potential. 

Yuriy Gusev
Executive & Athletic Director
Central Cross Country Ski Association
Community Olympic Development Program

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Taking Home National Title

For the first race of the 2017 US Nationals Championship in Soldier Hollow (UT), CXC Team athlete Kyle Bratrud took home his second national title in the 15km Skate Individual Start. Kyle fought hard to close out his biggest competitor Tad Elliott of Ski Club Vail, by 21.6 seconds.

“This race has been circled on my calendar for the whole summer and fall as (the 15km) is a strong event for me. My training has been good leading up to nationals and I felt like I was able to execute my “race plan” perfectly,” stated Bratrud.

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As a result of winning on Saturday, Bratrud has put himself in the top distance spot for domestic selection process for World Championships this year in Lahti, Finland.

The team continued racing on Sunday with the Classic Sprint Competition. Once again, Felicia Gesior found herself in the top of the field in the qualifier, placing 12th overall. With weather changing throughout the day Felicia decided to forgo kick-wax and instead double poled the qualifier.

CXC Team athlete Nichole Bathe, now racing as a senior at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks is showing her strength at the Championship series taking home the top U23 female title and 16th on the day.

Inaugural Ice Age Challenge – Cross Country Ski Race

The Ice Age Challenge cross-country ski race will be hosted at the Elver Park Ski Trails and include several separate race distances throughout the day. The courses range from flat sections, gently rolling hills to challenging climbs and exciting downhills.

Date: Saturday, February 18
Location: Elver Park, Madison (WI)
Distances: 5 / 15 / 22.5 km


Elver Park is located on the west side of Madison and considered as one of the best places to cross country ski in Madison area. The park is home to 5km of lighted trails in addition to a 1-2.5 km manmade snow loop that will be used in the event of low snow conditions.

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Birkie Trailhead JNQ and Cross-Country Races

SCHEDULE, COURSE MAP AND STADIUM LAYOUT

We will keep this document updated with the latest event information. It is also accessible from the main event page (scroll down the page to locate it).


The Nordic racing season began a little over two weeks ago on the ski trails of Michigan Technology University in Houghton, Michigan with the first Junior National Qualifier and CXC Youth Cup events of the season.

Coming Up Next

Birkie Trailhead JNQ and Cross Country Ski Races
January 21-22, 2017 / Birkie Trailhead (Cable, WI)
Competition Categories: Youth, Juniors, Seniors, Masters

Registration for JNQ races typically closes on the Tuesday before the race. Register early!


The event is a great opportunity to score points for Junior Nationals (March 3rd-11th, Whiteface Mountain, NY). It also institutes the same course profile as the Wisconsin High School State Championships making it a valuable race preview for Wisconsin high school skiers.

The weekend starts Saturday with an individual classic distance event and concludes on Sunday after the freestyle mass start event.

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LOOKING AHEAD

Additional Midwest and Great Lakes Junior National Team qualifying races this season are the Hilltop Invitational, Marshall School Trails, Duluth, MN (January 28-29th) and the Mayor’s XC Challenge, Theodore Wirth Park, Minneapolis, MN (February 18-19th).

The Birkie Trailhead events will need many volunteers for a variety of tasks. Your help is greatly appreciated!


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