Where East Meets West: The West took both individual titles with Colorado’s Matt Gelso and Denver’s Antje Maempel, while the East took runner-up titles with Vermont’s Franz Bernstein and Dartmouth’s Rosie Brennan.
– Led by Matt Gelso, Americans take three of six podium finishes on first day of NCAA Nordic Skiing Championships –
It was an unassumingly beautiful, 30 degree, wintry day at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, but for racers and coaches of the first 2010 NCAA Nordic championships races, the tensions were high. Though the snowfall may have been picturesque to a tourist, there were 5 and 10 kilometer National Collegiate Titles on the line, and the difficult waxing conditions made for quite an agitated morning melee of coaching staff and assistants, frantic to find the perfect base cover combination for classic skis.
The snow started falling heavily Wednesday afternoon and continued sporadically during the night, delaying the grooming until just several hours before the races were held on Thursday morning. And the snow kept falling – through the entire women’s race and right through the men’s warm-up – until 10 minutes before the men’s start.
The fresh snow layered over large granular ice crystals, a product of warm and sunny daytime temperatures throughout the week, and accumulated as powder base in some parts of the track while glazing in others.
Denver’s Antje Maempel bests women’s field by 47 seconds
The women’s race started promptly at 9:30am with 30 second individual start intervals, and in 20 minutes the entire field was on course. After a quick one-lap race the victor was decided – and the name was no surprise to anyone who had been following the Western Regional races this season. University of Denver ‘s Antje Maemple, who was the 2009 NCAA champion in both classic and skate races, was also a dominant factor at her western region races this year – winning seven and taking second in the remaining three. Twenty-six years old, Maemple is from Stuetzerbach, Germany and is currently a junior at Denver who is pursuing a business degree. Maempel may have been the only one unsure of her strength this morning as she commented after the race,“I was actually really scared – I didn’t feel that great the last couple of days.”
But though she didn’t feel sure out of the start, Maempel was able to ski into her race form quickly and by the time she heard the first split times from her coaches she was well on her way to winning the race, giving her the boost she needed to finish strong.
“When I heard the first split times I thought ‘yeah, well, it’s going to be a good race’, and once you know that the time is good you kind of feel better,” Maempel explained.
An all-around skier who likes to race skate just as well as she does the classic technique, Maempel is now looking forward to Saturday’s mass start skate race.
“Yeah, I feel better,” Maempel said, adding, “I’m much more confident now.”
Rosie Brennan, a junior from Dartmouth who has had a solid ski season on the east coast and even took time off to race at the January U23 Championships in Germany, came into these championships unsure of her health but hoping for the best. Dealing with a painful knee injury (a torn posterior cruciate ligament in her left knee which is slated for surgery this spring), Brennan felt fortunate to not only make it through today’s race, but to finish an impressive second place on the podium in a very competitive field.
“I was a little nervous,” described Brennan of her last-minute race preparations, “we were testing skis and nothing really felt that great so I didn’t really have enough time to test my race skis, but I trusted [Dartmouth coaches] Cami and Ruff and it worked really well, we had really good kick. My skis were a little slow on the downhill but I think having kick was good for this course because it was 3 kilometers uphill to start with.”
Though she goes to college on the east coast, Brennan grew up in Park City, Utah, and therefore she is no stranger to the feeling of racing at altitude. Still, it had been awhile since she had experienced that different sort of pain, and Brennan said of the thin air, “I definitely felt it – I got up the first hill and went ‘Oh, god, this is what it feels like, I haven’t done this in so long!’ and so I was actually kind of nervous, but I just tried to keep that pace and it didn’t get worse so I was like, ‘okay, I’m good, I’ll be fine’.”
More than fine, Brennan finished a solid 17 seconds ahead of third place, Maempel’s Denver teammate, Mari Elden. From Nandalseid, Norway, Elden is a 22 year old freshman at DU. After steadily improving her finish places all the way through regionals, Elden came into these championships ranked 8th in the region and continued stepping up the results list by finishing with a season’s best on the podium today.
Colorado’s Matt Gelso: “It was good to come out and do what I wanted to do.”
After a solid start to his season on the West, University of Colorado’s Matt Gelso caught fire just before regionals, winning both races at the Nevada Invitational on his home course near Truckee, CA, and blazing on to win both regional races two weeks ago at Howelsen Hill. Despite his recent wins, Gelso was nervous coming into this competition.
“I was a little tired in training this week and I was a little worried I had done too much volume in training after skiing so well at our last college season meet and then at our region championships, but I definitely felt strong today and was confident, and it was good to come out and do what I wanted to do.”
One thing Gelso wanted to do was prove to the Nordic world that Americans could keep contest for NCAA titles. Since 1976 only four American men have held the college national title, including Northern Michigan University’s Chris Cook who won the 20km classic race in 2003 and Dartmouth’s Glenn Randall who won the 10km skate in 2008.
Showing his promise as a junior racer, Gelso was lauded with high praise in 2007 from head U.S. Development Coach Matt Whitcomb who pronounced Gelso to be “arguably the most talented racer in the country,” adding,”If Matt can learn to balance life at CU with the demands of racing at the elite level, he will find himself quickly among the best in the country.”
Now 22 and a senior at CU, Gelso is proving good on those words.
Gelso contributes much of today’s success to the pacing of his season, but also says his focus on today’s specific race preparation was a key factor.
“I definitely felt good off the start, because I made sure I was super warmed up – I charged hard out of the start and was able to hold on through the whole race.”
Did this race give him reason to believe he could achieve another top result in the final skate race? “Yeah, this is confidence for Saturday,” Gelso replied with a grin, “historically I’ve skied well in skate races. I’m just going to enjoy it and – last college race – I’m gonna have fun.”
Today’s runner-up in the men’s race, University of Vermont’s Franz Bernstein, described why his pre-race ski preparation was a bit nerve-wracking.
“It was snowing all day long and then all of a sudden it stopped – the sun came out a little bit, the course got a little glassy – and it’s just really hard to find the right kick for that condition.”
Bernstein was thankful to his coaches that he ended up on “great skis”, and as a bonus he started with bib #38 (out of 39 racers), a great position from which to keep track of his competitors. A strong classic skier to begin with, Bernstein could enter the championships with a good deal of confidence after netting a top Eastern ranking with his victories in both Regional races.
“I had a pretty good season so far and I definitely hoped to be up there,” said Bernstein, who tried to chase down Gelso with the splits he received from his coaches.
“It was pretty tight for one and a half laps – [we] were back and forth a couple seconds, then in the end he made a move and I couldn’t follow him,” said Bernstein, concluding, “but I’m happy I got second.”
Not only were the conditions challenging, but Bernstein describes the test of racing above 2000 meters by saying, “At some point on the course – at the highest point – I wished I had an oxygen tank.”
Bernstein explained the difference in competing at a different height above sea level, “It’s difficult here to be at altitude – at home we can just start out really hard and go into the course with all you have, and here you have to change your tactics a little bit, ski easy in the beginning and try to make it through the course – I was a little nervous about that, but it ended up well.”
The big surprise of the day was third place in the men’s race: Nevada’s Charlie Smith. Smith is a sophomore from Bend, Oregon, who spent a good part of last year dealing with ski-race-burnout by trying a different sport: surfing. When he realized he missed the nordic sport, he came back to Nevada’s ski team, and though he started out the season with average results, he placed sixth at this year’s Regional 20km classic, a result which only gave a slight preview toward today’s podium result.
Considered to be an “individual” sport by the NCAA governing body, ski racers qualify for the national collegiate championships via their individual results at regional qualifying races. Because of this, only a small portion of the teams represented at NCAA’s are able to fill a full squad of 3 men and 3 women. There is, however, still pride in the team rankings which are combined with alpine results in order to determine the overall team title. Currently, Denver sits in first after the first of two races in both nordic and alpine have been contested.
Next Up: The second of two NCAA nordic races: 15 and 20 km mass start skate, to be held on Saturday, March 13, at 9 and 11am, at Howelsen Hill.
Women’s All-American Honors, 5km Classic
1 Antje Maempel, DU – 16:03.4
2 Rosie Brennan, DAR – 16:50.1
3 mari Elden, DU – 17:07.1
4 Joanne Reid, CU – 17:09.9
5 Kaelin Kiesel, MSU – 17:11.8
6. Polina Ermoshina, UNM – 17:14.3
7. Eliska Hajkova, CU – 17:17.4
8. Laura Dewitt, NMU – 17:19.4
9 Caitlin Patterson, UVM – 17:25.6
10 MariaGraefnings, NEV – 17:25.8
Men’s All-American Honors, 10km Classic:
1. Matt Gelso, CU – 29:25.5
2. Franz Bernstein, UVM – 29:49.7
3. Charlie Smith, NEV – 29:54.0
4 Vegard Kjoelhamar, CU – 29:54.5
5 Martin Kaas, UNM – 29:57.1
6 Bernhard Roenning, MSU – 30:01.6
7 Pierre Niess, UNM – 30:03.6
8 Miles Havlick, UU – 30:09.3
9 Michael Schallinger, UAA – 30:11.0
10 Dylan McGUffin, UHN – 30:17.9