The World Cup cross-country ski races scheduled to be held in Minneapolis next week have been canceled because of concerns about the spread of coronavirus.
As many as 20,000 fans had been expected to attend Tuesday’s sprint races at Theodore Wirth Park, according to the Loppet Foundation, which had been overseeing the event. A festival related to the races, which was scheduled to begin Saturday, has been called off.
“We are devastated to announce this cancellation,” said John Munger, executive director of the Loppet Foundation. “In keeping with updated information from the Minnesota Department of Health and after consulting with medical advisers, we are prioritizing the health and safety of our community, fans, athletes, staff and volunteers involved in these events.”
Athletes from several countries, including 2018 Olympic gold medalist Jessie Diggins of Afton, were scheduled to compete. The races, part of a North American mini-tour, were to be the first World Cup races in the United States in 19 years.
For the past few weeks, Munger said, local organizers knew that increasing concern about the coronavirus could put their event in peril. They got an ominous sign Tuesday, when the Norwegian national team said it was not coming to Minneapolis.
A rush of developments led them to call off the races. The event’s medical team said it expected the number of COVID-19 cases in Minnesota to grow in the coming days, and the state department of health said it soon would begin recommending that large public gatherings be canceled. The International Ski Federation called off a World Cup Alpine event in Sweden after a member of the sponsor support team tested positive for coronavirus; two others showed symptoms, and all were placed under quarantine.
After consulting with Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and other civic leaders, Munger said “it just became obvious” that the races could not go on.
“Once we saw what happened in Sweden, it became harder to justify bringing in international athletes,” Munger said.
“Can we really say we can safely bring these people in here and not be spreading the coronavirus? At that point, combined with everything else, we just said this is no longer the responsible thing to do.”
Munger said 10,000 tickets had been sold, but sales had slowed recently because of coronavirus concerns. He was uncertain how much the cancellation will cost the Loppet Foundation. The event had a $2.5 million budget.
Caitlin Gregg of Minneapolis, a 2010 Olympian and world championships bronze medalist, planned to make the Wirth Park sprint her final World Cup event. She said Thursday she still plans to retire from the circuit, despite not being able to race one last time.
Gregg, who lives a block from the park, is a frequent presence on its cross-country trails. She also works with the Loppet Foundation and said she is “devastated” for everyone who committed more than two years of time and effort to bringing the World Cup to Minneapolis.
“My heart goes out to everyone and anyone who was a part of it,” Gregg said. “That includes the organizers, the Loppet Foundation, all of the sponsors who got behind the idea, and Jessie Diggins, who put an enormous amount of effort into it. I feel really bad for them.
“This is still the end for me in World Cups. It’s an unfortunate circumstance, but there’s not much I can do.”
On Wednesday night, as many sports began canceling or postponing events or announcing limits on spectators, Gregg began thinking the Minneapolis World Cup might follow suit. Despite her disappointment, she said she trusted the Loppet Foundation to make the right decision.
“In the back of my mind, I kind of felt like maybe this was inevitable, that they would look at all the options and make the best informed choice,” she said. “Their first and foremost concern is the health and safety of everyone involved. Maybe in my gut, I had a feeling they would make the call in looking out for the greater good.”
Gregg said she will remain involved with the Loppet Foundation and hopes to assist with a future World Cup at Wirth Park. The Loppet Foundation already has told US Ski & Snowboard and the International Ski Federation that it wants to host World Cup events in 2022 and 2024.
The final event of the World Cup cross-country season, scheduled for March 20-22 in Canmore, Alberta, also was canceled Thursday.