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Minneapolis World Cup Ready to Go

Racers train for the World Cup in Minneapolis
Racers train at the Loppet Cup venue in Minneapolis [Photo] Hansi Johnson

A bald eagle soared against a bluebird sky, while six inches of fresh snow coated the Minneapolis landscape. This Friday afternoon at the Stifel Loppet Cup venue, the day before racing kicks off, was a fortuitous way to start a weekend of World Cup racing. 

Despite a dearth of snow throughout the Midwest, the Loppet (pronounced Low–pet) Foundation, presenter of the first World Cup cross country ski races in the U.S. in 23 years, had been making snow for weeks. “We were ready to go with the course and snow we had,” says Claire Wilson, the Loppet Foundation’s executive director. “The new snow was like a beautiful Valentine’s Day present.”

The trails in Minneapolis’ Theodore Wirth Park, where the World Cup will take place, are also home to the Loppet Foundation, a nonprofit that hosts numerous youth and adult cross country ski programs and events, including the City of Lakes Loppet. Unlike recent World Cup venues like Goms, Switzerland, and Canmore, Alberta, Minneapolis doesn’t have a backdrop of soaring peaks, but it does offer proximity to a large, intensely dedicated population of cross country skiers. More than 30,000 spectators from all 50 states are anticipated to attend this weekend’s races, which would make the Loppet Cup the best-attended cross country ski event in U.S. history, surpassing the 2002 Olympics at Utah’s Soldier Hollow by a considerable margin.

In previews, the tightly wound racecourse at Theodore Wirth was well received by U.S. Cross Country Ski Team members. “It may not have the biggest or steepest hills,” said Rosie Brennan at a Friday pre-event press conference, “but it is fair, fast and has a lot of twists and turns. The Loppet Foundation has done a tremendous job to prepare an excellent course.” 

The Minneapolis World Cup course has twists and turns
With its twists and turns, the course will challenge racers. [Photo] Hansi Johnson

For spectators, the serpentine course offers numerous opportunities to catch racers multiple times. The mix of manmade and natural snow also promises to present some strategic challenges. In addition, the frequent chicane-like turns will make passing difficult. Unlike the recent course at Canmore, the approach to the finish in Minneapolis will not allow a back-of-the-pack skier to slingshot to the front during the closing sprint. One race official speculated that there “could be a bit of chaos” as racers jockey to protect their position or make aggressive efforts to move up.

Emotions ran high during the press conference. Jessie Diggins’s voice cracked, and she choked up as she related her advocacy over several years to bring a World Cup event to her home state. “I have been on the U.S. team for 13 years and have family from nearby and as far away as Canada and even friends in the military coming home to see me race. I haven’t raced at home since I was 19.” 

Asked if she felt added pressure to win under the circumstances, Diggins responded with a resounding no, adding that as long as she has fun, skis hard and does the best she possibly can, it would be a success “Finally having the World Cup here is a dream come true, and I can retire happy,” she added. (To be clear, Diggins is not planning to retire any time soon.)

Jessie Diggins at the pre-World Cup press conference
Jessie Diggins at the pre-event press conference on Friday afternoon. [Photo] Hansi Johnson

U.S. skiers have plenty to be happy about as their program has continued to grow and find success. JC Schoonmaker, who earned his first podium earlier this year, feels confident about the first day’s sprint racing. For Julia Kern, pursuing the Nation’s Cup overall has been particularly motivating for the team. Last year the U.S. finished fourth and is currently in third place. 

An added bonus of being the host nation is that the U.S. team is allowed to start more skiers, with 33 American racers on the roster for Minneapolis. That enables up-and-coming junior and U23 skiers to get valuable World Cup starts and gain the experience of racing at the highest level. Of the 33, four will be make their first-ever World Cup starts. 

Disappointingly, standout skier Ben Ogden will not compete in Minneapolis. He missed his final start a week ago in Canmore and has since been diagnosed with mononucleosis, which will put him out of action for the remainder of the season. Instead, Ogden is focusing on his recovery and expects to be back next season.

Coming into Saturday’s freestyle sprints and Sunday’s 10km freestyle individual start races, U.S. Ski Team Communications Manager Leann Bentley emphasized that the American skiers are feeling extremely good about their chances and obviously very excited to be racing on home soil.