Total 4 - 3909249088
Wild Rumpus Sports
 

Nationals Notes: Friday Brings Maiden Voyage for New Kincaid Sprint Course

Throwback Thursday: Erik Soederstroem (UAF) glides across the line with teammate Tyler Kornfield (UAF) outlunging Mike Hinckley (APU/Rossignol) for second in the classic sprint final at 2010 U.S. nationals at Kincaid.

By Gavin Kentch

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Wednesday saw the first races of the 2018 U.S. Cross Country Championships, the 10- and 15-kilometer freestyle interval starts. Friday brings the first sprint day, with qualification for the skate sprint going off at 10 a.m. local time, slightly before the sun officially rises at 10:10 a.m. (Welcome to Anchorage in January.)

To help you get ready for sprinting, here’s U.S. nationals chief of competition and longtime Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage (NSAA) operator/groomer Matt Pauli with some thoughts on the theory and practice of sprint course design and operation, and what athletes can expect to see on the new-and-improved Kincaid sprint course. Hint: Advances in classic skiing technology in the past decade have something to do with it.

(FasterSkier spoke with Pauli in-person in early December, sitting in a wood-paneled Pipeline-era ATCO trailer nestled near the NSAA Operations Bunker just up the hill from the Kincaid Stadium. This interview has been lightly condensed and edited for clarity.)

FasterSkier: So let’s start at the beginning. When was the first sprint race at Kincaid?

Matt Pauli: Actually and formally, at 1999 JNs [Junior Nationals], they initiated the first prologue, which was a short event, but not quite a sprint. I think Rob Whitney was racing then; I think he cleaned up that day. But the way the sprint rules evolved, you started seeing them in early World Championships in ’99, probably 2001, and then the first Olympics in 2002. So it evolved from there.

FS: So it’s the Kikkan Era, basically.

MP: It’s that, and maybe it’s a specialization era, too. I think that’s what I notice. … It’s just evolving, the way I think the sport has always evolved.

FS: Can you tell us about the history of the sprint loop at Kincaid?

MP: You look at [the hill to the immediate northeast edge of the main Kincaid Stadium] – some people call it the Junior Nordic Hill, I call it the Play Hill, and I think it’s more or less going to be taking the name of the Gong Hill – that all used to be trees. The only trail going through it was Margaux’s Loop. And that was it.

So I think Bill Spencer was in a little bit on clearing, and what we can do with that area. I think also Ben Powell, Mike Miller, me to a lesser extent. Then shortly after that we started getting the snowmaking, and those types of things. I can’t put an exact date on when the area was cleared out, but certainly it had to be in 2005, 2006, because that’s when the first piping started going up there for snowmaking. That was the vision, to go up that way.

FS: When you say, “Let’s design a sprint loop,” I’m taking it as a given that you pretty much have to start from the stadium, because that’s where all the infrastructure is. Taking that as your starting variable, what else do you think about in setting up the sprint loop?

MP: Certainly for the athletes, [you think about] technical challenge, testing all the different techniques, turning techniques, ascending, descending. Providing areas where athletes can overtake each other. Ensuring that it’s a sprint loop that falls within a time frame that it doesn’t become a distance course.

What I’ve heard, and information passed on to me, and just what I’ve observed when I’ve got to serve on juries at World Cups and such, is you’re looking at 3 to 3 1/2 minutes [time for an athlete to ski the sprint course]. And that way it gives the spectators something to see, it gives the athletes good recovery time before the next heat, and it keeps the competition, particularly World Cup, World Championships, anything that’s televised, within a certain time period. Spectator-friendly – they’ve got to see it. That’s the whole reason, I think, behind it. Another big reason is that you want to be close to the spectators, you want people to see the competition.

There’s probably a myriad of other things that you can throw in there for homologation, but the general theory is: competitiveness, fair, safe, spectator appeal, and in some instances TV appeal, too.

The old sprint course at Kincaid, used from the late 2000s through last season. The largest climb, of 17 meters vertical gain, comes in the course’s first climb starting at around the 200-meter mark, with smaller rolling hills following. (Screenshot: 2017 Seawolf Invitational race program)

FS: So that was the first sprint loop, and we all skied on it for a decade or so, and there were two national championships held on it (in 2009 and 2010). So, did it work? Was it a course that did the things you just described?

MP: I think it worked, up until getting some comments last year about double poling. And deep back in my mind, I already knew that, just from every fall I used to attend the FIS meeting in Zurich, just to get an idea. And I remember last fall, 2016, the FIS hierarchy, Vegard Ulvang, just producing all these videos of youngsters starting to double pole just about everything, and how classic technique “needs to be preserved.”

And knowing that here at Kincaid we just have – we’re a nonprofit, in a public park, you just can’t do what you want. It has to be feasible, and it has to meet whatever plan they have for the park, as well. So I knew right away that I wasn’t going to be cutting new trails. I might be working on some trees – or, as we like to call them, “shrubs” – to make it a better course, make it a safer course when you throw the safety aspect in there.

The whole aspect is that we’re not going to be doing wholesale trail work. So I think, from the Zurich meetings, and knowing that watching [the classic sprint at] Besh Cup last year, watching actually Besh Cups throughout the last three or four years, watching college races that decide to run a sprint – I never thought our sprint course was a bad course, ’cause I got anecdotal good feedback saying, “Hey, this is really spectator-friendly.” … I think for the most part, our sprint loop is pretty much visible during the competition.

FS: If the course works well, why change it? Is it safe to say this is largely responsive to changes in classic skiing over the past decade?

MP: Yeah, that has a pretty significant bearing on it.

The new sprint course at Kincaid, to be officially used for the first time on Friday morning, Jan. 4. The largest climb is now 24 vertical meters, and occurs after 750 meters, roughly the midway point of the course. (Screenshot: U.S. nationals course maps page)

FS: Let’s talk about the new course. Can you just walk me through what it looks like, and what it’s designed to do, and how it came to be?

MP: Now, the climbs that are associated with this one, I met with [USST Development Coach] Bryan Fish and [U.S. Ski & Snowboard nordic domestic program director] Robert Lazzaroni, they passed through on their way home after Spring Nationals [in April 2017]. … I said, “This is what I think would work pretty well.” And that meant starting higher up on the plain [in the central stadium area] by the Lekisch tunnels, and cutting up in front of the Gong Hill, toward the Bunker Tunnel. And then dropping down to what we call the low point, or the Frog Pond.

And then climbing out of there again – that climb sets it up that, number one, I’m trying to limit double poling the entire thing. Throwing that dogleg in there for the final, you take that left-hand turn and you still have to climb to the top, you’re going to lose all your momentum there in a double pole. And there’s no way, on some of those 17 to 19 percent grades, you’re going to be able to pick up that momentum. Certainly you can herringbone up it, that’s a diagonal technique. But I think from a standpoint of pushing your way up it in a double pole – maybe in another couple of years. (laughs) It’s only going to evolve. But that’s, I think, one of the main reasons to switch things around.

 

It still follows the same line of coming back off the top, the men going behind and the women coming across what I call the Saddle, where the gong is, and then dropping down back into the north end of the stadium. And doing a really good 180 at the bottom. There’s a big arc right there. It’s wide, it’s not off-camber. There’s some narrow bits coming back into the main race trail, where the old sprint loop used to finish. But once you get there … if that’s a chokepoint, if we have to widen in regards to snow or what you have to.

But it just follows the regular path in. Which is a good finish from the standpoint of, you know, you have a 1.5, 2 percent [uphill] grade to the finish [on the final straightaway through the stadium to the finish line, visible in the background of the top photo in this article].

And you know, I would like to see 3 percent, actually. But I’ve been in stadiums at championship venues that had 5 percent. I think that, for having a 100-meter straight stretch, it just so happened to work out. And certainly the grade’s kind of changed with the artificial snow on top, when we push that out – but at the same time, we still keep the original finish zone [in front of the timing building].

FS: Is it quote-unquote “good” or “bad” that you have to change the course like this to react to changes in classic skiing, or just neutral?

MP: I think it’s neutral. Certainly any time you go through a homologation, there’s a cost involved. I have to get an inspector out here, and … that’s a $600 fee. And each certificate application, each certificate, has a fee. So there’s always those costs that can be borne by the event, borne by the Organizing Committee. I’m not getting paid, but I still gotta collect the data. And then at that point it becomes time. Because I have to – I’m not a map guy, so I go to my friends at CRW Engineering, and I can bug the hell out of them, and they go, “Oh, I’ll put someone right on it.” So there’s certainly people’s time involved.

FS: We’ve talked about changes in classic skiing over the past ten years, and why that was a main reason for changing around the sprint course. This is getting sort of inside baseball, but are there different considerations for a skate sprint than a classic sprint? Would there be anything stopping you from running two different sprint courses in one championships?

MP: The parameters for a freestyle sprint are more liberal, because we know we’re not going to be doublepoling. So that’s why you see city sprints, that’s why you see – you can basically have a freestyle sprint on a flat course, because the parameters say so. As the [homologation standard] tables indicate, there are some differences in what we would look at for classic and freestyle.

For right now, it’s just convenience. I would gladly go back to the old sprint for the freestyle. But then it means that the teams and the athletes are going to lose a ski depot. Because that’s what I designed at that south end of the stadium by the Lekisch tunnel – none of the courses go over that anymore, unless of course we’re going [on a snowmaking loop for all races]. But it’s an area where athletes, coaches, and technicians can set up their ski depot for testing skis, switching out skis, because it has direct access to the waxing areas. So that’s the main reason we’re using the same course.

Now the coaches agreed, down at the [USSA] Congress last spring, that since the freestyle sprint is first, I’m not going to have the opportunity – they’re not going to have an opportunity for training on a classic sprint course. Because the freestyle sprint is the second event, and the classic mass is the race after that. [And the classic sprint is the day immediately after that.] And I pointed that out, and apparently we can live with that. From my standpoint, I have a hard time living with that, because I haven’t had the opportunity to dial in. So, we’re going to do our best. … I just want to ensure that the course is safe, and as dialed in as I can.

*   *   *

The sprints start Friday morning with the qualification round from 10–11:30 a.m. Alaska time. The heats are scheduled to begin at 12:45 p.m. The heats for the junior races are scheduled to begin in the mid-afternoon, following the flower ceremonies for the senior races.

 

FasterSkier updates:

http://fasterskier.com/

http://twitter.com/fasterskier

https://www.instagram.com/fasterskier/

 

Start lists and results:

http://www.superiortiming.com/2018/01/2018-u-s-cross-country-ski-championships/

 

Live-streaming:

http://www.facebook.com/usskiandsnowboard/

http://www.facebook.com/xcusnats2018/

(should be the same feed, hosted in two different places)

 

General news and updates:

https://www.anchoragenordicski.com/nationals18/

Comments

comments