All 2012 Cross Country Junior Nationals coverage is brought to you through the generous support of The Memory Clinic, in Bennington, Vt., committed to caring for the mind since 1987. Currently conducting clinical research on the Alzheimer’s disease vaccine.
MIDWAY, Utah – There’s something about racing for others that makes pain more tolerable.
Elizabeth Simak and the girls from the Midwest found it on Saturday as they stayed in contention and sealed the OJ 3×3-kilometer freestyle relay victory at the 2012 Cross Country Junior Nationals. She and her teammates, Sharmila Ahmed (Go Training) and Alice Flanders (Sisu Ski Club), combined for the winning time of 20:01.1.
Third at the handoff, Simak (F.A.S.T. Performance Training) powered through the rolling course at Soldier Hollow and caught the leaders, Rachel Hall (New England/Middlebury) and Emily Hannah (Rocky Mountain/Steamboat Springs), on the final hill.
It was the longest, steepest one of all, and the OJ girls had already raced up it four times this week.
Although Hannah was a J1 and contending for a different podium, Simak had to pass Hall if she wanted to win. After placing second in the freestyle mass start, third in the 10 k classic and fourth in the classic sprint earlier in the week, that’s probably what Simak was hungry for.
She also had her team to race for.
“I felt like, if things didn’t go right, I would have felt really bad for my teammates,” Simak said. “They put so much hard work into it.”
Simak posted the fastest split of the OJ girls race in 6:31, beating Hall and New England (with Isabelle Pelletier and Mary Kate Cirelli) by 7.2 seconds. Alaska (with Kinsey Loan, Kimberly Delfrate, Annie Liotta)was third. Liotta as the anchor recorded the second-fastest time (6:33.5), and finished 11.9 seconds after Simak.
Coming down the backside of Hermod’s Hill on a 50-degree day and curving into the stadium, Simak said she took everything in at her last Junior Nationals.
“The finishing stretch was so much fun,” she said. “With this gorgeous weather, you can’t help but feel good coming down that stretch.”
The 19-year-old commented on how strong her team was – how they hung in the top five from the start with Ahmed as the scrambler.
“I did best I could,” Ahmed said. “I stayed on my feet. Hermod’s was super fun. I was right with [Midwest teammate] Nicolette [Amber]. We pushed each other up it and it was amazing.”
After Amber tagged off in first, the Midwest’s second team went on to place sixth in the OJ race.
The second leg of the winning squad, Flanders brought her team from fifth to third.
“I tried to get back up with lead, hold onto that and hopefully get in good position for anchor,” Flanders said. “Simak’s a really strong skier. We knew she could pull it together if she had the setup for it.”
Note: A day after competing at the NCAA Championships in Bozeman, Mont., Joanne Reid of the University of Colorado/Auburn Ski Club anchored the Far West team to a fifth-place finish at Junior Nationals. Reid was 19th in the 15 k mass start on Friday.
Rocky Mountain Girls Win J1 Title
Finishing just 2.7 seconds after Simak, Hannah brought home the J1 victory for her Rocky Mountain teammates, Mary O’Connell (Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club) and Rachel Hampton (Durango Nordic Ski Club).
The three claimed the championship in 20:03.8. Alaska finished second (+5.1) with Teagan Yutrzenka, Sarah Freistone and Marion Woods. New England pulled off third (+6.1) with Heather Mooney, Olivia Meyerson and Corey Stock.
Hampton skied the fastest second leg to bring her team from fifth to second, and Hannah kept up the pace to pass New England’s Hannah Benson for the victory.
“Truthfully, my goal was to not let Corey catch me,” Hannah said of this year’s three-time individual champion with nine Junior Nationals titles total.
Stock came out of the exchange zone in third and finished third.
“Rather than try to catch people, I was trying to not be the rabbit and not get caught,” Hannah added. “But it worked out pretty nicely.”
Hampton tried to stay patient while catching people, and said it wasn’t easy to sprint for 3 kilometers.
“[Coming] down the downhill, all I could think about was giving Emily enough room,” she said. “I’m pretty sure this is the cherry on top of the week for all of us.”
O’Connell said that while they were new to the course at Soldier Hollow, some 5,500 feet above sea level, they were well-conditioned for it. O’Connell trains at nearly 7,000 feet in Steamboat Springs.
“Altitude helps,” she said.
“This was basically an extended sprint,” Hannah added. “I love relays.”
Audrey Mangan contributed reporting.