While Sunday’s Haywood NorAm 10 and 15 k freestyle races were held in Canada, it was the Americans who took the top step of both podiums – and convincingly.
The men’s race started in sloppy conditions – approximately 20 centimeters of snow fell overnight, and continued right up until the start of the men’s race, resulting in ankle deep snow in some places. The men skied three loops of 5 k, and each one contained two large climbs, as well as a large number of flat sections.
Weather notwithstanding, APU’s Lars Flora proved that he is the pre-eminent male distance skier in North America. Flora won every single split en route to the win, posting a time of 41:39, a comfortable 30 seconds up on the second place finisher, Canadian Graham Nishikawa of the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA).
CXC’s Brian Gregg rounded out the podium, crossing the line four seconds behind Nishikawa for third place.
Nishikawa described himself as “pretty satisfied,” with his race in an interview with FasterSkier. Like most racers, he identified the conditions as “challenging”, but he said they played to his strengths. “I was pretty pumped when I got to the course and saw the deep snow,” he said.
Nishikawa stressed that skiing well technically and proper pacing were crucial to his success on the day. He focused on being smooth on the deep snow of the uphills, plus carrying his speed well onto the flats.
He skied most of his day alone, but on the third lap managed to connect with CXC’s Garrott Kuzzy and a train of skiers, which gave him a little bit of extra motivation.
James Southam (APU) finished fourth, 6.4 seconds behind Gregg. Saturday’s sprint winner Drew Goldsack was the second Canadian finisher, rounding out the top five just under a minute behind Flora’s winning time.
Despite finishing fourth, Southam was disappointed with his result. ”I felt pretty steady, pretty solid, so I was a little annoyed, no, actually, really annoyed with the result,” he said in an interview with FasterSkier, “I was in second place for most of the race. I didn’t feel like I slowed down, but the others must have sped up. I was definitely hoping for more.”
Southam had good splits, and knew his position most of the time. But he didn’t expect to be pushed off the podium, unless it was by fractions of a second.
“I thought maybe one more racer would squeeze in between Lars [Flora] and me, but not both of them,” he said.
The women’s side saw American Olympian Holly Brooks (APU) shell the field, finishing the 10 k in a time of 30:44, nearly a full minute up on her nearest competition. While Brooks was clearly in a class of her own, the CXC women were not to be outdone after Gregg’s podium finish earlier in the day.
Caitlin Compton (CXC) finished second, while Brooke Gosling, a Canadian national also skiing for CXC, rounded out the podium, narrowly preventing an American sweep. Junior Jessie Diggins (CXC), who holds dual citizenship, finished fourth, two tenths of a second back of Gosling.
“I think I started a bit too hard,” Gosling said via e-mail. “Basically, the plan was to ski relaxed, and race the course the best I could…with what I had. I definitely lost a bit of momentum at the end.”
While the conditions were a challenge for some, Gosling said they suited her; she considers soft snow and the resulting adversity a bit of a specialty.
After Gosling, the next Canadian finisher was Perianne Jones, winner of Saturday’s classic sprint. She crossed the line eighth, more than a minute behind Brooks. Brittany Webster (AWCA) was the third Canadian, finishing tenth overall.
In a phone interview with FasterSkier, Jones described the uphills as “choppy and slow,” as the women skied after the open men on the same course.
Jones, who considers distance skate races her weakest event, said she benefitted from the many quick American women in attendance.
Evelyn Dong (XC Oregon) started 30 seconds behind Jones, and went by the Canadian near the end of the first 5 k lap. Jones stayed on the American’s tail for much of the second lap, getting away from her on the downhills and ultimately finished just 15 seconds behind.
Of the strong American results compared to the Canadian contingent, Jones acknowledged that “we clearly have a ways to go on the distance side of things; the Americans are so strong in distance racing right now.”
The Canadian NorAm racing continues next weekend with a mini-tour event, being held in Rossland, B.C. The mini-tour is the first event of its kind being held on the NorAm circuit, and it also functions as part of the qualification process for the Canadian team for the World Ski Championships.
Many athletes are taking advantage of the two events’ location in fairly close proximity, opting to either stay at altitude near Sovereign Lake for a few extra days of training before heading to Rossland, or simply heading down right away.
Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.