(Note: This article has been updated to include comments from Americans Katharine Ogden and Taeler McCrerey, as well as Canada’s Gareth Williams.)
Katharine Ogden’s name had already been in the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association (USSA) record books, right behind Lindsey Williams, Leif Zimmerman and Torin Koos as one of the top finishers in U.S. history at Nordic Junior Worlds Championships.
Ogden, 19, of the Stratton Mountain School (SMS) and U.S. Ski Team (USST) Development “D” Team, was tied with five other Americans who also placed sixth at Junior Worlds, including current World Cup skiers Andy Newell and Kikkan Randall, and Kris Freeman, who went on to finish fourth in two senior World Championships.
On Wednesday, Ogden moved up in the ranks, placing fifth for the second-best U.S. result at Junior Worlds, equalling Zimmerman and Koos.
“I’m really psyched about my result … it was so awesome to see that I’m in a good place to stick with these top girls in the mass start race,” Ogden wrote in an email after the women’s 5-kilometer freestyle at Soldier Hollow in Midway, Utah.
She had previously finished sixth in the 10 k skiathlon two years ago in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
“My goal going into the 5k skate was mostly just getting a feel for how I can race in this field and on these courses so as to know how to race the skiathlon,” she explained, referring to her target race on Friday. “In the skiathalon I’m really hoping for another top 6 and maybe (hopefully) a podium.”
“It’s really encouraging to know that all those U.S. Ski Team girls that are doing so well [on the World Cup] right now were in the same place that I am at one point,” Ogden said in a post-race interview with the U.S. Ski Team.
She has her share of World Cup starts, eight to be exact, after racing the entire Ski Tour Canada — an eight-stage series that closed out the 2015/2016 international race season. This year, her fifth place on Wednesday puts her soundly within U.S. Ski Team criteria for selection to 2017 World Cup Finals, which will take place March 17-19 in Quebec City, Quebec.
But back to Junior Worlds: Ogden achieved a career best on Wednesday and was 6.5 seconds shy of a medal. Ogden started the one-lap 5 k individual start in bib 54 (of 57).
Asked what she was thinking about as she warmed up and lined up at the start, Ogden couldn’t get over how nervous she was.
“Honestly I was pretty nervous before the start of the race. That’s basically all that I was thinking about,” she wrote. “I felt good once I started racing, the nerves just went away! The course was totally awesome for me.”
While she didn’t get many splits, Ogden explained she heard just enough to know that she was with the leaders.
“That motivated me because I was aware that every second was important,” she wrote.
Just over 13 minutes later, she crossed the finish line in third, 6.5 seconds behind behind Russia’s Mariya Istomina, who was fastest across the line in bib 50. Italy’s Anna Comarella, who started 53rd, 30 seconds ahead of Ogden, came up 3.2 seconds shy of the Russian for second at the time. And Ogden was another 3.3 seconds back in third.
“I honestly didn’t have too much of a strategy,” Ogden told the U.S. Ski Team. “It was a short race, so I knew I was going to have to go hard basically from the start. But I was also trying to walk the line of not blowing up.”
The 2002 Olympic trails at Soldier Hollow peak out around 5,900 feet above sea level. That can be a doozy for most of the world that trains closer to sea level, including Ogden from Landgrove, Vt. Asked in a pre-Junior Worlds questionnaire what she was most excited for at these championships, Ogden wrote “racing at altitude.”
Of the three women that started after Ogden, two of them reached the podium. Norway’s Marte Mæhlum Johansen in bib 56 bested Istomina’s time by 1.5 seconds to become the new race leader — albeit briefly. That bumped Ogden to fourth and the American ultimately placed fifth after the final starter, Sweden’s Ebba Andersson, finished 13.8 seconds faster than Johansen for the win in 12:45.4 minutes.
Andersson became a three-time Junior Worlds champion, after winning last year’s 10 k freestyle and 4 x 2.5 k freestyle relay with Sweden’s women’s team in Rasnov, Romania.
“When I was thinking about the race I made a tactic that I would have a controlled start and then power to the end and I think I succeeded,” Andersson told the U.S. Ski Team media. “The course was amazing today. It was incredible and the weather, too.”
Following the trend of the rest of the week so far, conditions were hard-packed and temperatures just below freezing on a bluebird day.
Ogden led three U.S. women in the top 20 on Wednesday, with Hannah Halvorsen (Sugar Bowl Academy/USST) in 13th (+1:01.2) and Taeler McCrerey (University of Denver) in 20th (+1:18.9). The team’s fourth woman, Hailey Swirbul (University of Alaska Anchorage) placed 31st (+1:35.5).
“My goal for this race was to pace it well so I could use my energy wisely,” Halvorsen, also a member of the USST D-team, wrote in an email. “I liked how firm and fast the course was because I could focus on skiing smooth, powerful, and relaxed. I was really happy with how things went!”
As the 22nd starter, Halvorsen initially crossed the line in second.
“I was excited to cross the line in second but I didn’t know how promising that would be with half the field still to finish,” she wrote. “I was a little bummed to not stay in the top ten but I know this was a great race for me.”
Two days earlier, in her first race of her first Junior Worlds, Halvorsen finished 11th in the classic sprint.
Also on Monday, McCrerey, a sophomore at the University of Denver, placed 40th in the classic sprint. She landed 20th on Wednesday for a career best at her first Junior Worlds.
“Today I set out to achieve my first solid race at world juniors,” McCrerey wrote in an email.
She explained that interval-start races are her strength and growing up 9,000 feet above sea level in Frisco, Colo., didn’t hurt, either.
“The 5k course is one of the most challenging I have raced at Soldier Hollow so that also benefited me,” McCrerey noted.
The 44th starter, she explained that she received splits at two parts of the race.
“The splits were surprisingly close as skiers 5-18 were all within 6 seconds of each other,” she wrote. “Unfortunately all the fast girls started behind me so I was not receiving splits off of them. Racing at ‘home’ in this big of races has been an incredible experience. It’s fun to hear people cheering for the ‘host country’ and waving the stars and stripes so proudly!
“Today was a good day,” McCrerey added. “I learned a lot about racing at this level which has made me grow as a skier. Special congratulations to my teammates Hannah and Katherine on their exceptional performances today.”
Canada had four women in 39th through 46th, with Lisle Compton (NTDC Thunder Bay) in 39th (+1:51.9), Annika Richardson (NTDC Thunder Bay/Canadian Junior Team) in 41st (+1:57.8), Claire Grall-Johnson (Nakkertok) in 42nd (+1:58.2), and India McIsaac (Rocky Mountain Racers) in 46th (+2:12.9).
Russia Sweeps Men’s Podium; Wonders 16th
After women’s race wrapped up in the morning, the men’s 10 k freestyle began at noon. Hunter Wonders, of Alaska Pacific University, led two Americans in the top 20 — finishing 16th in 24:25.8. The winner, Russia’s Vladislav Vechkanov, who had qualified fifth in the classic sprint then went on to place 10th on Monday, started in bib 59 (of 73) and posted an untouchable time of 23:08.6.
Russia swept the podium with two of Vechkanov’s teammates coming closest to him. Egor Kazarinov, the 70th starter, finished 7.9 seconds back in second, and Yaroslav Rybochkin was 13.3 seconds back in third.
For 19-year-old Vechkanov, the gold was his first medal in two Junior Worlds, after placing seventh in the skate sprint last year in Rasnov.
“I arrived at the finish and actually I didn’t think I would win gold,” he told the U.S. Ski Team media. “So I pushed knowing that I would be in top three, but not winning. I started really slow. The on the second loop I tried to increase my speed. On the last uphill I tried my best to make it to the finish line without any strength and I hoped I would be in the top three. But now I’m first!”
Wonders’s time was 1:17.2 minutes back, which put him 16th in his first Junior Worlds race. He started 25th, two minutes behind his U.S. teammate Wyatt Gebhardt, of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. Gebhardt ended up 19th (+1:21.9), also in his Junior Worlds debut.
Also for the U.S, Bill Harmeyer (University of Vermont) placed 29th (+2:02.6) and Lance McKenney 61st (+4:23.3).
Following Gebhardt in 19th, Canada’s Gareth Williams, of the Telemark Race Team in Kelowna, B.C., placed 20th (+1:24.6) in his first Junior Worlds race. His Canadian teammates Antoine Blais (Skibec) followed in 32nd (+2:07.8), Philippe Boucher (CNEPH) 35th (+2:10.3), and Remi Drolet (Black Jack) 50th (+2:49.1).
“This and the skiathlon were both my target races after not qualifying for Canada’s sprint team,” Williams explained in an email. “In my head I wanted to be inside the top 20 on the day, but since it is my first Worlds race I had no idea what to expect.”
Toward the end of the second lap, he started cramping.
“This made it difficult for me to give a proper finishing kick on the last few hills. I was getting splits that I was fighting for a top 20, so for me that was motivating,” Williams wrote. “Overall I am happy with the day, top 20 is something to be pleased with. Now that I have a taste of what it’s like here at Worlds, I can adjust my goals for the coming races. I hope tomorrow’s skiathlon can go equally as well, if not better.”