Going into the third day of Junior Olympic competition, Friday’s skate individual start, four athletes had a chance to sweep all individual events: Hamish McEwen (Cambridge Sports Union) in J2 boys, Marion Woods (Alaska Winter Stars) in J2 girls, Logan Hanneman (FAST) in J1 boys, and Jessie Diggins (CXC) in OJ girls. When the day was finished, only McEwen was knocked off the top step of the podium. (He was still second!) Woods, Hanneman, and Diggins each succeeded in the rare feat of winning all individual events at the Junior Olympics.
As a result of the wet snow on Wednesday and below freezing temperatures overnight, the course set up firm and lightning fast. Silas Talbot (Alaska Winter Stars) called the course “challenging.” “It was a little scary on the downhills. There were some tough turns at the bottom of hills. You had to ski as fast as you could, but be sure to be in control.” Still, athletes commended the course conditions. J1 Sawyer Kesselheim: “It was a good course. I’m glad they raked the corners. It kept it really nice. I thought it would get more chopped up.”
For the J2 boys, Stratton Mountain School’s Tyler Foulkes managed to upset the previously dominant McEwen. Foulkes finessed the technical course to a 18-second win. This margin of victory is even more impressive when one considers the short time the athletes spent on the course; the top-10 skiers were all under 12 minutes. Foulkes was joined on the podium by McEwen (2nd) and Durango Nordic’s Haakon Sigurslid.
As anticipated based on previous results, Marion Woods was the J2 girls golden girl yet again. Second-place finisher Anika Miller (Payette Lakes Sports) started 4th in the bib order, ten spaces ahead of Woods, so she had the disadvantage in terms of splits. Splits given on the long climb just short of 5 km had Miller clearly leading, until Woods and Sarrissa Lammers came by. Woods had made up the 15-second spread on Lammers, but Lammers bravely hung on up the long climb, earning her best result at JOs thus far.
In the J1 girls 5 km, Corey Stock earned her second gold and third podium result. At the finish, she was embraced by her coach who said, “Next year, we’ll do some training, and it will hurt less!” obviously referring to her late season return to racing after compartment syndrome surgery.
Runner-up Heather Mooney was just two seconds behind Stock. Mooney went into the race with a plan that she executed. “My plan was to ski the first kilometer really whippy, and then to relax and ski the transitions well. At about three and a half kilometers, I just went as hard as possible.” Mooney, who is a senior at Stratton Mountain School, noted Stratton’s role in her success. “The biggest thing is just being around a group of great girls to train with. There’s also the academic flexibility to come to a race like this and know the school is totally behind it.”
Stratton Mountain School’s Cambria McDermott earned third place, just seven seconds out from the win.
Logan Hanneman (FAST) took over the J1 boys race in lap one and then held it throughout. On the first lap, Patrick Caldwell looked to be a contender. He was tied with Hanneman at just under 4 kilometers, and then 10 seconds down (but in second place) at the lap. However, Caldwell faded on lap two and finished fifth. Second and third for the J1s went to APUNSC teammates Forrest Mahlen and Jack Novak.
J1 boys fourth-place finisher Sawyer Kesselheim (Bridger Ski Foundation) might be a name to watch in the future. Kesselheim, who was tenth in the sprint and fifth in the classic, did not even qualify for last year’s Junior Olympics. He used to be a soccer player, but last year he quit and “really committed to skiing.” This is the first year he trained for skiing year-round. Kesselheim played the pacing game just right; he was in a three-way tie for seventh at the lap. “I had a slower first lap and tried to build over the second lap. I think I found a pace I could maintain.”
Jessie Diggins once again showed complete domination over the OJ girls field, winning the 5 km race by 51 seconds!
Given Diggins’ results at the World Championships, and throughout the week at the Junior Olympics, Annie Pokorny’s second-place finish must have felt as good as gold. While Pokorny doesn’t consider herself a power skier (she usually races in the West), she was delighted to find that the firm conditions worked for her. “It was probably my best 5 km skate ever, easily…” Pokorny, who will be at Middlebury next year, took time to thank Minneapolis Junior Olympics volunteers: “This event is so well organized. It is really easy to be a skier here.”
Kinsey Loan (APUNSC) missed second-place by the narrowest of margins, just four tenths of a second. Loan had a clear plan for racing the firm and fast course: go as hard as possible. “With the fast snow and so many downhills, I tried to race this like a sprint.” In planning her tactics, Loan is able to draw upon her experience in two sports. She says she races nationally on her bike in the summer (road and mtb). “Skiing and cycling complement each other very nicely.” Success in the OJ boys race depended on a fast second lap.
Dartmouth’s David Sinclair was down to George Cartwright at 5 km, but turned it on in lap two to take the win. Third-place Silas Talbot also had a strong second lap, moving from fifth at 5 km to third at the finish. Without yet having seen the official split, he said, “The beginning was slower. It took a while to get into it.” George Cartwright’s pacing was just the opposite. He took a four-second lead through 5 km, but ultimately finished second by the narrowest of margins, just seven-tenths of a second off Sinclair.
In the Alaska Cup competition, New England brought a solid lead into Friday’s races. While current points had not yet been tabulated as of this writing, it seems unlikely that Alaska’s Friday performance was enough to make up the significant points gap. The fact that the cup will likely go to New England makes tomorrow’s relay races all the more important. While the cup is determined by place points, each age group’s relay will go to the team who can string together the fastest skiers. Anticipate that underdog Alaska will fight for the win in every race, while the Midwest will hope to upset in one or more.