Sixteen-year-old Kendall Kramer of Fairbanks is set to make her World Cup debut this weekend in Quebec City and may be the youngest American Nordic skier ever at that level.
“I think I’m definitely the youngest at this World Cup,” Kramer said by phone Wednesday from Quebec City, which is hosting the three-race World Cup Finals Friday through Sunday.
Kramer’s father, Mike, provided a little more context.
“Head coach (Chris) Grover says he can’t remember (a younger American skier) in his 20 years,” said Kramer, a state champion track runner at Lathrop High School in the 1980s.
U.S. Ski & Snowboard was unable to provide official records verifying its youngest skiers.
Kramer with Johannes Klaebo in Quebec City
Kramer, a West Valley High School junior who will turn 17 on June 26, earned the World Cup starts by meeting the U.S. Ski Team’s criteria of a Top 10 finish at the World Junior championships. Kramer placed a historic fourth in the 15K classic on Jan. 24 in Lahti, Finland, while racing against women 2-3 years older than her.
Upon receiving the invitation, Kramer knew right away that she’d accept it. (Fellow U.S. junior Novie McCabe, 17, declined hers).
“It’s such as awesome opportunity for my first World Cup experience,” Kramer said.
Because the races are in North America, the United States is part of the “Nation’s Group” that receives extra spots. The U.S. will field a team of 27 athletes, 15 of them women. Nearly half are Alaskan, and the group includes 10 members of the Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center, along with Kramer and fellow junior phenom Gus Schumacher of Anchorage.
Schumacher, 18, and Kramer each won four gold medals at the recently concluded Junior Nationals championships at Kincaid Park.
Kramer has no expectations at the World Cup Finals and says she anticipates being “brought back to Earth” regarding results. Joining her at the races is her FXC club coach Alasdair Tutt.
Kramer will start the mini-tour on Friday with a freestyle sprint, continue Saturday with a 10-kilometer classic mass start and conclude Sunday with a 10K freestyle pursuit.
Kramer is admittedly star-struck being in the presence of Nordic legends she’s used to watching on television. She spotted World Cup overall leader Ingvild Oestberg on Thursday and had her picture taken and Johannes Klaebo, the sport’s biggest current star, on Friday.
Meanwhile, Schumacher is also racing the World Cup for the first time. He’ll have the company of Anchorage coach Jan Buron.
“Mentally it is easier to race if you have less expectations,” Schumacher told Fasterskier.com. “The biggest deal is not putting too much pressure on myself here.”
-By Matias Saari, Alaska Sports Blog Contributor