It has been 30 years since the United States won an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing. For the Turin Winter Olympics the best hope for a medal in the men's competition comes from New Hampshire native Kris Freeman. But, Freeman is skiing for a much larger purpose than just winning a medal.
Kris Freeman would become a well-known athlete if he is able to break the long Olympic medal drought for the United States in cross-country skiing. But Freeman has already triumphed over a much bigger opponent than Norwegian or Swedish skiers. He is competing despite having Type 1 diabetes.
Freeman, who grew up in Andover, New Hampshire, was diagnosed with diabetes six years ago as he was training for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. Freeman said that doctors told him his career was over, but working with a new type of insulin, he was able to keep skiing.
"So this Humalog insulin, when I found out about it, I realized that the doctors did not know what was possible yet because it was so new," said Kris Freeman. "And that was an inspiration to me."
One of Freeman's sponsors, the Eli Lilly company, manufactures the fast-acting insulin he takes. It allows diabetics to inject insulin closer to meal times, and allows them more freedom rather than keeping to a rigid schedule. Freeman says the product has revived his Olympic dream.
"I have to test very specifically, eat a very balanced, somewhat stringent diet, when I am doing it," he said. "But if I eat the diet, and take care of myself the way I know I should, I know I can do what I need to do to train and to become the best in the world."
Kris Freeman has proven he is among skiing's best by winning the 30-kilometer race at the 2003 under-23 world championships. Later that same year he finished fourth in the 15-kilometer classic race at the Nordic World Championships.
He recently won national titles in both the men's 30-kilometer pursuit and 15-kilometer classic races at Soldier Hollow, Utah. His international performances had already guaranteed the 25-year-old Freeman a place on the U.S. Olympic team.
No American skier has won a cross-country Olympic medal since Bill Koch in 1976. Freeman, with an American best 15th-place at the Salt Lake City Games in the 20-kilometer pursuit, aims to change that. He says that winning a medal would be a great boost not only to U.S. skiing, but also to diabetics around the world.
"It will be that much sweeter because it will mean that much more to the diabetic community as well as to the country at large," explained Kris Freeman. "My biggest personal reward is I really enjoy inspiring children with diabetes to go after whatever goal they want to go after."
Freeman carefully monitors his blood sugar during races, and his coaches often line the course with specially prepared sports drinks should his blood sugar levels drop too far. Coaches also carry a medical kit should Freeman need insulin injections, but they have not had to use it.
The American has skied the course in Turin, and says his best chances for a medal are in the 15-kilometer time trial and the 30-kilometer pursuit.
Kris Freeman insists that diabetes is a roadblock to his success, but not a stop sign. He hopes to prove that to the world at the Winter Olympics in Italy.