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Muehlegg Wins American Birkebeiner

February 28, 1999

HAYWARD, Wis. (AP) _ Johann Muehlegg of Germany called himself a loner in winning the 27th annual American Birkebeiner cross-country ski race Saturday, competing on the 52-kilometer course for the first time.

``I like to ski alone to my own rhythm,″ he said. ``I saw it was possible to break away after five kilometers so I did.″

Muehlegg’s time was 2 hours, 3 minutes, 7 seconds over the northern Wisconsin course from Cable to the snow-packed main street of Hayward, which was lined by hundreds of spectators with cowbells and other noise-makers.

It is advertised as North America’s longest ski race. The 1997 record is held by Russia’s Mikhail Botzinov at 5 minutes faster than Muehlegg, who had never see the course before Thursday.

``It was a very hard course,″ Muehlegg said.

Carl Swenson of Boulder, Colo., last year’s winner, was second in 2:06:33, outdistancing Stephane Passeron of France, by 5.1 seconds with a sprint over the final 100 yards.

After Muehlegg pulled away, Swenson said, he was left with a two-man race.

``I hung onto Stephane as best I could,″ Swenson said. Passeron was slowed by slush on Lake Hayward and ``I knew I had him then.″

Skiers described the course as generally good despite overnight thundershowers. Besides slush on the frozen lake, the course approach to the lake was muddy.

Race officials reported a participant collapsed and died during the race, possibly of a heart attack. The skier was not immediately identified.

The race has had only one previous heart-attack death, Birkebeiner spokesman Ron Bergin said.

Laura McCabe of Park City, Utah, was the leading women with a time of 2:22:59 in her fifth try.

``I love this race,″ she said.

The women’s race was dominated by Americans. Kelly Schalk of Laramie, Wyo., was second at 2:27:31. Kara Zimmer of Duluth, Minn., followed at 2:30:42.

After 10 kilometers, Schalk was delayed by a fall that broke a ski pole.

The 24-kilometer Korteloppet was won by Joshua Tesch of Wausau, Wis., at 1:00:06, followed by Andy Erickson of Jericho, Vt., in 1:00:47 and Matt Schadow, Minnetonka, Minn., in 1:00:55.

Christa Farrand Case of Grass Valley, Calif., won the woman’s Korteloppet in 1:13:04. Aniya Deitz of Fifield, Wis., was second in 1:16:29 and Susanne Hill, Winnipeg, Manitoba, third in 1:18:14.

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