All 2012 Cross Country Junior Nationals coverage is brought to you through the generous support of The Memory Clinic, in Bennington, Vt., committed to caring for the mind since 1987. Currently conducting clinical research on the Alzheimer’s disease vaccine.
MIDWAY, Utah — After fifteen excruciating minutes of pushing one’s body to its absolute limit, grabbing seconds here and there around tight corners, through transitions, and in a lunge for the finish, it’s hard to imagine someone else skiing a course exactly as fast.
And yet ties do happen in individual-start races, as Julia Kern (NE/Cambridge Sports Union) and Lydia Blanchet (AK/APUNSC) learned first-hand after finishing Friday’s 5 k classic at Soldier Hollow, each in 15:01.4
Kern, the winner of the classic sprint earlier this week, came through as the early leader in the 15-second interval start race, maintaining a margin of over 24 seconds ahead of the next closest finisher. Many top seeds started early, but Blanchet didn’t come through until a few minutes later.
When her name appeared at the top of the jumbotron with the exact same time as Kern’s, Blanchet had mixed feelings.
“It was kind of bittersweet,” she said. “Half of me was like, ‘Oh my gosh I just won Junior Nationals,’ but the other half was like, ‘Oh, one tenth of a second anywhere out on the course…’ But I’m happy for both of us.”
Kern was also satisfied to share the top of the podium.
“With tenth of a second, it’s close enough—and we both deserved it. We skied hard,” said Kern.
Though their end results were the same, the two girls approached the race from slightly different angles. Blanchet wanted to “go as hard as I could for the whole thing,” while Kern planned to ski the first gradual hill at a steady pace and “kill it on the flats where everyone would be tired.”
Hermod’s Hill, as usual, was a focal point—if not in strategy then certainly in the post-race rehash of the race experience.
“I got to the top of Hermod’s and I was like, ‘Whoa, I’m tired,’” said Kern, who had to break out of the tracks to herringbone over the very top. But keeping in mind that it was her last individual race of the week, she pushed through it.
Kern’s New England teammate Katharine Ogden (NE/Stratton Mountain School) finished only 1.5 seconds behind the two winners, making the J2 girls’ race the closest contest of the day.
With their tie on Friday, Blanchet and Kern are each walking away from Soldier Hollow with two individual gold medals. Saturday’s 3 x 3 k relay is still to come.
O’Harra Breaks Out For First National Title
Alaskan racer Thomas O’Harra turned heads at Junior Nationals on Monday, clocking the fastest qualifying time in the 1.3 k classic sprints by nearly five seconds. Second in the J2 B-final and eighth overall, that wasn’t exactly the result he was looking for, especially not after last year.
At the 2011 Junior Nationals in Minneapolis, O’Harra as a first-year J2 took second in the sprint. This year, the Alaska Pacific University skier was set on gold.
The 15-year-old achieved it on Friday, winning the 5 k classic individual start in 13:31.4. O’Harra edged Cully Brown of Rocky Mountain/Durango by 2.4 seconds, and Peter Holmes (FW/Tahoe) was third (+19.6).
“It’s been my goal since last year, and I feel awesome,” O’Harra said. “I knew I was in the mix most of race. I got splits that I was a couple seconds behind for most of it, then I just got to bottom of Hermod’s [Hill] and I just put my head down and skied as hard as I could.”
The conditions reminded him of Eagle Glacier in Alaska, where he spent part of his summer at a junior camp training on similar snow in balmy weather.
“It was a couple of days just like this, same tracks, same temperatures, so it’s nice,” he said. “It paid off.”
Despite his preparation, the course still hurt.
“I was pretty deep oxygen debt,” said O’Harra. “I knew I had to push myself harder than I ever had, and I was lightheaded.”
Regardless, he felt like he had acclimated and said his coaches did a good job of helping its athletes, most of which come from sea level, adjust to altitude.
Another Alaskan, Matthew Muffoletto (Alaska Winter Stars) made the top 10 in eighth. Sam Miller (IM/Bridger) was fourth, Jack Elder (NE/Cumberland) placed fifth, and Karsten Hokanson (IM/Wasatch) was sixth. Peter Neal (IM/Jackson Hole) finished seventh, Ben Hegman (NE/Mansfield) was ninth and Koby Gordon (NE/Stratton) was 10th.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.