Wednesday, December 5, 2001 - Perspective
NSDT Update: Exciting Times

- By: Tara Whitten

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It is an exciting time to be a cross country skier. I have always loved hearing stories about the beginnings of skating, and I envied the people who were a part of that revolution. Now it feels like we are a part of the same type of revolution, with sprints, same-day pursuits and now, believe it or not, 'duathlon'- style races with a transition from classic to skating. What will happen next?

The first sprints I ever participated in were held two years ago in Silver Star, and those inaugural continental cup sprints remain the most exciting that I have ever raced in or watched. The course was full of twists and turns, and the famous "whoop de doos," as Jack Sasseville, the excited announcer, liked to refer to them. The head to head rounds were held at night under lights with loud music, and the course was lined with spectators. It was beyond a doubt the most exciting ski race I had ever witnessed.

Since then the stakes have been raised considerably. In the Silver Star sprints this year there were 70 women in the open class, with the top 10 within 1.5 seconds and the top 40 within 9.5 seconds! In most sprints only 16 advance to the final, and there is no margin for error! Take a corner too wide, lose your rhythm, miss a push over the crest of a hill, and it can mean the difference between qualifying and placing well back in the field.

I competed in my first same day pursuit a few weeks after that first sprint in Silver Star. Although recovery was always important, with the advent of same-day pursuits it seemed to take on a whole new meaning. I remember being forced to stand for an excruciating minute in a garbage can filled with ice water that was so cold I thought I might cry. Somehow this was supposed to enhance our recovery (maybe that is a good subject for another article).

Over the last couple of years, the rest between races of the same day pursuit has been dwindling. During that first pursuit I remember having enough time to return to the hotel and relax for a while before going back to the race site. By contrast, last year at the World Cup in Salt Lake City, it seemed that we barely had time to return to the wax hut before we had to start warming up again!

If the time between races of the same day pursuits has been getting shorter and shorter, the trend will reach its peak in Thunder Bay in about a week when we will finish a 5k classic race, ski into a transition area, quickly change our equipment and set out for a 5k skate. The rules about the transition are up in the air right now, as you can see by the poll on this site. Some people think that skiers should be forced to change boots in the transition. There has also been talk of a mandatory 90 second stop in the transition area, which would take away the advantage of being a fast boot-changer. The alternative "anything goes" rule would almost certainly favour people with combi boots. Another issue will be pole straps. If this type of race becomes more common, will racers return to the simple straps of 10 years ago? I'm sure that boot and pole companies will come out with special equipment designed to make transitions faster. We will have to wait and see.

Our sport seems to be continually evolving. In a 'traditional' sport like cross country skiing, it is exciting to see that people are ready and willing to change. I remember one skier I used to train with in Edmonton suggesting that we should have obstacle courses when we lap through the stadium to draw more spectators. I don't know about that, but with sprints, same-day pursuits and now classic-skate duathlons, our sport is getting more exciting by the minute. Maybe in 20 years we will be telling the next generation of skiers that "we were there when..."

(Tara Whitten is a former member for the Canadian National Junior Team and a 3 time member of the Canadian World Junior Championship Team. Originally from Edmonton, Tara now lives and trains with the National Senior Team in Canmore, Alberta)

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