Paralympian Mia Zutter of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, was one of several Midwest cross-country skiers who left their mark this season. (Photo credit: Bob Martin)
BY MIKE IVEY
There’s no way I can let the 2018 season melt away without noting the big-time accomplishments of our Midwestern cross-country skiers.
Of course, the headliner is Jesse Diggins from Afton, Minnesota, who gave the U.S. its first-ever Olympic Gold Medal in Nordic skiing and the only other Olympic podium save for Bill Koch’s legendary 1976 silver medal effort in Innsbruck, Austria (http://fasterskier.com/fsarticle/bill-koch-reflects-u-s-gold-just-start-era/).
Diggins’ exciting come-from-behind effort in the team sprint was easily the American Olympic highlight and made for great TV (http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/incredible-call-perfectly-captures-randall-diggins-historic-moment). Adding to the homegrown flavor was the fact that Diggins is an alumnus of Central Cross Country Ski Association or “CXC Skiing” based in the Madison suburb of Verona.
Recognized by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) as the regional organization for cross-country skiing in the 10-state region, CXC is a 2,000-member service organization headed by Yuriy Gusev. CXC promotes the sport by creating opportunities for athletes and coaches of all backgrounds to participate through clubs, sport specific programs, events and education. It’s also the Olympic development program for Midwestern racers who often must battle fickle weather, long drives to find snow and a lack of financial support.
But Diggins wasn’t the only Nordic skier from “flyover country” to find the podium in PyeongChang.
CXC sit-skier and biathlete Kendall Gretsch of Madison (https://www.teamusa.org/News/2018/March/09/Kendall-Gretsch-Dan-Cnossen-Win-Team-USAs-First-Olympic-Or-Paralympic-Biathlon-Gold-Medals) grabbed two golds, helping the U.S. Nordic Paralympic team to a record 16 medals. Of those, nine were secured in cross-country races and seven from biathlon.
A native of Downers Grove, Illinois, Gretsch was introduced to Nordic skiing in 2015 after moving to Madison to take a job with Epic Systems, the giant medical software and city’s largest employer.
Another CXC skier and biathlete, Mia Zutter of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, didn’t take a home a medal from South Korea but proved an inspiration with her story about Stargardt disease, a degenerative eye condition Zutter was diagnosed with back in 2011.
WPR’s Maureen McCollum did a great interview (https://www.wpr.org/sun-prairie-paralympian-finds-perfect-fit-cross-country-skiing) where Zutter talks about skiing with her visual condition, how she made the transition from running to cross-country skiing and her Winter Paralympics experience.
Finally, then there was that little race up in northern Wisconsin in late February, where current CXC Team member Caitlin Gregg of Minneapolis won her fifth American Birkebeiner while another CXC athlete, Kyle Bratrud, was the top U.S. male and 3rd overall. Bratrud also won his first U.S. championship this year.
The official Birkie results listed Bratrud’s hometown as Verona, giving him the best Birkie finish ever for a “Wisconsin” skier if memory serves. In reality, however, he hails from Eden Prairie, Minnesota. The Verona listing was only due to his CXC affiliation.
But hey, given the crummy one-week ski season we endured this year in southern Wisconsin, I’m happy to claim Bratrud as one of our own.
Editor’s notes: Mike Ivey is a freelance writer based in Madison. He also owns a home in Ironwood, Michigan, where the snows off Lake Superior help feed his Nordic habit.