With temperatures in the single digits for the SuperTour-opening double sprint qualifier in West Yellowstone, it was all about staying warm on Thursday. But Drew Goldsack did better than that—he was on fire.
Goldsack, racing for the Canadian National Team and the Alberta World Cup Academy, skied to convincing wins in both competitions, showing that he has returned to form after a down Olympic year recovering from injury. In the morning classic race, he won by three seconds over APU’s Lars Flora, then more than doubled that margin of victory in the afternoon, besting Flora again by nearly seven ticks. He earned $250 for finishing with the lowest combined time.
Mark Iverson (APU) and Colin Rodgers (SVSEF) were third in the classic and skate races, respectively.
Results from the event were not available until late Thursday, due to problems with the race timing. Organizers wanted to start the two qualifiers just one hour apart, and a large field meant that timers had less than ten minutes to move the finish line ten yards between the classic and skate courses.
An electronic photo beam wasn’t quite in place by the time the first six men finished the skate race, which meant that their finishes were recorded by volunteers with plungers and had to be cross-referenced for accuracy.
“Two races back-to-back made it a really challenging day, from a timing point of view” said timer Ernie Page. “We almost made it.”
No timers were needed, though, to tell that Goldsack was on a separate plane. In the classic race, he nearly closed the 15-second gap to the starter in front of him, Sun Valley’s Mike Sinnott—no sprinting slouch himself. In the skate, only three athletes were within ten seconds of Goldsack’s time of 3:44.5.
Over the past two seasons, Goldsack said that he hadn’t been racing to his full potential, due to a persistent foot injury that he was told was tendonitis. An operation to correct the problem in the spring of 2009 revealed that he actually had an extra, “accessory” tendon in his foot. Doctors removed it, but were forced to perform reconstructive surgery that put Goldsack in a cast and on crutches for three months. That left him “playing catch-up” all year, through the Olympics.
This season has gone more smoothly for Goldsack. After aligning himself with the Alberta World Cup Academy in Canmore, he focused on the basics and spent less time traveling and in camps.
“It’s just so nice to be able to train normally,” he said.
While some athletes said they suffered between heats in Thursday’s frigid temperatures, Goldsack said that he warded off the chill by warming up for the skate leg in his down parka.
But even without the cold, the tough course and slow snow conditions combined with the 6,600-foot elevation of West Yellowstone made for a taxing combination.
“It felt like a 15 k out there,” Goldsack said, though he added that he was able to push hard through the full course. So did Flora, the second-place finisher.
“I didn’t feel like I skied any part of the course really well, but I felt like I skied really well from the start to the finish,” Flora said.
Not known for his fast-twitch muscle fibers, Flora said that he was “really surprised,” when informed of his result. While Flora
races for APU, he has few opportunities to gauge his fitness, since he said he conducts most workouts with two female members of the XC Oregon program: his girlfriend Kristina Strandberg, and Evelyn Dong.
“Basically, Evelyn and Kristina are my training partners, so I had no idea where I was coming into the week,” he said. “I think the course definitely helped, and the duration and the format—I think it suited distance skiers better, for sure.”
Both Flora and Goldsack said that their target for the season was to qualify for the 2011 World Championships in Oslo. Flora’s results here could help him earn the necessary ranking points, while Goldsack won’t be taking much more than confidence back home with him to Canada. According to Goldsack, his country’s world championship team will be selected based on results from a series of qualifying races in Rossland, BC, which he called a “one-shot deal.”
Strong performances early in the year aren’t always the best indicators of late-season success, and the fact that the first SuperTour was held on Thursday only underscored the potential for top athletes here to turn into “Thanksgiving turkeys” come January. But Chris Jeffries, one of Goldsack’s coaches at the Alberta World Cup Academy, said he wasn’t worried.
“Our plan is always to get guys in good shape, and keep them there with good training over the course of the winter,” he said. “We’re not going to deviate from that—we definitely won’t try to come into the season in bad shape.”
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.