March 4, 2007
SAPPORO, JAPAN - (USST News Bureau Release) - Kris Freeman (Andover, NH) ignored shoulder pain and muscled his way through softening snow Sunday to finish 12th in a 50K mass start classic technique "slushfest," the final race of the 2007 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships. It was the the fifth top 20 of the season for Freeman, who injects himself with insulin up to six times a day to fight diabetes.
Norwegian Odd-Bjoern Hjelmeset out-sprinted teammate and defending champion Frode Estil for the gold medal by four-tenths of a second in 2:20.12.6 with Germany's Jens Filbrich taking bronze (2:20.17.1). Freeman, who injured his right shoulder in a fall during the 30K pursuit a week earlier, had a time of 2:22.51.5 with Lars Flora (Anchorage, AK) 37th and James Southam (also Anchorage) 50th in the field of 68 starters.
"It was a slushfest. One hill was firm at the start and by the last lap, it was slush. It was really soft," said Freeman of the six-lap Shirahatayama course. The weather was sunny with temperatures in the low 40s.
Second-best U.S. 50K at Worlds
"There was a north loop and a south loop, and the south loop was slush to begin with and the north was firm - but at the end it was all slush, too," Freeman said. He won the U.S. 50K CL title at the end of last season in Fort Kent, ME, but noted wryly, "The pace here was a little faster."
His result is the second-best in U.S. history behind only Jim Galanes' 11th-place finish at the 1978 Worlds in Lahti, Finland, before there were separate "freestyle" and "classic" technique distinctions for races, but in a period when all races were classic, i.e., both skis in prepared tracks -before American Bill Koch popularized skating (freestyle) with the 1982 season.
Hjelmeset, 2005 Worlds 50K bronze medalist in a snowstorm behind Estil, was part of a five-man lead group that was left from an original pack of 10 skiers within 6.1 seconds of the lead at the 30K mark. Freeman, who was 10th - 4.7 seconds out at 20 Ks, was part of the chase group through the last half of the race.
"Around 30 Ks the lead group of guys was too fast and I stayed in the chase group the rest of the way," he said. "The chase would have guys drop back to it, or move up, and some would fall off and die...
"I put every drop of what I had into there. I was hoping for better things to come," he said. "The wax techs did an awesome job. I had awesome skis the whole way. My glide was better than everybody I was skiing with, a new set of skis I'd gotten from Fischer just before the championships."
When he was toppled in the pursuit on opening weekend, Freeman said he strained upper biceps muscles in his right arm. "It was all right when I was poling," he explained, "but that was only during the poling motion. I can't lift my arm to the side, so it was painful taking feeds."
Vordenberg praises staff teamwork
Head Coach Pete Vordenberg said, "We knew Kris could be top 10, and he was pretty close to that. He showed he can be a winner although I think that may be a year, maybe two, out. But he's shown he's on the way back. His training's been going well but we have some work to do to erase that 2-1/2 minutes (back) to put him on a podium."
He also said he was pleased with Flora's effort, starting hard "and putting himself up with the leaders early. His goal was to be top 30, and he paid for it, but he kept fighting the whole way. I like that - go after your goal, no matter what's happening."
He echoed Freeman's praise for the waxing staff and said the teamwork among all members of the staff - coaches, waxing technicians and others - was "awesome." At the same time, Vordenberg said, "We've got a lot of good stuff to come, but it's going to be hard work and we can't have any illusions. We still have a ways to go before we're a consistent contender."
The World Cup resumes next weekend with the Lahti Ski Games in Finland before two races in Norway and three final races in Sweden.
For complete results: www.fis-ski.com/uk/604/1228.html?cal_suchsector=CC&event_id=22246 .