The World Cup comes to Minnesota
Minneapolis hosts first World Cup cross-country event in US in 19 years
The Norwegian American
The Russians are coming. The Norwegians, Swedes, Italians, French, Germans, and Canadians are, too. Over 100 cross-country skiers from 25 countries will participate in the Coop FIS World Cup sprint races in March—in Minneapolis. Why the surprise? This is the first World Cup event hosted in the United States since 2001, when Salt Lake City hosted in a prelim to the 2002 Olympics.
Most of the FIS (International Ski Federation) World Cup-designated events occur in Europe on weekends from November to March with one event in Canada. The Minneapolis competition will be on Tuesday, March 17, and be the penultimate event of the Fastenal Parallel 45 Winter Festival, March 14-17.
The impetus came from the Loppet Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to “create a shared passion for year-round outdoor adventure in the Minneapolis area, focusing on underserved youth and families,” and American women’s cross-country skiing star, Jessica Diggins, an Afton, Minn., native, who yearned for a World Cup event in her home state.
“How this happened was in two parts,” explained John Munger, executive director of Loppet. “Loppet started six-seven years ago, so we got the grooming organizing big events and developed the infrastructure to do this. The other part was Jessie Diggins, who approached us three years ago and said, ‘Quebec, Canada, has a home country World Cup event. I would love to do this in the U.S.’ We started working with U.S. Ski and Snowboard. In April 2018, we met with local business leaders and put together a proposal. We traveled to Greece to convince FIS to have us host.”
The pitch wasn’t the problem but rather how to first convince a consensus of countries to approve Minneapolis, and then fit it into the World Cup schedule.
“The FIS recognizes the importance of raising the profile of cross-country skiing in America,” said Munger. “U.S. Ski and Snowboard had made proposals for a number of years. It wasn’t the concept, but how do you fit it into the calendar? You can’t take Holmenkollen away from Norway.”
One event on the snow aided the pitch and then a neat adjustment was made to the schedule. The women’s cross-country team started showing success. Diggins is an eight-time U.S. champion, but at the 2018 Olympics she won the gold in the team sprint freestyle with Kikkan Randall. It was the first cross-country medal for American women ever and the first American cross-country medal in 40 years, all in the 35-year-old Randall’s last event in her fifth and final Olympics. As of Feb. 16, Diggins is fifth in the World Cup standings. In November, Sadie Maubet Bjornsen became the first American woman to lead the World Cup standings and is now seventh.
As for the schedule, Quebec is hosting sprints March 14-15 and Canmore, Canada, hosts distance races March 20-22. The three events will create North American exposure. These will be the finale to the season. The Crystal Globe will be awarded to the season’s best sprinter, an award Randall won three straight years.
“Absolutely, the gold medal helped,” said Munger. “You can do well in Europe, but people may not see it. To win the gold medal in the Olympics makes a big difference. I had a haircut and the barber knew who Jessica Diggins was. That had never happened before.”
“I cannot wait to race in my own country for the first time in my entire career!” said the 28-year-old Diggins in a Nov. 6, 2019, article at icetrail.com. “This will be a huge event and such an incredible opportunity to inspire the next generation of skiers in the U.S.”
“Hosting the World Cup is our chance to show skiers from around the world how Minnesota embraces winter — through sport and through our hospitality,” she said after Minneapolis received approval in September 2018. “We’re a small sport that is very community-based. It’s going to be so cool to finally bring the action home in front of all the young skiers and give them a chance to watch their heroes up close and personal.”
What does Minnesota offer? First, the newly built Trailheads 1.1-mile freestyle sprint course in Theodore Wirth Park, five minutes from downtown. The final race will probably end at 6:15 p.m. in the dark. “From the top of the climb at the end of the course, you can see lit up downtown,” said Munger.
“I think it’s going to be a good course,” said FIS Cross Country Race Director Michal Lamplot, in a July 18, 2019, press release. “Good uphills, technical downhills, so I think it is going to be a really good sprint course for sure.”
The 759-acre park also includes snowshoeing, tubing, sledding, fat biking, and a snowboard/freeski terrain park. The festival will feature various foods—plus Minneapolis’ restaurant scene—as well as beer gardens, an expo village, participatory ski events, and live music. The city is small enough to get around conveniently. Loppet has undertaken large events that draw 25,000 people, a three-day winter festival, and planned activities for the 10-day period leading up to Super Bowl LII in 2018.
The biggest challenge was funding and sponsorships and without infringing on FIS World Cup Title Sponsor Coop, and presenting sponsor Audi. Hosting in Europe is different from in the United States. “When a city in Europe hosts an event, they receive funding from the government,” said Munger. “America doesn’t write a check. Minneapolis is home to multi-national corporations and a population of 3 million people within a half-hour of the venue. It’s easy for people to get here. Downtown is 15 minutes from the airport.”
The Scandinavian influence and history in the area is important, but Minneapolis has become more diverse.
“Those generations in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s set the ball in motion,” said Munger, who is not Scandinavian. “We want to take these traditional Scandinavian activities to the general population, to communities of color, to continue the legacy the Scandinavians left us, embracing the outdoor ethos.”
“Once we get past this event, we can try to get a World Cup weekend.”
For more information see mnworldcup.com.
This article originally appeared in the February 21, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.