U.S. skiers hit trails as bitter cold concedes

After subzero temperatures cancel two days of races, ski championships begin

Posted: Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The gap between minus 10 and 2 degrees above zero may not seem like a lot, but it was enough to get skiers moving in the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships on Monday in Anchorage.

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Matt Hage / The Associated Press
Matt Hage / The Associated Press

After watching subzero temperatures cancel a weekend of races, athletes in the event finally hit the trails, albeit for shortened races.

Women kicked off competition by racing 5 kilometers in the individual freestyle race instead of 10; men had their race shortened to a 10K from 15.

Skiers still applied enough layers - two pair of long underwear, scarves wrapped around their heads and hats on top of scarves - to remain warm without impeding their strides.

"Trust me, it's still cold," said world-class skier Kikkan Randall, a hometown favorite who finished second in the women's race.

"The toes are the coldest part of my body right now," she said. "But it was great to get out there."

Randall finished three seconds behind the 5K winner, Caitlin Compton of Minneapolis, who completed the course in 14:48 seconds. Elizabeth Stephen, of East Montpelier, Vt., finished third in 14:56

Kris Freeman, of Thornton, N.H, placed first in the men's division, finishing in 24:17; Leif Zimmermann of Bozeman, Mont., took second in 25:07 and Matthew Liebsch, of Plymouth, Minn., finished third in 25:19.

For two days, many skiers warmed up, waxed their skis and put on a few layers to brace for single digit temperatures.

What they got were double-digit numbers - but those figures were below zero.

Temperatures must be at least 4 degrees below zero for skiers to compete. For two days, the numbers were at least 10 below with no signs of improvement.

Randall, 26, said organizers made the right decision.

"It was just too cold," said Randall, who returned from World Cup competition in Europe for the national races. "You put your lungs at risk if you compete. It's just not worth it."

"You can just tell there was pent up energy last couple of days," Randall said Monday, when the temperature broke to about 2 degrees above zero. "Now, every one is tired from a hard effort today."

Cancellations weren't a problem for men's winner, Freeman. He had not planned on competing in the sprint races over the weekend.

"It was still strange to wake up knowing you're supposed to race, but you're really not sure if you're going to race," Freeman said.

"When it's this cold, I get a little numb at first," he said. "But I felt better and better as the race went on. It took a couple of (kilometers) to get myself going."

Races continue today with women competing in a 10K classic race, while men are scheduled for 15K. Competition runs through Thursday.

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