VERNON, British Columbia — As six men threaded the underpass and burst into the stadium at Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre, Canadian Brent McMurtry and American Mike Sinnott sent spectators running toward the finish.
The men’s ‘A’ final of the 1.4-k classic Teck Sprints at the NorAm Cup opener Saturday was shaping up to be a close one, and who wanted to miss that?
As he crossed the line just ahead of McMurtry, Sinnott knew he had won and gave those close enough something else to look at. The Sun Valley racer dropped to one knee, put his elbow on the other and rested his head on his fist.
This was “Tebowing:” a salute, or rather means of poking fun at the Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. Chances are the Canadians had no idea what he was doing.
“Mike just Tebowed across the line,” exclaimed Sylvan Ellefson of Team Homegrown as he ran to congratulate him.
“We’ve been making fun of it for a while,” Sinnott said of the fad, in which people post pictures of themselves doing the pose in random places.
As far as they knew, no one had done it in a cross-country ski race.
“We thought whoever finally had a win in a mass-start race had to Tebow,” Sinnott said.
“He’s a pioneer, I would say,” Ellefson said with a smirk.
Tebowing aside, Sinnott as the current SuperTour leader broke new ground with his first victory in Canada.
“It’s nice to know that I have some good form in the rounds heading into U.S. Nationals in a couple weeks,” he said of the Jan 2-8 races. “I had a lot of energy. I don’t feel necessarily like I had my top gear, but I was holding my energy well through the rounds.”
The third-fastest man in the qualifiers, Sinnott ended up in the favorable inside lane at the start of the final and used his positioning to power by the No. 2 qualifier, McMurtry.
A member of the Pierre Harvey National Training Center and national team, McMurtry didn’t have time to react. He had made a point to focus on transitions throughout the heats, but Sinnott snuck up on him.
“For me, a little bit of a weakness in sprinting is the finishing stretch,” McMurtry said. “I was feeling good and I could feel him get around me. We were side by side and … my technique fell apart a little bit and I collapsed a little bit.
“The difference of a couple tenths of a second,” he added. “It doesn’t take a whole lot.”
Erik Bjornsen of the Alaska Pacific University (APU) squad placed third for his best result in Canada, by far. At the same venue in 2009, the U.S. Ski Team member was 32nd in the 1.1 k freestyle sprint qualifier.
“I wanted to get a podium,” Bjornsen said after qualifying for the heats in seventh.
To do so, he capitalized on the “stair-step hill” he considered one of the most important parts of the course. By taking the outside lane on the hairpin corner at the top, he was able to block his competitors throughout the heats and make it to the ‘A’ final.
For clocking the third-fastest time of all the finalists, Bjornsen received $150 dollars. Prize money trickled down to fifth place ($75 dollars) and awarded winners $300 dollars. Runners-up on both the men’s and women’s sides received $200 dollars.
In his first year in the senior men’s division, Patrick Stewart-Jones, of Nakkertok and the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA), was fourth.
“This was his first time in the ‘A’ final,” AWCA coach and 2010 Olympian Stefan Kuhn said. “(And) he’s a first-year senior, which is hugely impressive.”
Success like his stems from older teammates, Kuhn said. When AWCA skiers like Phil Widmer and Jesse Cockney have great days, it affects the younger athletes.
Coming off a victory in the Alberta Cup sprints last weekend, Cockney qualified in 20th and ended up ninth on Saturday. An early favorite at Sovereign Lake, Widmer posted the top qualifying time and dominated the rounds. He ultimately placed sixth, and attributed the result to a last-minute mix up.
“The start guy, he screwed up the start order, so he called me in sixth and I kind of got flustered,” Widmer said. “So I grabbed my skis — which were my warm-ups — and went to the start line. And then I did a lap on my warm-up skis.”
While he wished he could redo the final, Widmer said he was pleased with his performances in the three heats and qualifier.
“I was in the front for most of the heats I was in and I think Sinnott skied the final really smart,” he added. “He was controlled until the end, when he needed to be fast so he was able to get the victory. All the credit to him.”
Central Cross Country (CXC) skier Karl Nygren churned out a career-best fifth in a sprint.
“I was pretty stoked (for) Karl… really stoked,” said CXC head coach Jason Cork. Nygren had previously placed eighth in a 1 k classic sprint in January.
“I felt good in the final stretch each time; that was nice,” said Nygren, who was 10th in Saturday’s qualifier and made it to the semifinals as a lucky loser by time.
“I was able to close it down a couple times and speed by,” he said.
Reese Hanneman (APU) was the sixth-fastest qualifier and finished the day in seventh after a rough go in the semifinal.
In a tight semifinal, Hanneman said he stumbled on some else’s poles between his legs and had to play catch up to finish third in the heat. That put him in the ‘B’ final, which he won just ahead of Ellefson.
“It’s a little weird being … not (a sprint) specialist but a sprint-er, and feeling a little uneasy about heats,” Hanneman said of the first sprint heats of the year for many Americans. “You want to just remember everything you know from skiing heats. It’s totally a different race from skiing a prelim. It’s important to try to get that feeling of skiing fast.
“There’s so much that can happen,” Hanneman added. “I mean your whole race depends on five other people and what they do.”
Ellefson, who was eighth overall, was fourth in the qualifier and a lucky loser in the quarterfinals. Endurance had been the plan all along, he said.
“I was thinking, as long as I was in that top three (in the first round) … I would move on,” he said.
In the semifinal, he found himself in a tough spot as the fourth man on one of the final climbs.
“Unfortunately, I got a little pinched out,” Ellefson said. “The ‘B’ final was good. I kind of just stuck in there behind Reese. Reese was skiing fast and we were battling it out to the finish.”
The fifth-fastest qualifier, Torin Koos of the Bridger Ski Foundation finished 10th.
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.