FAIRBANKS, AK — Not even a navigational gaffe could derail the New England J2 girls in Tuesday’s 3X3k classic relay at the U.S. Cross Country Junior Nationals.
Katharine Ogden, the lead skier for New England, lost the substantial lead she’d gained on Rocky Mountain’s Hailey Swirbul after she accidentally skied into the finish lane instead of the lap lane — despite large signs that directed skiers — as she approached the end of the first leg. Ogden was thus forced to backtrack out of the finish lane and into the correct exchange lane.
Instead of having a lead of perhaps 10 seconds, New England’s second skier, Leah Brams, inherited a 6-second deficit to Rocky Mountain.
It wasn’t the first time Ogden made the error.
“For the last qualifier me and Julie (Kern) and Katharine all went the wrong way,” Brams said. “We were like ‘It’s never happening again.’”
But it happened again on another sunny day with temperatures in the teens at the Jim Whisenhant Trails at Birch Hill Recreation Area. The mistake added a little drama but wasn’t worth fretting about for New England.
“I wasn’t that worried,” Brams said. “I was a little nervous, but I ski better when I have someone to pace off.”
Brams proceeded to build a nearly insurmountable 26-second lead by outpacing RM’s Jordan Floyd. New England anchor Kern then coasted home to secure the national championship in 34 minutes, 1 second. The dominant victory was no surprise — Ogden, Kern and Brams swept the J2 podium in the 5K freestyle on Monday.
Alaska anchor Lydia Blanchett, with the fastest third leg, rallied to win her team the silver-medal in 34:46 while Rocky Mountain slipped to third in 35:11.
The boys J2 race also played out as expected, with Alaska’s Jake Bassett, Tristan Sayre and Max Donaldson leading from start to finish.
“Yesterday we all got top four so we knew we were the favorite (team),” Sayre said.
Bassett skied the scramble leg and tagged to Sayre with a 4.2-second lead over Intermountain’s Logan Diekmann.
Sayre then busted the race open with the fastest second-leg to increase the gap to 18 seconds.
“I was pretty frantic at the start … then I relaxed because that’s what everyone was telling me to do,” Sayre said.
Sayre, from Fairbanks, made up some of his ground on the seemingly interminable “Sidewinder” hill, the second of two major climbs on the 3.3-kilometer course.
Donaldson, Monday’s runaway winner, had the honor of clinching the gold medal on his hometown trails.
While Donaldson was able to ski without anyone threatening him, he would have welcomed more pressure.
“It would have been nice to ski behind someone and maybe pass them in the end,” Donaldson said.
Intermountain held on for second place in 30:30 while New England won bronze in 30:41.