Almost exactly two years. That’s how long 19-year-old Katharine Ogden recalled her longing for a medal at Junior World Championships, but she can trace her inspiration back to much earlier as a kid growing up in southern Vermont.
Her father, a ski coach, put her on skis when she was 3, and Ogden joined a youth cross-country ski program in her hometown of Landgrove, Vt., when she was 5. In eighth grade, she began studying and training at the Stratton Mountain School, where she followed in the footsteps of U.S. Ski Team members Sophie Caldwell and Andy Newell.
“When I was really little, I would look up to Sophie and Andy Newell because they were from my home area,” Ogden explained on the phone Friday.
Now a member of the U.S. Ski Team’s development “D” team, Ogden said the entire U.S. team has been an inspiration to her.
“They’re all pretty amazing people and I look up to each and every one of them,” she said.
On Friday, she woke up to the news that U.S. sprinter Ida Sargent (also from Vermont) had placed third in the World Cup classic sprint in PyeongChang, South Korea.
That got Ogden excited for the day, and she went on to navigate her usual pre-race nerves, which were somewhat amplified considering the task ahead of her.
“There was a lot of mostly self-inflicted pressure because it’s been my goal for two years and this was kind of my last chance to achieve that goal,” Ogden said on the phone Friday, after her last individual race at her third Junior World Championships. “It was a little high-stress morning for me. but then the gun goes off and it goes away, and it’s like, ‘This is what I like doing.’ ”
Two days earlier, Ogden had raced to a career-best fifth in the 5-kilometer freestyle at 2017 Junior World Championships at Soldier Hollow in Midway, Utah. That was great, she said, but even better — it wasn’t even her target race. She was going for the podium in the skiathlon.
It all went back to her sixth place in the skiathlon at 2015 Junior Worlds in Almaty, Kazakhstan. After that, she thought, “I can get a podium,” she said. But it didn’t quite work out that way. At 2016 Junior Worlds, she finished 13th in two individual distance races, the 5 k classic and 10 k skate.
“Every day in training, it’s kind of something that I think about. It’s the little thing that helps me push myself,” she said in an interview with the U.S. Ski Team on Friday. “Even in the middle of June I’ll be like, ‘You know what I want to be? On the podium at World Juniors.’ ”
She delivered on Friday, racing to third in the women’s 10 k skiathlon on U.S. soil in front of a home crowd, including her dad. In doing so, Ogden became the first American to medal in an individual race at Nordic Junior Worlds.
“I worked really hard for this and it’s really awesome to see that everything that I’ve done is really coming together,” Ogden said on the phone. “It’s also pretty sweet that I was able to time my training perfectly that I was able to race my fastest here.”
Ogden started the four-lap race, which started with a 5 k classic leg and ended with 5 k of skating, in a prime position: right up front alongside Norway’s Marte Mæhlum Johansen, Sweden’s Ebba Andersson and Italy’s Anna Comarella — four of the women who finished ahead of her in Wednesday’s 5 k (which Andersson won by 13.8 seconds over Johansen),
While Ogden recalled a noticeable improvement in her classic skiing in the last year, she was slightly more confident in her skating, so she made a goal to stick with the leaders early to put herself in contention for the second half of the race.
“I kind of went into the race with the mindset that I’m going to stick with the leaders and if I blow up, I blow up, and hopefully I don’t,” she said. “On a good day I think I can stay with them. Kind of a ‘go big or go home’ mindset.”
For the first lap, she was one of about six women skiing together up front, with Johansen and Andersson leading the charge.
“I had the Norwegian and the Swede in sight so that was cool,” Ogden said. “They were off the front, but not crazy off the front. I still had some contact.”
At the halfway point of the race, Andersson reached the pit stop first to make the switch to skate skis, Johansen came in alongside her in second and Comarella in third. While Ogden exchanged in fourth, she didn’t waste any time catching Comarella on the first skate lap.
“I was pretty happy with where I was, for sure, in the classic part, and I knew that once I got on skate skis, I’d probably be at a little more of an advantage because I’m historically better at that,” Ogden told the U.S. Ski Team.
She went on to drop the Italian and worked her way back in contact with Johansen and Andersson. On the second-to-last lap, ascending the final climb before the stadium, Johansen attacked on an inside corner and passed Andersson before the top. The Norwegian led into the downhill, while Ogden followed in third, slightly off the back of the two.
For the last 2.5 k, Johansen and Andersson jockeyed for the win, while Ogden continued to put time into Comarella behind her to lock up third place. Coming off the final downhill and into the final lefthand corner into the finishing straight, she looked back to see if anyone was behind her.
While Johansen outlasted Andersson by 6.6 seconds for the gold medal, finishing first in 27:17.3, Ogden was 10.4 seconds back in third. Comarella finished 41.2 seconds later in fourth (+51.6), just ahead of Finland’s Eveliina Piippo in fifth (+58.7), while Germany’s Antonia Fräbel led a chase group across the line in sixth (+1:29.1).
For 19-year-old Johansen, it was her second gold in two Junior Worlds after winning the 5 k classic last year in Rasnov, Romania.
“I’m so happy. My shape was good and I felt strong almost all the way,” she told the U.S. Ski Team media after.
Asked about her experience in Utah, Johansen replied, “Amazing. It’s one of the most beautiful places I have skied ever.”
Of 44 finishers, Ogden posted the fastest skate leg in 12:47.3 minutes, 2.3 seconds faster than Johansen. Asked why she targeted the multi-technique race since her first skiathlon in 2015, Ogden said it had something to do with her lack of a preference of classic vs. skate.
Still, “generally, I think the skiathlons favor stronger skaters,” she said. That played to her strength.
With the third place, Ogden surpassed Lindsey Williams’s previous best individual result of fourth place (at a 2003 skate sprint in Solleftea, Sweden) to become the most successful American — and first individual medalist — at Junior Worlds. While she wasn’t aware of the context of her medal, Ogden was thrilled to have friends and family at Soldier Hollow, including her dad, to share it with.
“It’s just so much fun. The whole process,” she told the U.S. Ski Team. “Every day I’m out here, it’s just living the life, living the dream, and that’s what it should be about.”
Three of Ogden’s U.S. teammates also raced in Friday’s skiathlon, with Hailey Swirbul (University of Alaska Anchorage) finishing 24th (+2:21.0) for her first top 30 in her second Junior Worlds. Lauren Jortberg (Dartmouth) followed in 37th (+4:04.5) and Taeler McCrerey (University of Denver) 38th (+4:07.5).
In her final year of eligibility for Junior Worlds, Ogden is looking forward to the last race: Sunday’s relay.
“I think we can do some damage this year with the U.S. team so that’ll be really cool,” she said.
Swirbul’s teammate on the UAA Ski Team, Canada’s Natalie Hynes, of Whitehorse led her team in 28th (+3:11.3) for her first top 40 result at her second Junior Worlds, followed by India McIsaac (Rocky Mountain Racers) in 30th (+3:13.8), Lisle Compton (NTDC Thunder Bay) in 33rd (+3:45.5), and Annika Richardson (NTDC Thunder Bay/National Junior Team) in 41st (+4:49.3), all of which notched their best results at Junior Worlds as well.