After seeing Lars Flora (APU) dominate his first two heats in Sunday’s national championships classic sprint in Rumford, ME, Torin Koos (Methow ODT) was prepared for a showdown in the finals.
Both wily veterans at ages 30 and 32, respectively, Koos and Flora were stacked up against a much younger crew, which was liable to run out of steam late in the day: two juniors in Erik Bjornsen (Methow ODP) and Skyler Davis (Stratton); Dartmouth College student Eric Packer; and Sun Valley’s Mike Sinnott.
“I really thought Lars was going to come down with some crazy move on the back end of the course there, and it was just going to be this smackdown throwdown,” Koos said.
Instead, it was Flora who faltered. A slow start left him out of contention from the gun, which allowed Koos to take the national title when he escaped with Sinnott over the course’s main climb. Davis was third.
U.S. Ski Team sprinters Andy Newell and Simi Hamilton may have been missing on Sunday, but Koos said they still would have had their hands full.
“I know I would have been pretty tough to beat today,” he said.
Organizers’ frantic efforts on Saturday to stem the melting of Rumford’s little remaining snow paid off on Sunday: the skiing was sloppy, slow, and dirty in places, but as Koos put it after the qualifier, it was still “a real race.”
“There’s no question about whether it’s fair,” said Al Serrano, the assistant technical delegate.
Flora set the fastest time in qualification, topping Koos by a mere .05 seconds. But while Flora steamrolled his way through his first two heats, Koos had to battle with Packer. An Alaskan who placed sixth in the same event last year in Anchorage, Packer looked impressive against Koos early on, but ended up fading in the final.
“Burned a few too many candles in the quarters and semis,” he said.
There were few fireworks in the rest of the early rounds, save a crash by APU’s Reese
Hanneman, the fourth qualifier, that took him out of contention.
In the finals, Koos had his sights set on Flora, knowing that some of the younger competitors would be out of steam after two tough heats.
“Honestly, I felt that when push came to shove…I still have a little bit more than some of those young guys,” he said. “That’s what I had in the back of my mind, was that Lars was just going to blow the race open in the final, and I was going to head right with him, and then we were going to drag race it down the finish.”
But Flora fell flat right from the start, and at the finish, he had no answers.
“It’s disappointing. I felt really good all day, and got to the final, and right from the gun I was out of it,” he said. “I had…slow skis in the finals—I don’t know what the f—k happened.”
Meanwhile, Sinnott was busy putting in an early move at the front. He said he was feeling good after sitting in in the early rounds, and knew that he still had “quite a bit left in the tank.”
Sinnott has qualified well in plenty of championships races, but before Sunday, he had never cracked the final podium in an individual sprint. With clear snow ahead, he seized the opportunity.
“I was out front, and decided to make a charge for it,” he said.
Koos said that he wasn’t quite ready to make an attack, but went for it anyway.
“Mikey was just hammering,” Koos said. “I saw that we had a gap—we got on that final climb, and I just put in a couple big hard strides and broke it open.”
He came to the finish with a gap of ten or so meters, slowed to bow to the crowd, then crossed just ahead of Sinnott to take his fourth national title.
Davis, a burly 19-year-old postgrad at Stratton, was next. He just outlunged Bjornsen, and with a shout and a first pump, it was clear that he relished the podium finish as much as Koos relished his victory—if not more.
“That was crazy,” Davis said.
Davis qualified fifth, setting him up for a run to the finals, but he said that his coach, Sverre Caldwell, told him to treat each heat as if it were the last one of the day. He’d been shooting to top all the other juniors in the race, and Bjornsen matched him almost all the way to the line.
“I closed my eyes and just pushed for it, and I got it,” Davis said.
Davis is planning to attend Middlebury College next fall, and in the mean time, he’s targeting results at the upcoming World Junior Championships in Estonia later this month.
Koos, on the other hand, will be looking towards the World Ski Championships in Oslo in February. Without Newell or Hamilton in the race, it’s tough to know how Sunday’s result would stack up, but as Koos said, “I can only race who’s in the race.”
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.