Cross country skiers off to Alaska

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— Six local skiers will head north this week with hopes of striking gold in the hills of Alaska during the Junior Olympic Championships.

"We have a strong team from Colorado this year," Austin Ross said. "We should have a very good relay team."

Several of the top Rocky Mountain Division skiers, including Ross, are from Steamboat Springs.

Other Steamboat skiers who will make the trip to Fairbanks for the championships include Paul Rose, Mike Gleason and Marty Smith on the men's team. Steamboat's Korie Steitz and Sarah McCarthy will represent Steamboat on the women's team. Both women recently won state high school skiing titles.

"I got an idea of just how tough the competition was last year," McCarthy said. "I don't think I'm going to get as nervous about racing this time around."

She is one of three skiers who will be making a second straight trip to the championships. Last year, McCarthy, Steitz and Ross all participated in the Junior Olympic Championships.

"It's going to be a lot of run," said Rose, a first-time qualifier. "I'm going to Alaska to win a championship, but I will be happy if I can just ski my best."

The skiers will open the week Monday with a 1-kilometer sprint event. It's a challenging competition for the local skiers because it requires them to give 100 percent over a short distance -- a difficult task when you train most of the year at high altitude.

"It seems like you are really flying, but you're not," coach Brain Tate said.

Veteran skier Steitz said the speed event was one of the hardest things to adjust to at last year's races.

"It's tough because in the qualifying round it's you against the clock," Steitz said. "It's hard because you really don't know how fast you're going compared to the other racers in the event."

Tate said the team has changed its training strategy to increase the skiers' speed in the events. Over the past several weeks, the squad has been making adjustments to increase its speed over short distances.

The skiers who make it out of the qualifying heat will advance to a series of elimination rounds, which will continue until a Junior Olympic champion is crowned. It's one of the most demanding events of the week for the local skiers.

The second event will take place on Wednesday when the skiers compete in the skate ski event. The younger skiers will race on a 5-kilometer course and the older ones will race on a 15-kilometer course.

On Friday, the athletes will test their skill in the classic race. The younger skiers will race on a 5-kilometer course and the older ones will race on a 10-kilometer course.

The final event will be the team relay and will pit teams of three on 3- and 5-kilometer loops.

"The most important thing to focus on is just skiing fast," McCarthy said. "That's what I want to do. Go there and ski fast."

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