Athletes could have been forgiven last week if they thought they were racing on the west coast in the bright sunshine that was the hallmark of last year’s Junior Olympics in Truckee, California. However, Presque Isle delivered in every aspect – trails, grooming, and, most surprisingly, with bright sun, klister conditions and tans that the 2010 Junior Olympics will be remembered for.
New England used their characteristically dominant performance in Monday’s classic sprint event and never looked back, claiming their second straight Alaska Cup. In what has been historically a three-team race for the podium, New England accumulated 1660 points, nearly a third of which were won in the classic sprint, to outdistance Alaska with 1275 points. Intermountain, led by strong results from their J2 boys, placed third with 980 points.
Athletes were treated to a good luck video message at the Opening Ceremonies with inspirational words from US Ski Team athletes Andy Newell, Liz Stephen, Kikkan Randall and James Southam, as well as various World Cup athletes, fresh off the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.
“Training starts now for the next go around,” says Newell in the video. “It’s four years until Sochi, so I expect to see a lot of you guys, especially some of you OJs out there, to train really hard and you can be on the team with us four years from now in Sochi, Russia.”
New England opened the week of competition by winning five of six races and an impressive 13 of 18 spots on the podium in the classic sprint. Only Cole Morgan (Bridger SF) from Intermountain was able to spoil New England’s perfect run of gold medals with his victory in the J2 boys sprint.
Corey Stock (Cambridge Sports Union) got racing underway for the J2 girls, leading two of her New England teammates into the top three for a New England sweep of the podium. Stock won the A final going away, with Heather Mooney (Stratton Mountain School) and Maddy Pfeifer (Proctor) claiming second and third.
Cole Morgan (Bridger SF) from Intermountain captured his first national title of the week in the J2 boys sprint. After battling with New England’s Jack Hegman (Mansfield Nordic) down the stretch in his semifinal, Morgan put some distance on his A-final competitors and crossed the line nearly three seconds ahead of New England silver medalist Eli Hoenig (Cambridge Sports Union). Haakon Sigurslid (Durango Nordic) from Rocky Mountain took third to round out the podium.
“My strategy was to get out in front and lead the whole way,” said Morgan of his gold-medal performance, “because there was not enough distance to wait for opportunities to pass. I gained a lot of time on the two humps before the final hill and carried that gap into the finish.”
After just missing the J2 sprint podium in Anchorage in 2008, Isabel Caldwell (Stratton Mountain School) from New England more than made up for it today, placing first her quarterfinal and semifinal en route to winning the J1 girls A final. Annie Liotta (Alaska Winter Stars) took second, just 1.4 seconds behind Caldwell, with Caldwell’s New England and high school teammate, Gage Fichter (Stratton Mountain School) claiming third place.
“It was great to be able to ski with my teammate Gage [Fichter] in the A-final,” said Caldwell. “She’d been having a great day, qualifying 4th and easily making it through her quarters and semis… I don’t really know what was going through my head in the final stretch, but it felt really cool afterwards to realize that I’d just won JOs and my teammate was third. It was definitely a great day for us!”
David Sinclair (GMVS) rose to the top of J1 boys A-final and led two of his New England teammates onto the podium with him. Sinclair, after qualifying first and winning each of his prior heats, stayed true to form and crossed the line first in the A-final, followed by teammates Jackson Rich (Cambridge Sports Union) in second and Hans Halvorsen (GMVS) in third. Rich and Halvorsen significantly improved upon their morning qualifying performances of 17th place and 12th place, respectively, to make it onto the podium.
Kaitlynn Miller (Craftsbury) surprised herself with a gold-medal performance to win the OJ women’s sprint title. The Bowdoin-bound senior from Vermont skied to a 5th place finish in qualifying and impressed with strong, tactical skiing in the afternoon to win her first national title. Alaska’s Rebecca Konieczny (UAF) was second with the Midwest’s Corinne Malcolm (MSU) taking third.
“Winning the sprint was a big surprise for me,” said Miller. “I was thrilled to qualify fifth and my goal going into the heats was to make the finals — something I had never done before. My strategy was to get out of the start in front so as to avoid any possible crashes in the sharp turn at the bottom of the hill. What helped make this strategy work was that I always started in the far right lane, which set me up well for the right hand turn leading into the downhill. After climbing the hill, along the flat rolling stretch and final climb to the finish, I focused on skiing relaxed while maintaining my power.”
Dartmouth sophomore Alex Schulz helped New England close out the day with five of six gold medals by winning the OJ men’s sprint title. Schulz led an improbable 13 New England men into the top 20, including a sweep of the top four places in the A-final. Skyler Davis (Stratton Mountain School) and Chase Marston (Middlebury) skied gutsy races, despite broken poles and a puncture wound to the thigh, to take second and third, with fellow New England athlete Welly Ramsey (MWSC) just missing the podium in fourth place.
Monday ended with New England (515 points) amassing nearly double the amount of points as their nearest competitor (Alaska, 280 points). Intermountain (169 points) edged the Midwest (161 points) to fourth on the day.
After some crashes on a downhill corner the prior day resulted in knee injuries to two athletes, the jury elected to change Wednesday’s mass start classic races to an individual start format. Athletes would still race the same distances, with J2s covering 5K, J1/OJ women racing 10K and J1/OJ men tackling a 15K.
New England’s J2 girls nearly replicated their 1-2-3 performance from Monday with Corey Stock and Heather Mooney placing first and second in the 5K classic race. Alaska’s Marion Woods (Alaska Winter Stars), fourth in the sprint, moved up one place to finish on the podium in third place.
The J2 boys 5K classic race featured a host of tight finishes at the top. Intermountain’s Cole Morgan captured his second national title by the narrowest of margins, edging Jack Hegman (Mansfield Nordic), racing for New England, to second place by six tenths of a second. Midwest athlete Matthew Nichols (Knicker Nordic) placed third, only 2.5 seconds out of first place.
“I’ve learned that you have to always push it to the limit because you never know what can happen,” said Morgan of his race. “Everyone is giving it their all and you know that you have to bring your best every day.”
Annie Porkorny (Spokane Nordic SEF) gave the Pacific Northwest their first national title of the 2010 Junior Olympics with a 7.8 second victory in the J1 girl’s 10K classic race over the Midwest’s Annie Hart (Minneapolis Ski Club). Monday’s sprint champion Isabel Caldwell finished third for New England.
Like Porkorny, Scott Patterson (Alaska Winter Stars) captured his team’s first national title in the J1 boy’s 15K classic race. Patterson put a 12.8 second margin over sprint champion David Sinclair who took second place. Patterson’s Alaska and club teammate Silas Talbot (Alaska Winter Stars) placed third, a minute and nine seconds back.
With a win already under her belt, the pressure was off for Kaitlynn Miller, but the New England athlete found confidence in her victory on Monday to repeat as the national champion in the OJ women’s 10K classic race. Miller’s time was just 1.7 seconds better than Intermountain’s Liza Goodwin (MSU) who took the silver medal. Alaska’s Rebecca Konieczny, second on Monday, placed third in the race.
David Norris (Fairbanks FAST) from Alaska followed up on Patterson’s title worthy performance with a victory of his own, capturing the OJ men’s 15K classic title. Norris was just 3.3 seconds faster than New England’s Sam Tarling (Dartmouth), who took second.. Capturing the first medal of the week for the Far West team was Russell Kennedy (Auburn Ski Club) in third place.
“David Norris and I had a great battle,” said silver medalist Tarling of his race. “I was leading after the first lap but he had a fantastic second lap and put 15 seconds on me. On the third lap I was really able to empty the tank and I closed to within a few seconds after being down 15 seconds with 2.5km to go. I really felt like David and I were skiing very fast and it was cool to see that after 15km and different pacing strategies, we were only separated by 3.3 seconds.”
Norris was similarly excited about Wednesday’s classic races. “It was super fun to battle with Sam,” he remarked, “as we both have raced together a lot and both are very competetive. I was bummed that the race could not be a mass start, but it didn’t change the fact that I just wanted to race hard and have fun.”
New England (946 points) emerged on top in the team standings for the second day in a row, though Alaska tightened the gap (584 points). Intermountain remained in third place with 385 points.
In the final day of individual racing, Alaska made a statement in the freestyle races by nearly overtaking New England in team scoring for the day, thanks in large part to an outstanding performance by their J1 boys squad.
Corey Stock went three for three in individual gold medals with an 8.2 second win over Intermountain’s Sloan Storey (Sun Valley SEF) in the J2 girl’s 5K freestyle. Storey’s time was just 2.2 seconds better than her Intermountain teammate Anika Miller (Payette Lakes Ski Team) who took third place.
Patrick Caldwell (Ford Sayre) of New England broke Cole Morgan’s streak of first place finishes with a national title of his own. With Morgan just one bib behind him, Caldwell took off and skied away for an impressive 25 second win — made all the more impressive given that Caldwell’s winning time was just under 12 minutes for a 5K. Morgan took the silver medal edging out Intermountain teammate and bronze medalist Marc Jackson (Team Soldier Hollow) by a scant three tenths of a second.
Rocky Mountain’s first gold medal of the week went to Michaela Frias (Steamboat Springs WSC) who captured the J1 girl’s 5K freestyle title. Frias bested Intermountain’s Katie Gill (Bridger SF) by nearly four seconds to win, with the Midwest’s Annie Hart climbing on the podium for the second time this week to take the bronze medal.
Scott Patterson of Alaska led five teammates into the top ten with a huge win over Alaska teammate Forrest Mahlen (APU). Patterson’s margin of victory in the 10K freestyle race was almost a minute and a half over the J1 field and nearly 20 seconds better than the top OJ male in the same race. Will Wicherski (Bogus Basin NT) of Intermountain took the bronze. Alaska’s team score was also significantly boosted by top-ten finishes from Jack Novak (APU) in fifth, Silas Talbot (AWS) in eighth and Carl Smith (Alaska Nordic Racing) in ninth.
New England’s Corinne Prevot (Middlebury) won the OJ women’s 5K freestyle race, topping a speedy trio of Midwest women. Prevot captured the gold medal with just six tenths of a second to spare over Corinne Malcolm (MSU). Bronze medalist Eleanor Magnuson (Go Training) was third, with another Midwest teammate, Lynn Duijndam (Finn Sisu Skiers), just three seconds back in fourth place.
After placing second on Wednesday, New England’s Sam Tarling turned the tables on David Norris and captured the OJ men’s 10K freestyle title, edging Norris to second place. Norris’s time was just fast enough to nip Intermountain’s Erik Fagerstrom (Sun Valley SEF) by four tenths of a second.
Tarling’s finish was one of a remarkable eight New England athletes, representing five different EISA colleges, in the top fourteen of the OJ men’s race. Athletes from Dartmouth, Middlebury, Bates, Bowdoin, Harvard and Colby qualified for the New England Junior Olympic team, many just spots away from making their college’s NCAA squad, and despite normally competing against one another each weekend at carnivals, the group came together for an impressive performance in the OJ men’s races.
“We all get along very well and even though we are competing against each other in the Carnival races,” said Tarling, “there is a strong camaraderie amongst us. We had great coaches and great leaders. There is friendly competition between us of course, but at the end of the day, we are Team New England, and that is the priority.”
Alaska came within three points of taking the win for the day in freestyle competition. New England accumulated 344 points to lead the team standings for the third straight day, with Alaska right behind in second place with 341 points. Intermountain was third with 285 points.
With perfect, sunny weather, the freestyle relay competition closed out the 2010 Junior Olympics. Filled with close battles, exciting lead changes and six final national titles, the relay was a spectator-friendly finale to a great week in Presque Isle.
New England’s J2 athletes captured the boy’s and girl’s relay titles with strong scramble legs from Patrick Caldwell and Heather Mooney to set the pace. Eli Hoenig kept his team in the lead and Jack Hegman closed to win the J2 boy’s title by ten seconds over the second place Intermountain team. Rocky Mountain’s top team was five seconds back in third place.
Maddy Pfeifer passed a slim lead over Intermountain to New England anchor Corey Stock and the CSU athlete put the finishing touches on her golden week with the fastest leg of the field to capture another gold medal for her team.
Building on the dominance they showed in Friday’s freestyle races, Alaska’s J1 boys put the pressure on in the relay, with their top two teams taking the gold and silver medals over the third place Intermountain team, as well as an impressive fifth place performance by Alaska’s third team. Alaska’s top team of Forrest Mahlen, Jack Novak and Scott Patterson took the win, not to be outdone by their teammates on the second team (Silas Talbot, Carl Smith and Isaac Lammers) who kept it close for nearly the entire relay and won the silver medal.
Matching the performance by their J1 counterparts, the J1 girls from Alaska used a blistering anchor leg by Annie Liotta to win gold. Mackenzie Kanady (Alaska Winter Stars) skied her team into seventh place in the scramble leg, with Hannah Boyer (Fairbanks FXC) passing several teams to move her team into second place. Liotta found a final gear and overtook the New England J1 girls team, who had to settle for silver, for the win. Rocky Mountain’s top team captured the bronze medal, with anchor leg Michaela Frias lunging at the line to take third by just one tenth of a second.
After going 2-3-4 in Friday’s freestyle races, the Midwest OJ women looked to be the team to beat going into Saturday’s relay. Eleanor Magnuson took it out with a fast pace to give her team nearly a twenty second advantage over New England’s OJ team. Lynn Duijndam kept that lead and allowed Corinne Malcolm to anchor her team to a 40-second relay win. Alaska’s Marisa Rorabaugh skied a gutsy anchor leg to vault her team into silver medal position, knocking New England’s top team to the bronze medal.
“After such a good showing in the skate race the day before I think there was definitely a little bit of pressure on us to try to climb to the top of the podium in the relay on Saturday,” remarked Malcolm, following her team’s win. “Coming into the stadium was an incredible feeling! Two of our coaches had made me a flag out of a ski pole and team jacket to ski in the finishing stretch with! After coming up short of national titles in the classic sprint and the individual skate it felt really good to finally get to stand on the top of the podium, and even better to get to share it with two of my teammates!”
Maine native Sam Tarling gave his team an anchor leg to remember, overtaking Alaska’s David Norris in the final kilometer of the relay to win New England’s fourteenth and final gold medal of the week in the OJ men’s relay. New England’s Chase Marston (Middlebury) and Alaska’s Jordan Buetow (Fairbanks FXC) went head to head in the scramble leg reaching the tag zone with less than two seconds separating their teams. Neil Liotta (Alaska Winter Stars) skied an impressive second leg and was able to put some time on Gordon Vermeer (Dartmouth) and David Norris took off for the anchor leg with a five second lead over Tarling.
“My strategy was just to try and close the gap and hope for a sprint finish,” said Tarling. “Our wax technician, Will Sweetser, informed me before the race that my skis were waxed for the stadium, so I was confident that even if they were not as fast in the woods, I would have good skis for the finish. Skiing behind David up the last big hill about 1km from the finish, with the crowd roaring, I found a little extra in my legs and I was able to pull closer. I was very tired, but I figured he might be as well, and when I passed him over the rollers I put in a huge burst and I was able to hold on for the win. I had great skis, a great team, and fantastic support from the spectators. It couldn’t have been better.”
Putting a cap on a great week for New England’s OJ men, New England’s second, third and fourth relay teams went 3-4-5 behind Alaska to crowd the podium and push the Intermountain’s top OJ team to sixth place.
“It was a very exciting week for the New England team,” said two-time OJ national champion Kaitlynn Miller following the races, “It was fun to be the host region and I am very grateful to the volunteers for all their hard work. Competing as the “home team” in Maine was awesome. I was really touched by how many people came to the Heritage Center to cheer on the racers and it was inspiring to see so many local school children bused in to watch.”
J1 sprint champion Isabel Caldwell echoed Miller’s sentiments: “One of the best aspects about JOs were all the little kids who were at the races,” noted the Stratton Mountain School athlete. “The schools in Presque Isle were let out so that the students could come watch the races and there were hundreds of little kids at each race. Having JOs at Presque Isle was great and we all had an amazing time!”
“The trails at Presque Isle were awesome!” added OJ women’s relay champion Eleanor Magnuson. “We don’t really have such technical courses in the Midwest and I was really glad to have gotten to race on something like that. The conditions were really good… I have never been out the East coast before, so that was a really cool experience for me.”
The Junior Olympics swing back through the Midwest next winter with the City of Lakes Nordic Ski Foundation hosting the 2011 Junior Olympics in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Check back for photographs from Presque Isle.