Gundersen, Compton Win the Birkebeiner; Uhl, Bender are tops at Classic Birkie

February 26, 2011
The 2011 Birkebeiner (Photo: Brett Morgan)

The 38th annual American Birkebeiner, held in sub-zero and single-digit temperatures with record particpation, saw two sprint finishes to crown the men’s and women’s Birkie freestyle champions and a pair of UVM alums ski to sizable victories in the Birkie Classic on Saturday.

Norwegian Tore Martin Gundersen won the 50K Birkie Freestyle race with a time of 2:00:32.8, furiously outsprinting his nearest opponent, Benoit Chauvet of France, by less than a second.  Twenty seconds later, third through twelve places were decided in less than ten seconds.  Andrey Tyuterev of St. Petersburg, Russia took the final spot on the podium in thir dplace.  Bryan Cook of CXC was the top American in fifth overall, with CXC teammate Brian Gregg the second American in seventh place.

In her first Birkebeiner, Caitlin Compton of CXC broke the women’s 50K Freestyle course record today and took first place with a winning time of 2:15:26.0.  APU’s Morgan Smuth and XC Oregon’s Evelyn Dong kept it close all the way to the line finishing just three and eight seconds off Compton’s pace for second and third place, with the top three finishers all dipping beneath the previous course record set by Rebecca Dussault in 2010.

“It was great to see [Caitlin] take the win, as she led a lot of the race and really pushed the pace in the last 10k,” said Smyth, who was racing in her first 50K.  “She did a lot of the work, it was a well deserved win.”

Finishing alongside its freestyle counterpart, the Birkie Classic was contested, and saw two University of Vermont alums picking up victories.  2010 Birkie Classic Champion Jerguen Uhl (VTXC) defended his title, pulling ahead of Karl Nygren (CXC) and Eric Wolcott (CXC).

Uhl’s former UVM teammate Jennie Bender, skiing for CXC, grabbed the women’s Birkie Classic title by an impressive seven minutes over Kerrie Fabius of Thunder Bay, Ontario.  Hilary Patzer of St. Paul, Minnesota took third, another minute and 40 seconds back.

“It was great!” Bender told FasterSkier of her first ski marathon. “My wax was great… it was definitely abrasive, but the CXC coaches did a great job.  I skied with a lot of the men and kind of jockeyed back and forth.  It was freezing outside, but it felt pretty awesome.”

Ned Zuelsdorff, Executive Director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation, said skiers from 19 foreign nations, including Latvia, Israel and Denmark, and 47 U.S states, including Hawaii, North Carolina and Alaska, had great conditions for the 38th anniversary event.

Honorary Starter, John Schmitt, the voice of Birkie for 19 years welcomed the largest field of skiers ever in the American Birkebeiner’s 38-year history. He sent over 8,850 skiers on their way beginning at 8:00 a.m.

Temps hovered around 10 degrees below zero at the start as 21 waves of skiers left the starting gates.

The American Birkebeiner is modeled after the Norwegian Birkebeiner Rennet, which in turn was inspired by the historic rescue of the infant who would become a celebrated king, Haakon Haakonsson IV. The race symbolically re-creates the flight of the prince, carried on skis by warriors called birkebeiners for their protective birch bark leggings.

Long time friends Gale Otterholt and Marv Franson assumed the roles Torstein and Skervald, the Birkebeiner warriors who rescued the infant Prince Haakon (H?-ken). Otterholt a retired pharmacist and college professor and has completed 33 Birkies and also from Eau Claire, Franson, a retired Dean and Electronics Instructor, has skied 34 Birkies.

Long time Birkie skier and friend of the Warriors, Gretchen Lindgren, dressed as Inga from Varteig, mother of Prince Haakon, while her grandchild Finnley assumed the role of the cherished prince.

The men dressed in full Birkebeiner regalia including helmets, shields and their wooden skis skied to the finish line to the clang of cowbells from the thousands of spectators who lined Hayward’s Main Street.

Gretchen skied the full 54 kilometers dressed in a traditional Norwegian dress and cloak, on wooden skis and carried Prince Haakon on her back for the trip up Hayward’s Main Street.

“The historic re-enactment, fast race course and the largest field ever made the Birkie’s 38th anniversary one for the books,” Zuelsdorff said. “We couldn’t be more pleased.”

For race day results, log on to

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