The race is on

by • December 21, 2017 • HighlightsComments (0)2675

U.S. Nationals highlight country’s best cross-country skiers

U23 Kelsey Phinney charges into the lead during the classic sprint race during the 2017 U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships, held at Soldier Hollow, in Utah.
Flying Point Photography

On the trails of Anchorage’s Kincaid Park, Olympians have been made. World Cup champions have been groomed. Countless hours of training and nail-biting racing has happened on these corduroy-covered trails. It’s a place where dreams happen.

That’s why the 2018 U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships are not to be missed. This massive event, set for Jan. 3-8, 2018, pits some of the nation’s top skiers against one another, not only for bragging rights, but also for a potential berth on the U.S. Olympic Ski Team that will compete in PyeongChang, South Korea, just a few weeks later.

The dream is real. Just ask Holly Brooks, who competed in the same event when it was held at Kincaid in 2010, and skied her way onto the podium – and the U.S. Ski Team. That accomplishment led her on to a stellar career that included two Olympics and a first-ever U.S. Ski Team World Cup relay victory.

“Last time this event was here I was racing, and I credit the hometown advantage with making the Olympics, and essentially changing the trajectory of my life,” said Brooks, who has had the opportunity to utter those same words, along with many thank-yous, to the countless volunteers and experts who put on the races. This year, Brooks, who retired from racing in 2016, is helping to run the Award Ceremonies with her husband, Rob Whitney, during the races.

The 2018 U.S. Cross Country National Ski Championships – or “Nationals,” as most people call them, includes four days of racing spread over the course of the week. Plan your calendars carefully for race days, which include two sprint races in classic and freestyle; as well as a longer mass start classic race and interval start freestyle race. Skiers ranging from their mid-teens to masters will be there, competing not only for a podium here, but also potentially earning team spots for Junior Nationals in the spring, and even competitions abroad.

Kincaid is no stranger to putting on Nationals, either. Joey Caterinichio, Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage president and chairman of the U.S. Nationals event, helped bring the races to Kincaid, back-to-back, in 2009 and 2010.

“We are a well-oiled machine running this,” Caterinichio said – even more so now that Kincaid has snow-making equipment that it lacked eight years ago. “There are new, improved courses, and snowmaking, and Anchorage rocks as a strong Nordic community.”

Caterinichio, who used to be Nordic director for the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association, said USSA likes to move the race locations around the country to keep it fair for athletes and allow for varying competition venues. So, when the races come to Anchorage, she said it is a real advantage for local skiers.

“There is a real home course advantage,” she said. “There’s less travel so athletes can be rested, and staying at home vs. a hotel.”

Brooks said she is positive that competing at home in 2010 helped launch her success. Skiing, she said, is as much mental as physical, and when there are hordes of friends and family cheering you on, it helps you dig deep.

“Home course advantage includes everything from not having to travel over the holidays, sleeping in your own bed, eating your own food, and training on the courses in the months and weeks leading up to the event,” she said. “Also, local coaches know which waxes run well at Kincaid, and athletes have the independence and autonomy to do whatever is best for their preparation and recovery.

“Perhaps my favorite part of racing at home was benefiting from friends, family, and athletes that I coached coming out to cheer for me,” she added. “At high stakes races you are physically and mentally prepared to enter the pain cave, but when you have a big cheering squad it somehow has the ability to help you find an additional gear. The junior skiers that I coached at the time painted 5-foot tall ‘GO HOLLY’ letters that were staged at the top of the sledding hill all week. The support was amazing and gave me the extra boost that helped me make my first Olympic team.”

So, if you are skier, sports fan or just like to watch and appreciate elite athletes at their best, come out to the 2018 U.S. Cross Country National Ski Championships and cheer them on.

“I think this is a really special Olympic cycle where Alaska stands to qualify more Alaskans for the Olympic Games than ever before,” Brooks said. “If our skiers ski to their potential we could stand to send five to eight Alaskan skiers to represent our state and the U.S.A. on the big stage come Februa

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