At Wednesday’s Junior Olympic mass-start classic races, “zeros” were the skis of choice.
On race morning, coaches and athletes awoke to an inch of fresh, wet snow and temps hovering around freezing. Wet snow flurries continued throughout the day, while temps rose slightly, making for glazed tracks. Prior to the first race of the morning, the boy’s J2 races, the atmosphere around the wax trailers was frenzied.
By later in the day, the level of panic had abated for most, as zeros had established themselves as the clear choice. Of the six winners of the day, five were on zeros. As J1 champion Logan Hanneman (FAST) put it, “Zeros were the money.”
Understandably, most juniors in the competition don’t own their own pair of zeros. Most regions had anticipated this challenge and had begged and borrowed enough zeros to outfit most of their skiers. In fact, a number of racers tried zeros for the very first time just prior to racing. J1 third-place finisher, Annie Hart, a Dartmouth skier, and J1 Scando Cup veteran, had never tried zeros before today. She adjusted wonderfully. “I just had to tell myself ‘these are going to work’ and they did.” Though Annie noted the skis’ different feel on the downhills, she said they were “golden.”
Sharing skis was not without its disadvantages. Since the J1 boys race and OJ boys race were run back-to-back, and these athletes needed similarly stiff skis, coaches were kept very busy. They retrieved skis from the J1s at the finish line, applied a new top-coat of flouros, and handed them off to the OJs at the start. The other clear disadvantage was that some regions did not have access to zeros; as athletes hit Wirth Park’s hills, it was clear some could not compete because of their wax.
At least one skier succeeded on a waxed kick zone; Marion Woods of Alaska Winter Stars won the J2 girls race on wax. Woods, who spent much of the race at the front of the pack, pulled away from runner-up Heidi Halvorsen (Green Mountain Valley School) in the last kilometer. While Woods didn’t know exactly what wax her coaches had used, she called it “something magic.” In the finish area, Woods’ joy from her success was evident in her glowing face. It seems that Woods’ happiness was shared by many of her competitions—she received and gave a barrage of hugs and well wishes immediately after her finish. Stratton’s Brooke Mooney took third for the J2 girls.
Both the J2 girls and the J2 boys raced only five kilometers, making much of the race a crowded scramble. In both races, falls occurred on the second corner leaving the stadium. Both Woods and Far West’s Laurel Fiddler (who was involved in a crash) concurred that “there was a lot of skiing out of the tracks” as skiers tried to find space to get around.
For the boy’s J2 race, Hamish McEwen (Cambridge Sports Union) captured his second win of the championships, pulling away from 2nd place Tyler Foulkes (Stratton Mountain School) on the race’s final climb.
The story of the boy’s J2 race was Midwest’s Harris Dirnberger (Hopkins HS), who took third place despite significant adversity. In the early part of the race, Dirnberger was herringboning in traffic when a competitor’s ski snagged his, releasing his binding and pulling off the ski. Dirnberger chased down the ski, put it back on, and got back into the race. This was a jaw-dropping race for Dirnberger. He did not even qualify for the Minnesota State Championships in February.
The third repeat-winner of the day was Logan Hanneman, who led Alaska’s strong performance in the J1 race. Hanneman went earlier than he planned, about 2 kilometers into the last lap. He inadvertently built a little gap on a herringbone climb and then seized the opportunity to take the lead. Near the finish, Hanneman chanced to turn and see Alaskan teammate Issac Lammers in second place, and he “knew it was going to be a good day for Alaska.”
It was a good day for Alaska as they placed five athletes in the top ten: Hanneman, Lammers, Forrest Mahlen, Kyle Barnhart, and Jack Novak.
Issac Lammers (Alaska Nordic Racing) said he was “ecstatic” with his result. Lammers’ second place is his first significant national result and also a big step forward from his recent sixth place at the Alaska State Championships. He gave a lot of credit to the zeros he borrowed from his club, which he tested just 10 minutes before the race. Clearly delighted with his performance and his skis, he summed it up: “Great race! Great race! Great race!”
Local favorite Ben Saxton (Minnesota Valley), the Minnesota State Champion, rounded out the podium for J1 boys despite breaking a pole on the first lap. “Breaking a pole actually forced me to pace myself,” said Saxton.
Girls J1 winner Corey Stock is no stranger to the top step of the podium at the Junior Olympics, having earned four golds at last year’s championships. Yet, Stock’s win this season is more impressive given that she had surgery for compartment syndrome and did not return to racing until January. Since missing the early season excluded her from the Scando Cup or Junior Worlds, Corey made the Junior Olympics her focus. “It was my major goal to win this race. I have been thinking about it all year. It’s the grand finale.”
Heather Mooney of Stratton Mountain School brought home the J1 silver. She was followed by Steamboat Springs’ Michaela Fria, who took a number of turns at the front during the race.
The girls and boys OJ races were characterized by large-margin victories.
OJ David Sinclair (Dartmouth College) won his race by 37 seconds. He dropped all but Skyler Davis at three kilometers and built a 15-second gap by 5 kilometers. Sinclair skied fast enough this season to qualify for NCAAs but could not attend due to the three-per-team rule. With that in mind, Sinclair targeted JOs. Despite his formidable lead, Sinclair he says he, “kept hammering” because his “major goal of this season was to win this race.”
Silas Talbot (Alaska Winter Stars) claimed second, eight seconds ahead of Chris Stock (Cambridge Sports Union). New England put eight skiers in the top-10 for OJ Boys.
In 2006, Jessie Diggins, then a J2, attended her first Junior Olympics in Soldier Hollow. Although she won both the skate 5 km and the skate sprint, she finished a disappointing 7th in the classic race. She says, “My technique was horrible. You could hear my skis slapping behind me around the course.” This year’s classic race “went a whole lot better.” The pack stayed with Diggins early on, but she broke away prior to the lap and increased her lead to 36 seconds by the line. Even with Diggins’ World Championships experience, she says she still gets nervous. “Actually, in some ways there is more pressure, more expectations at this race. I still get nervous, but I’m better at dealing with that now. “
Athletes Mary Cirelli (Mountain Top Nordic Ski Club) and Anne Hart (Dartmouth) finished second and third.