Note: This article has been updated to include comments from Canada’s Marie Corriveau and American Ben Saxton.
Julia Kern’s biggest hurdle on Monday? Hands down: the heat.
“The conditions today we’re a very good representation of how poor this winter has been,” 18-year-old Julia Kern, of the Stratton Mountain School and U.S. Ski Team D-team, wrote in an email on the opening day of U23/Junior World Championships racing in Rasnov, Romania.
Kern placed 16th in the junior women’s 1.3-kilometer freestyle sprint, qualifying with the 14th-fastest time then placing fourth in her quarterfinal, 2.8 seconds out of first.
“It was about 50 degrees and sunny, so pretty darn hot, and man made snow,” she continued. “Almost the entire course was deep slush, making it hard to power through a sprint like I usually do. My approach was to ski light and quick, but still getting power through the legs and poles. I hammered the first hill, leaving a little left in the tank to really work the flats and the finish.
“The heat was definitely one of my biggest challenges today because I tend to overheat very quickly,” Kern, a Massachusetts native, added. “I found that pouring some water on my hair and staying in the shade before I started helped.”
Sixteenth marked her career best at Junior World Championships since placing 32nd and 38th in the classic sprint and skiathlon, respectively, at last year’s junior worlds in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
“My goals for these championships were pretty conservative because I wasn’t sure how I compared with others after having injuries this year and I also had no strong sprint results thus far,” wrote Kern, who had compartment-syndrome surgery last spring followed by a back injury at the start of the season. “My goal was to make the heats and I achieved that. Anything more than that was just a bonus!”
She was one of two North American junior women to reach the heats on Monday: Canada’s Marie Corriveau qualified 29th and went on to place 25th when she finished fifth in her quarterfinal, 12.41 seconds behind the winner of that heat.
Kern had qualified 14th, 9.63 seconds behind the top qualifier, Anastasia Kirillova of Belarus.
“I was pretty confident about my qualifier,” Kern explained. “I felt like I was gaining on the Russian who started in front of me. By the time I was half way down the downhill, my legs were burning more than they ever have, to the point where I couldn’t feel them. I knew that I had given it my all. The heats were a lot different since the course is really tight, barely 2 people wide.”
In her quarterfinal, she found herself in sixth early after what she considered “a really bad start”. The pack remained together until a 180-degree turn, where Kern recalled one of the two Germans in the heat stepping on the skis of France’s Delphine Claudel, causing Claudel to spin around and face Kern.
“I tried to ski as quickly as I could around her, but had lost contact to the first 3 girls,” Kern wrote. “I worked the flat and downhill, almost catching up the 3rd, but not quite. I was still content with how I raced and was really excited to place 16th!”
Sweden’s Emma Ribom won the heat in 3:07.28 and would ultimately place fifth in the final. Norway took first and second overall with Amalie Håkonsen Ous, who won the final in 2:55.77, and runner-up Lotta Udnes Weng, 0.22 seconds back. Sweden’s Jenny Solin placed third, 0.71 behind the winner.
In an email, Corriveau explained she started her quarterfinal with the goal of staying behind the leaders as long as possible.
“I stayed with them the first part of the sprint, but after this point I was not able to follow anymore, they were really too fast for me,” the 18-year-old Pierre-Harvey National Training Centre (CNEPH) athlete wrote. Weng won her heat.
“I am feeling very good about my result today, especially that it was my first international race, so I am very happy with a top 25 to start the week!” Corriveau wrote.
After being officially named to the Ski Tour Canada team for the World Cups March 1-12, Corriveau explained she would likely leave for Ottawa on Friday.
Also in the junior women’s sprint, Americans Sarah Bezdicek placed 36th, Leah Lange was 42nd and Nicole Schneider 52nd. For the Canadian team, Sadie White placed 44th, Hannah Mehain was 47th and Natalie Hynes 70th.
In the junior men’s 1.3 k sprint, Henry Harmeyer was the top American in 35th, Zak Katterson placed 51st, Thomas O’Harra was 58th, and Leo Hipp 66th. For Canada, Antoine Blais finished 41st, William Dumas was 44th, Philippe Boucher 52nd, and Joey Foster 63rd.
Another Norwegian topped the junior field, with Johannes Høsflot Klæbo winning the final in 2:31.42, by 0.67 seconds over Korea’s Magnus Kim in second place. Italy’s Giacomo Gabrielli edged Russia’s Denis Spitsov by 0.07 seconds for third, 1.02 seconds behind Klæbo.
In the U23 men’s 1.3 k skate sprint, Logan Hanneman of Alaska Pacific University pulled out a career-best 15th at his second U23 World Championships (fourth including junior worlds as well). Hanneman, 22, had previously placed 16th in the classic sprint at 2013 junior worlds and 23rd in the classic sprint at Almaty U23’s last year.
“After Nationals in Houghton, I headed home to heal and rest my back, as well as to put in some good weeks of training,” Hanneman, who placed ninth in the U.S. nationals skate sprint in January, wrote in an email. “The skiing back home in Fairbanks has been absolutely amazing, so I was able to get many weeks of very solid training in. Unfortunately, those amazing conditions were nowhere to be found here Romania. I probably should have gone training out in an ungroomed field if I wanted to be prepared for the slush that was on the race course today.”
After qualifying in 25th, Hanneman raced to third in his quarterfinal, 2.57 seconds behind the winner.
“Out of the start, I was last……I need to work on my starts,” he explained. “From there, I was just patient and kept making moves where I could. Coming down the downhill into the finishing rise, I was fourth and a little behind 1st – 3rd, but I just went really hard and was able to real another guy in and pass him. I was satisfied because the guy I passed in the finish [Norway’s Håvard Solås Taugbøl] was 7th in the Lahti World Cup Sprint just 2 days earlier. It was a great feeling.”
While he finished 0.39 seconds ahead of Taugbøl, Hanneman was one place and 2.39 seconds away from automatically advancing to the semifinals.
“My main goals were to make it out of my quarterfinal and place high in the sprint,” Hanneman wrote of his goals for the championships. “Perhaps a very good placing in this sprint may have given me a chance to race [at the Ski Tour] Canada, but who knows exactly. Due to the conditions that were not very well suited for me, I am very happy with the result. After skiing the little bit during my warm up, I honestly could tell that it was going to be a tough one.”
“I probably should have gone training out in an ungroomed field if I wanted to be prepared for the slush that was on the race course today.” — Logan Hanneman, top North American in 15th in Monday’s skate sprint at U23 Word Championships
Behind him, Ben Saxton placed 25th for the U.S., after qualifying in 29th then placing fifth in his quarterfinal, 10.59 seconds behind the winner of that heat. In an email, the 22-year-old Saxton, of the SMST2 Team, explained this would be his only race of the week.
“I got a tough lane draw, but I won my start and slotted into second behind a German guy,” Saxton explained of his quarterfinal. “It was really relaxed up the hill, and when we hit the top everyone punched it as hard as they could. On the top section there was some real WWE style skiing going on, but that’s what these races are usually like, this time though it ended up with me in 4th place around the 180 degree turn and not much way to get back on the leaders. I think I felt quite good, I’m just mad at myself for not anticipating the physical contact that came up top and suffering because of it.”
Also for the U.S., Paddy Caldwell finished 43rd and Akeo Maifeld-Carucci was 48th.
“Logan and Julia were standouts at 15 and 16th, respectively but we felt like the day left us wanting more,” U.S. Ski Team Development Coach Bryan Fish wrote in an email. “Logan skied smart and surged from the 5th and out sprinted Haavard Taugboel (7th overall last weekend in the Lahti World Cup sprint) into 3rd in his heat. Unfortunately, he did not move on as a Lucky Loser. Ben Saxton started strong in 3rd in his heat for most of his quarter, but ran into traffic and faded toward the finish.”
Canada’s top finisher on Monday, Julien Locke of Black Jack placed 16th on the day after qualifying 27th then placing third in his quarterfinal, 0.94 seconds out of first. Not only was it his debut U23 World Championships, but his breakthrough result came in his first race outside of North America.
“Today’s race was my main focus for the week, and also for the year,” Locke, 22, wrote in an email. “My goal since May was to be in the A-Final, so to come up short is disappointing. Despite that, it was fun to be in the mix and I believe that while the level here is high, it’s well within reach.”
He planned to race Tuesday’s 15 k classic individual start then return to Canada on Thursday morning. Locke was on the bubble of being selected to the Ski Tour Canada (STC), but was not on the final list released Monday.
“It’s been quite neat to be here in Romania,” he wrote. “I had a few great rollerskis through some small villages down in the valley. The people (many of whom were working in their fields alongside the road) were very friendly and seemed very intrigued to see skiers on their roads. Up here at the venue, the organizers have been working very hard to put on the races. Given the weather, they have done an impressive job to make the races happen.”
“Today’s race was my main focus for the week, and also for the year. My goal since May was to be in the A-Final … I believe that while the level here is high, it’s well within reach.” — Julien Locke, top Canadian in 16th in U23 World Championships skate sprint
Locke led three other Canadian U23 men, with Scott James Hill in 39th, Angus Foster in 50th and Jack Carlyle in 56th.
France’s Lucas Chanavat won the final in 2:35.78, outlasting Sweden’s Karl-Johan Dyvik by 0.92 seconds. The second Frenchman on the podium, Jean Tiberghien placed third (+1.11).
In the U23 women’s sprint, also 1.3 k long, Jenn Jackson of Canada’s Thunder Bay National Development Centre (NDC) placed 29th overall in her first world championships.
In an email, Jackson, who turned 21 on Saturday, described being “on the edge with my health the week before leaving for Europe.” She took a turn for the worse upon arriving in Seefeld, Austria, on Feb. 13 and was unable to train for several days.
“So I wasn’t as primed to race as I’d hoped, very well rested though,” Jackson wrote. “Being unable to deliberately prepare for the races was frustrating. On Saturday the tightness and pain in my chest had subsided enough that I was okay’d to do intensity. It was a painful wake up call after being without any hard efforts since Eastern [Canadian Championships], clearing the rust out of the pipes.”
She raced to 25th in the qualifier before placing sixth in her quarterfinal, 2.63 seconds behind the winner.
“I had a good start from an outside lane and held my ground to hit the hill in third,” Jackson wrote of her quarterfinal. “The two girls ahead of me spread across the trail and I swung to follow on the outside, which would ultimately be the end of my contention in the race. I got pushed to the edge of the track and lost a lot of speed running up behind the girl in front of me. The two of us got gapped by the rest of the field and I didn’t have the jam to get back on…
“I didn’t feel outclassed by the competition and I know my decision on who to follow up the hill was my undoing,” she added. “But that was a decision in the moment, not a mistake, so again, I’m content with how I raced.”
Jackson was one of 12 women chosen to represent Canada at the Ski Tour Canada. She plans to fly to Ottawa on Thursday.
“My coach and I agreed that if I was going to make the most of the opportunities of both U23’s and Ski Tour that this was the best option,” she wrote.
In terms of a goal for her last race of U23’s — Tuesday’s classic individual start — Jackson isn’t getting stuck on numbers.
“As with today’s sprint, I don’t have a number goal because I don’t know how my body will handle the full race effort. A top 20 would be really great, another top 30 would be nice, and being the top North American is also on my check list,” she wrote.
Two-hundredths of a second away from 30th, which would have qualified her for the heats, Canada’s Alannah Maclean placed 31st on Monday. She made the cut for the STC team, as did Sophie Carrier-Laforte in 40th, while Kendra Murray placed 47th for Canada.
Kelsey Phinney was the top American in 34th (0.69 seconds out of qualifying), Felicia Gesior placed 39th, and Heather Mooney was 46th.
Sweden’s Jonna Sundling topped the U23 women’s final in 2:52.14, edging Switzerland’s Nadine Fähndrich by 0.36 seconds. Another Swede, Maja Dahlqvist rounded out the podium in third (+1.33).
“Our athletes have done a good job staying composed and focused despite the schedule changes and inability to get on snow,” Fish wrote. “The athletes and staff hadn’t been able to ski until Sunday – the day before the sprint today. On Sunday, each gender got 1 hr to test their skis and ski the sprint course in preparation for the sprint race.”
He explained that it was 11 degrees Celsius (52 Fahrenheit) on Monday, and the manmade snow was melting fast.
“The competition schedule has been changed and condensed,” Fish wrote. “The skiathlon was replaced with a mass start skate and tonight it was decided to change it again to an interval start skate due to the narrow width. The [organizing committee] has worked hard to host these championships in the very warm conditions.”
Updated U23/Junior World Championships schedule:
– Tuesday: Junior 5/10k and U23 10/15 k classic
– Wednesday: Course closed due to predicted rain throughout the day
– Thursday: Junior 10/15 k and U23 10/15 k freestyle
– Friday: Junior relays