The 2011 US J1 Scando trip ended with a bang, as both men and women turned in excellent performances in 3×3/5km relays, capping three days of racing and generally strong US results.
The US men led the way in the relay, battling at the front, and just missing out on the podium, placing fourth, 13.7 seconds behind the winning Norwegian team. The result did not come easily, and could have been better were it not for several mishaps.
Scramble leg skier Logan Hanneman was cut off right out of the start, and left the stadium in dead last. Hanneman already had his share of bad luck over the weekend, losing a pole basket in sprint, but still placing ninth.
The lanky skier from Fairbanks was unfazed however, and made his way up through the pack, and tagged teammate Patrick Caldwell in a virtual tie for first.
With the start of the second leg, the technique switched from classic to skate, and Caldwell went to work, maintaining contact with the leaders.
“Patty [Caldwell] wasn’t just hanging on for dear life – he was trying to make moves,” said one of the trip coaches, Pete Leonard of Fairbanks Cross-Country.
Forrest Mahlen took over for the anchor leg in third, basically even with Norway and Finland, while the ever-dangerous Swedes sat 15 seconds back.
Hakkan Emilsson, closing for Sweden, skied up to the lead group. Mahlen hung tough, but eventually Norway and Sweden opened a small gap. But the podium was still in the cards for the US.
But with 500 meters left, and Mahlen pulling away from the Finns, the US skier nicked one of his poles with the outside of his boot, and as luck would have it the shaft shattered. Finland blazed by, immediately opening a lead.
“By the time he got a spare…he didn’t have enough real-estate left to reel him back in,” Leonard said.
The US men’s second team placed 15th. With John Hegman out of action after dislocating his shoulder in a crash, organizers arranged for a local club skier to fill out the US B team.
Dylan McGarthwaite and Peter Marmol had the team in a solid 10th after the first two legs, before Christoffer Wikstrom took over.
In the women’s race, the two US teams finished 6th and 7th, 1:08 and 1:22 back from the winning Swedish squad.
Marion Woods and Hannah Boyer skied the classic legs, handing off to Cambria McDermott and Sharmilla Ahmed. Annie Liotta anchored the first team and Stella Holt brought it home for USA II.
Athletes head back to the US on Tuesday morning. Despite some bad luck on the course, and the dislocated shoulder, coaches were extremely pleased with the trip.
The J1 Scando trip has become an important part of the US development pipeline, providing international, high-level experience for Junior athletes who are not yet qualifying for World Juniors.
Leonard sees the three-day event as an opportunity for young skiers to gain some comfort racing in Europe.
“There is definitely some intimidation [at first], and some of these guys got over it. That is a big part of the trip,” Leonard said.
But it isn’t just about being there. Leonard hopes that the athletes will return home more motivated and focused than before.
“Hopefully a few of them will make the commitment and choose to have skiing a part of their lives going forward. Hopefully it can motivate in their training,” he said.
And while it can be difficult to parse the meaning of results at the junior level, it was clear the US skiers were not outclassed.
“These kids could boogie over here. You saw some difference for sure. These kids look like really really good skiers,” Leonard said.
But he went on to note that the Americans were not far off the pace – and waxing and conditions did not have any major impact. Said Leonard, “to have these guys 34 seconds out in a 10k skate – that is a summer of training better and you are number one.”
And while it was difficult to pinpoint the specific causes for the gap from the winners and the US skiers, Leonard did say that a number of the athletes identified acceleration off the line in the sprint races as one area in need of improvement.
“They [US athletes] didn’t have quite the ability to accelerate as the Euros did,” Leonard explained. “There is a tremendous amount of pop in the skiing, and I think that is a combination of fitness and strength and just good overall training and getting after it.”
Leonard described the US skiers as “very solid and smooth,” but the top Scandinavian racers had more “power and snap in their technique.”
But that is another reason to head to Europe – to see that level and where you need to be.
“The athletes all really took it to the next level today,” head coach Matt Johnson of Burke Mountain Academy wrote on the J1 blog of the relay. “Some of the best skiing I have seen in recent or distant memory.”
And while the ultimate result for the men was “bittersweet” according to Johnson, Johnson, Leonard, and fellow coach Kate Barton (Jackson Hole) agreed that the trip was a success from both a results and developmental standpoint.
As for John Hegman, his arm is now out of the sling, he did some one-pole skiing today, and should be fine with a bit more rest.
Read first person accounts from the athletes and coaches on the team blog.
Men’s 3x5km Relay (PDF)
Women’s 3x3km Relay (PDF)
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.