To this day, Luke Bodensteiner, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) vice president of athletics, said people don’t believe him when he talks about what happened at the 1988 American Birkebeiner.
Seventeen at the time and coming off a Kortelopet victory in ’87, Bodensteiner had registered for the 29 k in an attempt to defend his title. Everything seemed to be going extremely well for the teenager from West Bend, Wis., as he led even the Birkebeiner frontrunners for the first half of their race. Then he missed the turn for the Korte finish.
According to Bodensteiner, the elite coaches and support staff were standing on the cutover, blocking the Kortelopet turnoff as he sped by. He kept going, not realizing that was the turn.
“About two kilometers down the track, I was all alone,” Bodensteiner said over the phone on Wednesday. “I was like, ‘Oh God, I must’ve missed the finish because no one’s around here.’ ”
As he was debating what he should do — turn around and complete the race he registered for (and could legally do at 17) or keep going — Bodensteiner said about eight men caught him. He decided to hang on and finish the 55 k race with them, reasoning he wouldn’t have been able to beat his Kortelopet rival, John Bauer, if he backtracked.
Suffering for the last 10 kilometers without much food, drink or preparation for the marathon distance, Bodensteiner couldn’t remember exactly where he ended up — maybe sixth or seventh. It didn’t matter; a race official later told his dad he was disqualified.
Bodensteiner wasn’t too hard to pick out at the finish in his bright yellow Kortelopet bib.
“It was funny there because stuff like this gets way overblown,” he said. “Literally everyone I ran into asked me about it and no one believed my explaination. I got lost on the track.”
A few years later, Bodensteiner made the 1992 and ’94 Olympics as a member of the U.S. Ski Team. He won several national titles at the University of Utah, developed the USSA’s cross country SuperTour series, and came back to race the Birkie twice — legally.
Regarding the case of Joe Dubay, the College of Saint Scholastica freshman who was disqualified after winning Saturday’s classic Birkie in his teammate’s bib, Bodensteiner said it sounded like the race organizers made the right call.
“They have policies which prevent people from switching bibs; as a race organizer, that’s what you have to do,” Bodensteiner said. “That said the guy had a great race … At the end of the day it’s about performance. It’s not about medals or what’s written down on the results sheet. … You can make worse mistakes, for sure.”
He said Dubay will probably hear about this for years.
“As happened to me, I think he will probably get more attention out of this than he would for winning the Birkie,” Bodensteiner said.
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) 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.