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LAND OF THE ICE-COLD EYEBALLS
William Oscar Johnson
January 16, 1978
Skiing in an ice fog so thick that contestants had to blink to keep their eyes from freezing shut, two sisters-in-law and a brain trainer were the big winners at Anchorage's national cross-country championships
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January 16, 1978

Land Of The Ice-cold Eyeballs

Skiing in an ice fog so thick that contestants had to blink to keep their eyes from freezing shut, two sisters-in-law and a brain trainer were the big winners at Anchorage's national cross-country championships

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On the first day of individual competition, Treadwell skied a smooth 30-km. race in 1:32:23.98, beating Swigert and Ward for the title. When he finished, Treadwell's face was so cold that he said, "I feel like I have two nails driven into each cheek." In the women's 7.5-km. race, Spencer won in 24:40.59 with VonderHeide second. Two days later it was even colder, 11 below zero. In the men's 15-km., Dunklee demonstrated that he had recovered from his last traces of Colorado pleurisy to win in 43:46.18, with Ward and Swigert behind him. Peterson was fourth by barely a minute, mainly because he fell on a hill while partly blinded by ice in his eye. In the women's 10-km., the sisters-in-law finished in reverse order, VonderHeide winning in 32:26.32 and Spencer coming in second.

The last day of the meet was to be the most punishing of all. The women were to ski 20 kilometers, their longest championship event, and the men were to undertake one of the great ordeals in sport, the 50-km. Cross-country racers often speak of pain and controlling it, of using it as a barometer for measuring their performance in mid-race. But nothing causes pain like a 50-km. race and many is the man who "hits the wall," which Kevin Swigert describes as "exactly like having a piano land on your back."

The women's race, once again, went to Spencer, who finished in 1:04:28.64, with VonderHeide second. Then a hopeful and shivering field of 21 men came to the line in the 50-km., facing an approximately three-hour journey. Betting at the start was that no more than five would finish; the rest would hit the wall. But, astonishingly, 12 men went the full route. The winner, in 2:48:02.43, was the doughty Swigert, followed by Treadwell. Exhausted and frosted, his long hair standing out stiffly below his cap, Swigert raised his ski poles in triumph. He had said earlier that whenever he felt he was approaching the wall he would begin to chant his favorite training slogan: "Train the brain for pain...train the brain for pain." And any man who is going to face birth, life and death in one three-hour race had better have at least his brain prepared for the ordeal.

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