RUMFORD, Maine — The major story to come out of the final race of the 2012 U.S. Cross Country Championships was Torin Koos’s disqualification for obstruction of competition (which he plans to appeal). But in addition to the drama, an entire classic sprint day went on at Black Mountain.
When the A-final field took the line Sunday afternoon, it was difficult to know what to expect. Koos seemed like the only safe bet to be first through the finish, as he’d handily won his quarterfinal and semifinal and his experience with high-stakes sprint racing was difficult to ignore.
Ryan Scott (MSU/Team HomeGrown) and Mike Sinnott (SVSEF) went 1-2 in their semi and had also skied strong throughout the day, and Tyler Kornfield (University of Alaska Fairbanks), who was third in their heat, looked like he was on fast skis.
Fresh off his bronze medal from Friday’s 30 k mass start, Eric Packer (Dartmouth) was a hard classic skier to bet against. Skyler Davis (SMS/USST) had a slow start to the week, but won both his quarter and semi in the classic sprint and seemed to have found familiar form.
The snow on the course at Black Mountain on Sunday was fast and icy in spots. As the day wore on, athletes said uphill parts of the trail in the shade became almost impossible to stride up, and in the men’s A-final, nearly everyone was slipping in those areas.
In sprint racing, anything can happen. At first it seemed as if Koos was the clear-cut victor, but as the top three athletes in Koos, Kornfield and Sinnot waited by the podium, Koos learned he was disqualified for his second infraction in two races at nationals. The bumped Kornfield to first, gave Sinnot second place and Packer third.
Though it was by default, the victory was Kornfield’s second-career nationals sprint title. Coincidentally, his first in Alaska two years ago was also by default, as the winner was his UAF teammate, Erik Melin-Soederstroem of Sweden. Non-American podium finishers at nationals races are awarded prize money (unless he or she is an NCAA athlete), but not given medals.
“It’s definitely not the way you’d want to win your national title,” Kornfield said in a phone interview on Sunday evening. “I mean, in the first place I was excited with second.”
With a few hours to have processed the day’s events, Kornfield still wasn’t sure how to interpret the outcome of the race but, “overall I’m pretty excited,” he said.
“Before this week, I hadn’t had the best start to the season, so I didn’t have great confidence,” he said immediately after his race. “I was pretty happy with the sprint at the beginning of the week, and the 30 k definitely gave me confidence. This is tied with the best result that I’ve gotten at Nationals, so I’m pretty excited about that.”
When he still thought he’d placed third, Sinnott said he was generally pleased with his performance.
“I’m pretty happy,” Sinnot said. “Obviously you always want the win, but I can’t really complain about a podium at nationals.”
Following Koos’s disqualification, Packer unexpectedly found himself on the podium. Though he believed Koos to have deserved the gold medal, he added that he was happy to have ended up with a top-three at Nationals for a second time this year.
FasterSkier talked to the contenders afterward — Sinnott and Kornfield before they learned of Koos’s disqualification, and Packer, Davis, Scott, Koos and Kornfield again afterwards. Here’s how the A-final unfolded in their eyes:
(Note: Quotes from Koos as told to Glenn Jordan of the Portland Press Herald)
Kornfield: “I hadn’t been getting very good starts [in earlier heats]. I was fifth or sixth coming out of the stadium [in the final]. I stuck with the pack beter than in the first two heats; that was definitely my weakness, so I wanted to change that a little bit. I was with the pack, and I was about fourth going down the hill to the switchback.”
Sinnott: “It didn’t start off as quick as I’d wanted; there were a lot of strong double polers in that heat … I got into a place where I wanted to after that first big hill.”
Packer: “I tried to take it easy out of the start — I didn’t want to expend too much energy, since it’s a long course. A 3:30 sprint is pretty long, so I tried to conserve energy up the first hill and really push the second.”
Kornfield: “A lot of people were slipping on the step big hill, and I kind of got boxed in and that’s where Koos got away from us. He was slipping too — everybody was slipping — but he just got a few more strides in and he broke away.”
Sinnott: “I just kind of pulled up right behind Torin, and felt like I was skiing well. Then it’s kind of icy there, I started sipping, and Torin made his move and that was kind of the end of the race for the rest of us and it was just a scramble to see who could hold on for second.”
Koos: “I took the lead on the second climb, which was pretty difficult because it’s in the shade, so it’s not as soft as the rest of the course. It’s a little more glazed, so skis play a big factor there.”
Scott (4th place): “We were all pretty tight in the group going down the hill … The heat was pretty aggressive, and how it worked out in the bottom there, everyone was tight on the turn.”
Kornfield: “We were all double poling, and Torin was about one boot length in front of Ryan, and it seemed like he had a clear shot on what lane he wanted to choose. Right after he moved on Ryan there was a break in the tracks, so you had to pick another track. Torin tried to pick the inside track, and he moved onto Ryan’s skis, and it knocked Ryan off balance. It seemed like it took a while to get back his balance.”
Koos: “My plan for the final was to stay in the top three … but if I could decide the race before [the final stretch] then, why not?”
Sinnott: “[It was] really great racing by Torin to make a strong move while people were struggling … It’s just a tough pitch because they washed out the tracks, and because it’s in the shade, it’s hard to get kick there. I had trouble there in the qualifier as well, and it’s just kind of a tough, off camber, steep little slick place and tough to go fast there. Torin made the most of it so that he attacked right at the top when everyone else was still in the middle of it. It was a smart move.”
Packer: “I personally didn’t see anything that merited disqualification … I think [Koos] deserved the win today. He skied away from everybody.”
Kornfield: “I was in third, then Ryan Scott moved over and I was able to double pole and make a gap with the downhill. My skis were running wicked fast. [I] just double poled to the finish.”
Davis (5th): “The back hill kind of got really icy, and I slipped really badly. I started herring boning for the first time, and by that time I was like, [groans]. So with sixth, I obviously wanted to be on the podium, but that’s probably pretty good for how the season’s been going. It’s definitely good to be feeling strong.”
(Note: Davis initially thought he placed sixth and was later moved to fifth with Koos’s disqualification. Karl Nygren won the B-final, which would have put him in seventh, but his place improved to sixth.)
For men’s classic sprint results, click here.
For qualifier results, click here.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.