Freeman takes 15K cross-country ski championship

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Kris Freeman won his 13th national championship by taking the 15-kilometer race Monday at the 2010 U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships.

Freeman, of Andover, N.H., covered the course at Anchorage’s Kincaid Park in 37 minutes, 17.6 seconds, according to unofficial results.

Tad Elliott of Durango, Colo., finished second, about 25 seconds behind Freeman in 37:42.1.

Olympic veteran James Southam of Anchorage was third in 38:15.2.

Freeman, a likely member of the U.S. Olympic team heading for Vancouver next month, was third after the first five-kilometer lap.

“I felt a little bit flat at the start of the race and better and better as it went on,” Freeman said.

The surprise of the race was the 21-year-old Elliott, who started in the B group ahead of Freeman and Southam.

“I got splits that Tad Elliott was really close to me today and that surprised me,” Freeman said. “He had a great race. But it also really motivated me to really hammer it in at the end.”

Elliott, who races mountain bikes in the summer for USA Cycling, was jubilant at the finish line. His best previous finish was a ninth. He had left in the second flight of what should have been slower skiers.

“It ended up being an advantage to me because you kind of have the pressure of not starting near the hot guns like Kris and (Lars) Flora and Southam.”

His strategy, he said, was to start smooth and try to pick up the pace. He was announced as being among the leaders but figured the faster skiers starting behind him would eventually reel him in.

On his third lap, he was still in second and had to control his emotions.

“I tried to stay relaxed because I didn’t want to get too excited,” he said.

The veteran Southam, 31, tried going out fast but lost the lead mid-race.

“I knew that if I started conservatively, that’s Kris’ strength too,” Southam said. “I was hoping to get an early lead and hold on.”

The strategy backfired when the course turned slow and “sugary” on the second and third laps.

“You don’t get as much return for your push-off,” Southam said. “It’s just a little more work to ski in that stuff.”