An Uphill Victory

It was a cold day in Colorado. The Colorado University Ski Team&#39a heavy favorite in the 2006 NCAA collegiate skiing championships&#39sat far behind in sixth place after the first day of the four-day competition. They had just three days to surpass six top teams and claim the national title. Not only that, but they had to do it with only 11 competitors, a feat no team had ever accomplished before.

Although in familiar territory &#39 the championship meet was held nearby Colorado&#39s Boulder campus&#39the Buffaloes faced steep slopes ahead approaching into Day 2.

&#39I didn&#39t tell the team a whole lot,&#39 Head Coach Richard Rokos said. He, for one, wasn&#39t worried at all. He had been here before. In fact, winning the 2006 NCAA championship title would be just one of five national titles for the veteran coach.

&#39We just talked about recovery and having better runs on the second, third and fourth days,&#39 Rokos said. &#39I told them that we had a good chance to regain points in Nordic events.&#39

The Nordic events&#39the long distance cross-country style competitions&#39are some one of the most physically strenuous athletic endeavors in all of college sports (the longest men&#39s race lasts almost an hour.) It would take almost superhuman strength and energy for the Nordic skiers to dig the Buffaloes far enough out of their sixth- place hole to even hope for the title.
Yet, sure enough, Rokos&#39 Nordic skiers came up huge. During the last three days of competition, the Buffaloes claimed three individual titles in Nordic events, earning enough points to take the lead and claim Colorado&#39s 16th national skiing championship since the program&#39s creation.

And this wasn&#39t just any championship. The 2006 title was the end result of a number of firsts, not the least of which was mounting the biggest comeback in collegiate skiing history.
The Nordic skiers took care of most of that comeback on Day 2. First, sophomore Kit Richmond&#39who was too sick to train during the days leading up to the meet&#39 skied to victory in the men&#39s 10K title. Then, senior Jana Rehemaa won the women&#39s 5K, pushing the Buffaloes from sixth place to second place in just one day.

On Day 3, Colorado had to return to its weaker side&#39the Alpine events. But sophomore Lucie Zikova&#39s unexpected individual title in the women&#39s slalom kept the Buffaloes in the running. Finally, Rehemaa&#39s second title on the final day of the meet in the women&#39s 15K was enough to give the Buffaloes an insurmountable 98-point lead over runner-up University of New Mexico.

Colorado&#39s title was the twelfth straight for the Western Region schools. But Rokos claims that the West is not necessarily better for skiing.

&#39It&#39s a misconception,&#39 he said. &#39The Eastern side of the U.S. has a big ski community, and there are some very strong programs on that side. &#39 We have more snow and lots of big ski areas [out West], but it&#39s not always to our advantage. &#39 We get more rain and snow and ice, which makes training more difficult, so sometimes we look out East and wish we could be there instead.&#39
The Buffaloes got their wish, virtue of the championship run, when President Bush invited Rokos and the team to Washington, D.C. The Colorado ski team was among a dozen NCAA championship teams from different sports across the country to be honored at a special ceremony at the White House.

Despite his long history of success, Rokos said there wasn’t much that could make this title sweeter. &#39Championships don&#39t come in bundles,&#39 Rokos said. &#39They are staggered. You face different challenges in different years, so they all are great.&#39

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