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Jim Galanes: the indomitable snowman of cross-country skiing

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''Why does he always have to be so serious?'' was the photographer's comment when Jim Galanes skied past us without even the suggestion of a smile for the camera.

The scene was West Yellowstone, Montana, where the nation's top cross-country skiers were vying late last fall for a spot on the national team and the season's first trip to Europe. Jim had already been named to the team, thanks to his strong international showing the year before. But he took part in the tryout race all the same, skiing twice the distance required as if his whole future were on the line.

And in a way it was, along with many years of dedicated training that had gone before, which may explain why he's so serious. It's been 11 years since Galanes, then 17, first signed on with the US National Team program. Though initially a Nordic Combined competitor (cross-country skiing and jumping), he has specialized in cross-country since 1978 when his enormous potential in that area started becoming apparent.

So far, only one US cross-country ski racer has succeeded in becoming a household name in this country: Bill Koch, a fellow Vermonter who won an Olympic silver medal in 1976, and in 1982 became the first American ever to win the World Cup crown, much less an individual Cup race. And now at long last it seems entirely possible that Jim Galanes may be ready to clamber out of obscurity as well.

By the end of the US team's first trip to Europe in December, Jim led the rest of the team in total World Cup points with ninth- and tenth-place finishes in the first two races of the series. No other American, including Koch, wound up in the top 15. In a sport with as many unpredictable elements as cross-country, anyone who consistently places in the top 15 internationally has to be considered a potential Olympic medal winner. This will be especially true at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, where clashing weather fronts can cause sudden and drastic changes in temperature, thereby wreaking havoc with waxing and paving the way for dark horses to come out on top.


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