Continental CupRacingUS NationalsU.S. Nationals Classic Sprint Preview and Predictions

Avatar Steve BedardJanuary 7, 20121
Jessie Diggins (CXC) comes out of her tuck and free skates into the stadium in the A-Final with teammate Jennie Bender just behind. Photo: James Doucett.

RUMFORD, Maine – Following a nail-biter of a skate sprint to open the U.S. Cross Country Championships, the athletes contesting Sunday’s classic sprint can be expected to finish out the week with another great race. And with important U23 Championship qualifying points still up for grabs, the younger skiers especially will be looking to fight to the top spot on the podium.

Athletes have been racing and training on the 1.4  and 1.6 k sprint courses all week and finally know exactly what to expect, where to make the move, and perhaps even the strengths and the weaknesses of the competitors they have been observing throughout the week.

However, there is one athlete on the start list that has shown no weakness this season, and certainly not this week. Jessie Diggins (CXC/USST) has taken all three U.S. Nationals titles this week and is looking to win the classic sprint to cap off a flawless week of racing. It is hard to bet against her, with a grand total of 12 wins this season between the SuperTour, NorAms and nationals.

After coming so close to victory on Tuesday’s opening skate sprint, Diggins’ CXC teammates Jennie Bender and Caitlin Gregg appear to be the contenders with a chance of knocking Diggins off the top step. Bender in particular is a strong classic sprinter, and has her eye on snatching her first gold medal of the week. Look for the two CXC stars to battle it out on Sunday.

Following an untimely pole break in the freestyle sprint, Ida Sargent (USST/CGRP) will be out for redemption. With three top results so far this week, including a second place in Thursday’s 20 k mass start classic, the strong classic skier will look to break free from the pack in the A-final.

Kate Fitzgerald (APU), fresh off a top five in the 20 k classic, should be shooting to climb onto the podium for the first time of this year’s nationals. Her teammate Rosie Brennan could also be a threat—her powerful technique will be an advantage in the long final straightaway.

Canadian star Dasha Gaiazova (RMR/CNST) enters her first sprint of the week. Known as an excellent sprinter on the World Cup, Gaiazova enters the race a favorite for the win. With numerous World Cup starts to her name, she may certainly use her speed and experience to outpace the field.

As of Saturday morning before training, Sadie Bjornsen (APU/USST) hadn’t decided if she would take to the line on Sunday, but if she ends up feeling well enough to put on a bib, it’s hard to count out a World Cup silver medalist.

 

Predictions: 

Steve:

  1. Jessie Diggins
  2. Dasha Gaiazova
  3. Ida Sargent
  4. Jennie Bender
  5. Kate Fitzgerald
  6. Becca Rorabaugh

Matt:

  1. Dasha Gaiazova
  2. Jessie Diggins
  3. Jennie Bender
  4. Ida Sargent
  5. Sadie Bjornsen (if racing) or Sophie Caldwell
  6. Eliska Hajkova

Audrey:

  1. Jessie Diggins
  2. Jennie Bender
  3. Dasha Gaiazova
  4. Ida Sargent
  5. Sadie Bjornsen (if racing) or Eliska Hajkova
  6. Kate Fitzgerald
The men's A Final enters the stadium, Torin Koos (BSF) leads Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess (Bend Endurance Academy), Lars Flora (APU), Sylvan Ellefson (SSCV/Team Homegrown), Karl Nygren (CXC) and Tyler Kornfield (UAF). Photo: James Doucett.

Men:

The favorite coming into the event has to be Torin Koos (BSF/Rossignol), now with three straight U.S. Nationals sprint titles to his name. With a plethora of experience, Koos will look to capitalize on a course that has provided him with so much success over the years.

Aiming to end Koos’ stronghold on the sprints will be a number of elite racers. Sprint specialist Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess (Bend Endurance Academy) stands a good chance of ending Koos’ streak. Blackhorse-von Jess was able to ski behind Koos in the freestyle sprint earlier in the week and should now have a good idea of what to expect from the Olympian in the critical final few hundred meters of the stadium. 

Mike Sinnott (SVSEF) will be looking to recapture the speed he had earlier in the season. Despite a sub-par U.S. Nationals so far, don’t count Sinnott out of the mix. Known as a strong sprinter, Sinnott will certainly be a threat. Sun Valley teammate Matt Gelso will look to improve upon his 30 k classic mass start, where he placed sixth.

The youngest U.S. Ski Team member, 20-year-old Skyler Davis (SMS/USST) will be looking to prove his berth on the national team. In 2011, Davis placed third in the event and will be looking to once again step onto the podium. Fellow USST D-team athlete Erik Bjornsen (APU/USST) also was on the podium in 2011 and will also be looking for a top result, though recent sickness may hold him back.

Eric Packer (Dartmouth) will return to Black Mountain on Sunday following a podium placing in Friday’s 30 k classic mass start. A strong sprinter, Packer will most definitely be in the mix. Tyler Kornfield (Alaska Winter Stars/University of Alaska Fairbanks) will be looking to make his second podium of the week. Sylvan Ellefson, (SSCV/Team HomeGrown) will hope take back the mere centimeters the eluded him in the week’s opening sprint.

Following a fourth place in the distance mass start, Lars Flora (APU) appears to be back to his old self. A veteran of the pack, Flora will look to use his years of experience to land yet another national podium spot.

 

Predictions: 

Steve:

  1. Torin Koos
  2. Eric Packer
  3. Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess
  4. Erik Bjornsen
  5. Sylvan Ellefson
  6. Lars Flora

Matt:

  1. Torin Koos
  2. Eric Packer
  3. Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess
  4. Erik Bjornsen
  5. Lars Flora
  6. Mike Sinnott

Audrey:

  1. Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess
  2. Torin Koos
  3. Lars Flora
  4. Eric Packer
  5. Erik Bjornsen
  6. Skyler Davis

 

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