Monday’s Junior Olympic sprint competition at Wirth Park was a staggering success. After the noon qualifiers and early afternoon quarters, a select 72 skiers earned the right to compete under the lights in the evening’s semis and finals. The night racing was uniquely special, as athletes competed on a lit course accented by luminaries and with a view of the Minneapolis skyline. In his post-race interview, boy’s J1 winner Logan Hanneman, called the venue, “Sick!” (a complement!). Hanneman, who has been around the world as a ski racer (Scando Cup team the last two years), especially wanted to praise the course and the volunteers, “It sounds cliché to complement the race, but in this case it’s legitimate. It’s sweet racing in a city environment.”
By the event’s 8:00 pm conclusion, six athletes had earned themselves the right to call themselves national champions. Not only did they win their final race of the night, but they also endured the pressure and fatigue of a long day at the venue, demonstrating more than just speed. J2 boy’s winner, New England’s Hamish McEwen felt right at home at Wirth Park. McEwen, who took the overall win after qualifying in first position in the morning, calls the Weston Ski Track in Cambridge, Massachusetts home. Weston, located just outside of Boston, is a golf course with 15 kilometers of ski trails. Wirth Park, McEwen says, is “a lot like Weston.” McEwen reports that he has done the training to back up his win. As he puts it, “I ski a lot” and estimated his training volume as being 450-500 hours last year. Like McEwen, the other medalists in the boy’s J2 race, showed consistency through out the heats. Second place Thomas O’Harra (Alaska’s East HS) and third place Haakon Sigurslid (Rocky Mountain’s Durango HS) qualified in third and second respectively in the morning.
On paper, Marion Woods (Alaska’s Dimond HS) was a clear favorite in the girls J2 field. Though only a J2, she participated in this year’s Scando Cup J1 Trip, and was recently runner-up in the notoriously difficult Alaska State Championships. Nevertheless, after she crossed the line for the win in the final, she appeared delighted by what she had accomplished, and called JOs, “the ultimate in scale.” Behind Woods, New England scored critical points by putting two on the podium: Brooke Mooney (Stratton Mountain School) finished second after winning the morning’s qualification, and Heidi Halvorsen (Green Mountain Valley School) took third. In the J1 boy’s field, Logan Hanneman (Lathrop HS) added another win to a successful season. Logan’s win, two weeks after his dominating win at the Alaska State Championships, is especially sweet given his health at this time last year. In 2010, he was unable to fulfill his end of season goals after he was diagnosed with mono around State Championships time. This year, his season started slowly (he had additional health problems in the fall), but now he finds himself peaking at the end of the season, in his words, “getting better and better” each day. Behind Hanneman were three Midwest skiers successfully representing their home region (second: Andy Dodds of Apple Valley HS, third: Kevin Bolger of Lakeland HS in Wisconsin, and fourth: Ben Saxton of Lakeville North HS.)
The girls J1 final was a show of dominance by New England. Heather Mooney (Stratton Mountain School) won by a decisive ten or so meters, and teammates Corey Stock (Cambridge Sports Union), Cambria McDermott (Stratton Mountain School), Tara Geraghty-Moats, and Rachel Hall (Stratton Mountain School) filled positions two through five. The group would not quite acknowledge that a sweep was their plan for the day, they said, “We knew we had the potential to do it. We woke up this morning ready to make the A-Final.” Junior World Championships teammates and good friends Skyler Davis (Stratton Mountain School) and George Cartwright (High Plains, Northern Michigan University) knew it was likely to come down to one of the two of them for the win. Skylar acknowledged coming into the final really psyched; right before the final, he ate a Powerbar gel blast (cola), which “really got him going.” He made his move on the hill, gaining a few critical seconds on Cartwright and then held him off, although he was “completely spent in the lanes” and could hear people yelling for George, who finished second. Third went to the Midwest’s Ben Hugus, a Northern Michigan University skier, who won the Korteloppet two weeks ago.
For the hometown audience, the best race came last as Afton, Minnesota’s Jessie Diggins, recently returned home from the World Championships, lived up to her billing with a decisive win. Diggins was completely humble despite the triumphs of her 2011 season. She said that she had to “go all out,” and that she was happy to be competing against “such great girls. It’s a great privilege to race against them.” When asked to compare her experience at the Minneapolis Junior Olympics to her recent adventures at the Holmenkollen World Championships, she said, “Holmenkollen is cool, but a hometown crowd is even cooler.”
New England jumped out to their trademark lead after a day of sprinting, with 427 points, thanks in large part to their J1 girls who scored 108 points with their 1 -5 sweep. Alaska edged the Midwest for second place, 269 points to 250 points, with Intermountain and Rocky Mountain a distant fourth and fifth.
Racing resumes on Wednesday with mass start classic races. J2’s will race 5k, J1/OJ women will race 10k, and J1/OJ boys will race 15k on the Theodore Wirth Park 5K race loop.