It’s a rare American Nordic skier who participates in international competition. Those starts are usually reserved for skinny 23-year-olds who started kicking and gliding at 18 months. That is, unless you’re lucky enough to attend a Masters World Cup.
The American Cross Country Skiers Association (AXCS) is the US representative to the World Masters Association. Adult skiers “30 and better” convene yearly for the US Masters Nationals. Worldwide, there is a Masters World Cup in a different host country every year. About every eight years, that World Masters event is on American soil, and this year’s event was in sunny Minneapolis, MN.
With an opening ceremony, six world cup style races, medal ceremonies daily, parties, and world class organization, it attracts skiers from 30 to over 90. Some started skiing as adults, while others are Olympians who can’t get enough of the international competition and comradery that comes with loving a sport for life. This year’s event had its ups and downs — literally and figuratively.
Each skier may choose three events from a list of six — there was a short, middle, and long distance in each technique. The actual distances depended on gender and age — women skied about half the distance of the men, and the older skiers did shorter courses. Age groups were five-year increments beginning at 30, and followed the international masters standard.
In addition to the six mass-start individual events, each country was able to field a 4x5k relay team in each age classification.
TUNA Skiers at World Masters Cup
Seven TUNA skiers made the trip to Minneapolis, which seemed to turn warm and slushy the minute they arrived. Kelly Milligan, Barry Makarewicz, Paul Smith, Jen and Jonathan Santoro, and Eric and Steve Swanson boarded planes, trains, and automobiles to represent the club on the international stage.
Kelly Milligan started the medal count off with a bronze in the opening event, the women’s 55-59 15km classic race. She went on to win the 10k classic two days later.
Barry followed the next day by taking gold in the 55-59 men’s 30k skate. Breaking out of a group in the last few km’s, Barry was finally able to snap the tough group and take the top step of the podium.
Jen Santoro later raced to a silver medal in the women’s 40-44 15k skate, getting outpaced only by a skier from Canada. She saved her best efforts for the 30k skate later in the week, winning gold on the last day of racing.
Steve Swanson elected to ski the first classic race, coming in a very respectable 11th place in the 75+ category, which is surprisingly a huge group. He bettered that result by one to 10th in the 5k skate race two days later.
Eric Swanson skated two races on back-to-back days, in one of the largest categories, the men’s 50-54. With 23rd in his first race, a 30k skate, he improved to 16th in the 10k skate race the next day.
Paul Smith saved most of his best efforts for later in the week, finishing 2nd in the 60-64 men’s 40k skate.
Jonathan Santoro, racing in the men’s 45-49, had his best finish in the 40k skate race on the last day, skiing to a hard-fought 13th in wet conditions.
Barry, Paul, and Kelly were all chosen to be part of Team USA relays. The 4 x 5k relays were World Cup format, with two legs classic, and two legs skate. Barry skied the anchor skate leg for the men’s 55-59 relay, bringing in the gold for the USA against a competitive international field. Paul Smith also skied the anchor leg, bringing his team into second in the 60-64 race.
The women’s relays were organized in ten-year age groups due to numbers. Kelly Milligan skied the second classic leg for another Team USA gold in the women’s 50-59 race.
In all, TUNA skiers brought home nine medals — five gold, three silver, and one bronze.
World Class Event
Steve Swanson, the senior member of the TUNA contingent, was also racing in his first World Masters. A veteran of many a Worldloppet, Swanson had nothing but positive things to say.
“There was a mix of really good skiers and some that I could at least keep in sight. My best event was my first race, a 10k classic, where I took 11 of 18 and 2nd of 7 USA skiers, although I was far behind the leaders,” Swanson commented. “The whole program was very well organized. The race venue was interesting, with lots of corners and short hills. It was really fun to see so many Utah skiers doing so well. I hope to be part of more World Masters races in the future.”
The Loppet Nordic Foundation, premiere club in Minneapolis, MN, served as the host organization for the race. From opening to closing, and everywhere in between, the vibe was one of a professional, international event. The volunteers from the host team spent over a year preparing for the race. With manmade snow in Theodore Wirth Park, the warm temperatures didn’t stop organizers from putting on a solid 5k loop.
The third day of racing saw some snow, creating near-blizzard conditions for those racing the 10k skate. With new snow, new areas became skiable for the later, longer races.
TUNA skiers are used to Utah courses, and Minneapolis doesn’t have mountains. What they do have is short, steep kickers that add up. The courses were interesting and there was never a dull moment of racing.
The distance classic race threw a wrench — actually a train — in the mix. After organizers opened up natural snow trails to give the distance skiers fewer repeated loops, a stray train was discovered blocking the course. Quick thinking and course forerunners were the key to keeping things (mostly) organized. Such is the way when races are held in the middle of big cities.
The race suffered one serious tragedy. On the last day of competition, a skier in the 50-55 race from the Russian Federation collapsed on the side of the track, ultimately passing away. He was appropriately honored at the closing ceremonies in Minneapolis that evening.
A Yearly Tradition for All
From open to close, from 30-90-years-old, skiers from all over the world had the unique honor of racing hard on excellent courses. The few who took home gold had the special privilege of standing on the podium, hearing their national anthem played, while receiving medals from groups of local juniors.
Barry Makarewicz, a multi-time World Masters Champion, is excited for future races, especially next year.
“Racing in a city environment was not as cool as being in a small village because everyone was dispersed and it made socializing difficult. I think next year in Norway should be the ultimate situation and would I would encourage more people to give it a try. Then stay and do the Norwegian Birkie to make it a great ski vacation.
For more information on next year’s event in Beitostolen, NOR, visit www.xcskiworld.com.