Thursday, January 28, 2010

Did you know that the Simpsons movie was filmed in Homer? It had to be. Doh!

I traveled to Homer, AK this past weekend with my son, Team FAST, and a contingent of Fairbanks Nordic skiers and their families. I'm just supposed to be the assistant coach, but Bill couldn't make the trip so Tag suddenly you know who was was IT.

We flew in on Friday evening and prepped for two days of racing in the "Besh Cup" series, which are the qualifiers for the US Junior National Championships to be held in Maine this March. Saturday was a 1 km sprint race and Sunday a distance race of 3K, 5K, or 10K, depending on age.

We were up early and at the race venue by 7:00 AM on Saturday to prep skis for the classic sprints. Sprinting is exciting to watch, but everything else about it is a pain. Racers do 3 or 4 rounds in a day, and these are super intense anaerobic efforts--about like doing as many heats in the 800 meters if you are a runner.

Opening round was a qualifier with an interval start (racers go out one at a time every 15 seconds). The top qualifers for the respective divisions advance to semi-or quarter finals later in the day. These typically have 6 to 8 skiers going head to head. Under this format there are heats going for 5 or 6 hours. It's exhausting to watch let alone to be a coach, official, or racer.

But as a spectator/now coach, watching sprint races is also addicting.

I went out at 8 AM to check the snow. Being Alaska in January, it was pitch black at that time--navigating an unfamiliar trail was dicey. 18 degrees the snow was crusty (wwahhahaahha! Get it, like Krusty the Clown) and hard. Waxing was pretty straightforward.

All our kids made it through the qualifiers and into the semis. Barely for most, but Wyatt, a J1 was 8th overall.

Start of a J2 semifinal

With the sun rising higher and warming temps (mid 20s), waxing conditions had changed by the time we got to the quarter finals and semis. The J2s struggled in the semis and failed to advance. And due to a timing snafu, we had to appeal to get Werner into the quarterfinals. Good news, but they made him start 3 meters back in a bad lane. That's a tough margin to come back from on such a short race with no major hill to separate the skiers, and with a track that is not conducive to passing.

Wyatt would provide the excitement for the day. He sprinted to the lead of his quarterfinal right from the gun, and led the heat of 6 skiers until the final 20 meters. But he was knocked down, hard, by another skier and we had to file a protest. Everybody in the stadium saw the foul, gasped collectively and most everyone spent the next 10 minutes shaking their head and talking about it.

Wyatt leading the quarterfinal with 400 meters to go

He was reinstated and advanced but the tumble was wicked. Wyatt was 4th in his semi and in the B final--good enough for 10th on the day, but he looked to be in a state of shock. Wyatt's sister, Ema also nabbed a 10th for J2s, while Erich and Kuba went 11th and 12th.

Okay, but we felt we could do better.

Sunday dawned cloudy. This time we moved up the ridge to an amazing race venue, designed by 1988 Olympic skier Bill Spencer. This was a gnarly European type circuit with huge climbs (460 ft) and scary S turns right next to steep ravines. Although the site had no permanent infrastructure--let alone trailers or temp buildings--just a couple of Yurts and a tent or two brought in for the weekend. But it did have a giant gong, which could be banged by anyone willing to swing the giant mallet, to lend an other worldly, if not Tibetan feel.

My son Tristan did 3K in J3s, and skied fearlessly on the downhills. His technique was good, and he placed 11th in his age. Maybe not quite what he'd hoped but at his age it's all about getting the experience and learning to race at different places under different conditions and course layouts than we're used to.

The J2s bounced back wonderfully on the tough 5K course, taking 4th, 6th, and 7th. They are now all are in the top 8 in the state. Three bangs on the gong for Erich, Kuba, and Ema. Wyatt and Werner also will have a good shot at qualifying in two weeks here in Frozen Fairbanks. The local courses are tough but fair, perhaps not as spectacular as the ridge above Homer but designed to ensure that the most fit skiers make the qualification.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Must be January

January is typically the worst month here. No more than 5 or 6 hours of daylight and it's usually bitter cold. We had a few nice days a couple weeks ago, but have been locked into a long cold snap where it barely has been above zero for the past 10 days. Mostly in the -10s and -20s with no additional snow. It got down to -41 one morning.

The inversion has been been so so, and we had several days with no inversion. Not to mention that air quality (PM 2.5) is poor every day. Makes for interesting sunsets, but not so great on the lungs.

If things go by the typical pattern we'll get a few days to a week of a warm up (sometimes a chinook and a thaw), followed by the deepest and most bitter cold snap of the year. By the first week of February, things start looking up a little.

On the ski front things are also looking up a bit. I'm skiing again! Been skiing about four or five times in the past week and a half (just in time for the cold front), and the knee actually seems to be getting better every couple of days. I can ski 8-10 K now. I can tell that it's not 100% and probably will not be anything close to that until surgery. Date on that is pending.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

FAST Rocks at Senior Nationals

David was the talk of the Nordic nation with his 4th place finish in the 30K classic race yesterday. After his convincing win a couple weeks ago at Besh Cup in Eagle River, I knew he was ready for a good one. He's been top 15 as 17 and 18 year old at Distance Nationals. So top 10, maybe, in the pressure packed Olympic Trials was possible. No pressure actually - he'd already made the World Juniors team, so this was more of a hmm, let's see what we can do. And did he ever!

Kudos to great young skier, hard worker, and a gentleman to boot.

Likewise, Reese (who has all of those attributes as well) taking 9th!!!??? If anything that was more of a surprise. While stronger at classic skiing, Reese has been more of a sprinter. A great breakthrough for Reese, now on his way to the U23 championships.

Not to be left out, Logan, just 16 scored a top 30 in the sprint, race competitively against his peers in the J1 division with a 2nd and 3rd in the 15 skate and 10K classic races to nab a spot on the "Scando" team.

I have been with FAST for only a few months and can lay no claim to their development. Nevertheless it's been fun to watch them grow from promising youngsters to powerful young stars on the circuit. The next decade will be great to see.

Also wonderful to see Tyler Kornfield of UAF break through with a 4th in the sprint, while unheralded Tad Elliot from Colorado copped a 2nd in the 15 K.

Meanwhile, the community has some other youngsters coming up, and the performance of their elder peers this year will certainly be an inspiration for years.

Monday, January 04, 2010

50 year old Beth Reid takes 8th at 10K US Nationals!!?

Remember, you heard it here first!

Here's a name from the past. Beth (Heiden) Reid, now 50 years old, placed 8th overall today at the US National Cross Country Ski Championships 10K freestyle race in Anchorage. While not likely to make the team (they'll probably four or five skiers and Reid would need to be in the top 3 on Wednesday's 20K classical race to have a chance), it's an understatement to say that this was an outstanding performance.

Reid, younger sister of Olympic legend Eric Heiden, was a world champion (1979) and Olympic medalist (1980) in speed skating, and she was a NCAA champion in xc skiing (1983) while skiing for the University of Vermont. And between seasons she also won a world championship in cycling (1980).

1 247 RANDALL, Kikkan FSR USST/APU 28:40.1 0
2 245 COMPTON, Caitlin FSR Go! Training 28:50.5 +10.4
3 250 STEPHEN, Elizabeth FU23 USST/BMA 29:03.7 +23.6
4 249 ARRITOLA, Morgan FSR USST/SVSEF 29:26.9 +46.8
5 259 VINOGRADOVA, Ekaterina FSR Auburn Ski Club Associates Inc. 29:31.7 +51.6
6 251 DUSSAULT, Rebecca FSR CXC Team Vertical Limit 29:37.9 +57.8
7 258 BROOKS, Holly FSR APU Nordic Ski Center 29:57.9 +1:17.8
8 236 REID, Beth FSR Auburn Ski Club/Royal Gorge 30:14.5 +1:34.4
9 242 DE YONG, Nicole FSR Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation 30:32.8 +1:52.7
10 260 MANNIX, Tazlina FSR USST/APU 30:44.8 +2:04.