Lakes Loppet become Olympic qualifying race

Minneapolis will host cross-country ski races next year that will help determine the U.S. Olympic team going to Torino, Italy in 2006, said John Munger, an organizer of the City of Lakes Loppet.

The 2005 Loppet is one of several sanctioned qualifying races, Munger said. The top finishers in each race get a certain number of points, and the skiers with the most cumulative points qualify for the Olympic team.

Mayor R.T. Rybak, a "silent sports" booster, said hosting an Olympic qualifying event would help bring world-class athletes and spectators to Minneapolis, a Loppet news release said.

The Loppet is entering its third year and getting better organized. It is already accepting registrations for the Feb. 5-6, 2005 races.

According to Munger:

The 2005 Loppet includes a freestyle race that starts at Theodore Wirth Park, goes 35 kilometers (21-plus miles) on wooded trails and frozen lakes, finishing in the heart of Uptown. The weekend's events also include the Finn Sisu Sprint, the Hoigaard's classic-style race and the family-oriented 10-kilometer REI tour.

Loppet organizers reached an agreement with the United States Ski and Snowboarding Association (USSA) to make the sprint and the freestyle race USSA SuperTour events and Olympic qualifying races.

In previous years, the skiers competed in the Loppet sprint races by invitation only. In 2005, the Loppet will open the sprint races to all comers, holding a series of trial heats. The top 16 male and female skiers will make it to the finals in Uptown, competing for more than $4,000 in prize money.

The freestyle racers will also compete for $4,000 in prize money, Munger said. The classical race is not an Olympic qualifying event, but this year's grand prize, a trip to Norway, will go to the top male and female classical skiers.

Participants may register online or by mail. Register early and pay $35 for the Loppet races (classical or freestyle) or $12 for the REI Tour. Fees go up on July 1, 2004.

For more information, see www.cityoflakesloppet.com or call 715-1479. The Loppet organizers are also recruiting volunteers.