The U.S. women are all smiles after a day filled with career bests in Rogla, Slovenia. (USSA/Matt Whitcomb)
ROGLA, Slovenia (Dec. 17) – It was a day of career bests for U.S. racers in Rogla with classic technique distance racing in heavy new snow. The U.S. Ski Team's technicians delivered the skis with Kikkan Randall (Anchorage) setting the pace finishing 11th, followed by Holly Brooks (Anchorage) 19th and Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) 22nd in the 10k, with Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) kicking off the day in a brilliant 24th in the men's 15k – all career best classic distance finishes. Norway's Petter Northug and Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk took the wins.
Career best non-sprint classic for Kikkan Randall
Randall dropped from third to fourth in overall World Cup standings
Career best classic finishes for Holly Brooks, Liz Stephen and Andy Newell
Event organizers had scrambled in the last week to put down a track of hauled in manmade snow. Overnight they saved the race by managing over 20 cm of fresh new snow.
U.S. Ski Team technicians delivered outstanding classic skis in difficult conditions to give the athletes a shot at career best classic finishes.
Freestyle sprints are set for Sun. with Randall defending her World Cup sprint lead.
QUOTES Matt Whitcomb, Head Women's Cross Country Coach It was a big day for U.S. cross country skiing. (Andy) Newell fired up the team with a best ever distance race, finishing in the distance points for the first time ever (not counting prologues). All four girls backed him up with best-ever classic distance results.
It is amazing to watch the dynamics of a team when its members begin to truly work together - for each other. We're in a good place over here. It's a team that really feels an elevated level of support from back home. That is actually an important piece of our success moving forward.
The service staff made world class skis today, and I think it's also important to point our how well that team within the team is working.
Last night is snowed 20 cm. While the OC (organizing committee) did a great job making this World Cup actually happened. The new snow made the conditions a bit wobbly, paired with managing strong gusts of wind. Today was a fighter's race.
Andy Newell I told myself I had to score a top 30 in distance during the first period in order for me to stay over and race the Tour de Ski so I was stoked that I was able to pull that off today.
I've worked a lot on my distance skiing in the past two years so it's encouraging to see it start to pay off and to be able to feel comfortable skiing with the top distance guys - at least in classic for now.
It did snow a lot last night which made for some challenging conditions. The course had less climbing than what you would hope for on the World Cup but the soft conditions, wind and slower new snow made it so that there was a lot more striding and kick double pole out there than most of us were expecting.
It was pretty straight forward hard wax conditions and I think our techs did a great job finding some good wax.
Having a sprint race tomorrow is great practice for the Tour so I'll go out and do my best and try to make the final. Chances are the conditions will be soft and windy again so I think once the heats get going anything can happen. This course has an uphill into the stadium which tends to suit me better so I think I might have to try skiing from the front a little bit to make sure there's room to sprint in the finish.
Kikkan Randall Today was another solid distance race for me and my best ever in classic. I had a great first two laps and was sitting in fifth halfway through. I faded a bit over the second half but was still able to keep fighting in the top 10.
I got a surprise attack by Latemakki from Finland just before the line for 10th which was a bummer. But it just goes to show you must fight with everything to the line!
It was so cool to see our whole team ski well again today. The other teams are definitely noticing that we're a team to contend with now!
Liz Stephen After previewing the course, I set my sights to a top 35 goal as I thought getting into the top 30 would be pretty tough for me on a relatively flat course with tough snow. However, we woke up to fresh snow which helped the tracks a lot. The added part of the loop that had not been open the day before had another short climb in it, which all helped, for sure.
However, I think most of what happened was me deciding to go for it. Courses are never all going to be perfect for any athlete. But the athletes who can learn how to just go for it every time have a much better chance to have a great race than the ones who only think they can ski to their potential on courses that were made for them.
And the night before the race, I decided that was not going to be me. So, I went for it, and every lap felt better than the one before it. I kept skiing up, tried to ski smart by tucking in behind girls where I could to block the gusting wind, rest where I could, hammer where I could, and just never count myself out.