The second and final nordic race of the 2012 NCAA’s was held on a blue-bird Bozeman day which reached 60 degrees by race’s end. Spectators who witnessed the 15 and 20 kilometer mass start classic races on Friday were treated to non-stop action and nail-biting finishes in both the men’s and women’s events, as the title for both races ended in a two-way sprint to the finish line.
In the men’s 20k it was a battle between University of Utah’s Miles Havlick and Montana State’s David Norris. Though Norris had a Montana crowd cheering him around the course, Havlick had enough of a finishing kick in the last twenty meters to steal the line by 1.5 seconds, crossing with a time of 56: 24.3. Franz Bernstein of the University of Vermont finished third with a time of 56:40.
In the women’s race it was UVM and Dartmouth all the way, the two teams grabbing the entire first six finish places. The finish finale was given by UVM’s Amy Glen and Dartmouth’s Sophie Caldwell, the pair entering the stadium together, duking it out down the last 200 meter stretch of stadium striding and then lunging toward the line simultaneously. It was only after extensive review of video that the jury awarded Glen the victory, and Caldwell second place. Lucy Garrec (UVM) finished third.
Dartmouth had been leading the team scores after the first nordic race, but UVM pulled ahead after the first alpine race. The classic races further pushed UVM into the lead, with a 92 point advantage over Utah and another 12 points over Dartmouth.
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Men’s 20 k Mass Start Classic
The sun broke through morning clouds with the nearing of the men’s race at 9am. Despite start-line temperatures that were 40 degrees and rising, the track was hard and the downhill S-turns were icy-swift.
After the first lap the entire field was still fairly tight, but that changed quickly in the second lap as the starting pace, steep hills, altitude, and realization that they had to complete three more grueling laps combined to slow many of the racer’s tempo.
“All you had to do today is try to stay relaxed as long as you could, and continuously people were falling back,” said UVM’s Franz Bernstein. “I don’t think there were a lot of moves in there, it’s just the pace was pretty high off the start.”
The race’s top two competitors – Utah’s Miles Havlick and Montana State’s David Norris – were quick to establish themselves at the front of the lead pack.
“The first couple laps, it’s just trying to protect yourself, limit crashes and broken poles and stuff,” said Norris, “I just wanted to ski into it and if it felt right I thought I’d go for it on the hills.”
Norris, who hails from Fairbanks, Alaska but is a (sophomore) at Montana State, admitted that having the home-course crowd in attendance was a big motivator.
“It was awesome, having that crowd,” said Norris, “they are as into it as we are as racers, so it’s a lot of fun.”
By the third of four laps, the field had strung out into clumps of racers who were just trying to pick up an extra spot or not lose their own.
Bernstein explained, “David [Norris]and Miles [Havlick] looked very strong today and they put up a couple of small moves but other than that people were just trying to stay together and hold on tight.”
By the last lap the field had spread out into clumped groups of two and three competitors, driving each other to the finish.
“I knew if everything went right I could be the strongest skier, so I just tried to hammer that last lap,” said Norris. Despite the fact Havlick experienced a couple mishaps during the race Norris said his competitor “kept hanging on.”
On one corner, Havlick caught his ski tip in a snowbank and got spun around and went down.
“I just got up, tried to stay relaxed and positive and work my way back up there,” said Havlick.
Then he broke a pole. Fortunately the break occurred as he was poling through the stadium and he quickly got a replacement from a coach.
So it was Havlick and Norris who emerged from the wooded downhill alone.
Up the first hill into the stadium the pair stepped into adjacent tracks and started to double pole in unison. Together, they sprinted down one side of the stadium, around the corner, and into the finishing stretch. Havlick had just enough strength to pull off the front in the final 20 meters, and it was the Utah senior who crossed the line in first with a time of 56:24, Norris just 1.5 seconds behind.
“I knew I’m not the best sprinter so I knew it would be a struggle,” said Norris, who then smiled and said of the tight race, “but – yeah – it was great.”
For Havlick, a sophomore at Utah, the win was an end to a string of near-misses.
“Everything came together today,” said Havlick. “It was kind of a frustrating season – I kept getting 2nd and 3rd places – but today everything came together.”
Havlick said his win felt “Amazing. It’s been my goal for a long time, it just feels great to do it when it counts most.”
Next across the line was Bernstein, who was 25 seconds back from the lead pair. The senior from UVM was happy to end his career on this note.
“I am super happy about the race – more than happy about the race, said Bernstein. “So much fun out there today – perfect tracks, perfect skis – – – now I’m ready for retirement.”
Fourth across the line was Dartmouth’s Eric Packer, in a time of 57:05. Two seconds later came a sprint for fifth between Patrick Johnson of Middlebury and Didrik Smith of Utah, Johnson winning fifth and Smith placing sixth. In seventh through tenth finished Rune Oedegaard (CU), Andrew Dougherty (DU), Sam Tarling (DAR), and Sjur Prestseater (UNM).
Women’s 15k Mass Start Classic
By the start of the women’s race at 11am the air temperature was already 56 degrees and the snow was at 32 Fahrenheit. The firm tracks that greeted the first morning’s race were now turning towards mush.
The rapidly warming snow sent many coaches scrambling to apply last-minute layers of klister, even as the announcer called a 10, and then 5 minute race-time warning. For some teams and athletes, there wasn’t enough time for adjustment, and the consequences were huge. Around the first of the three lap race it was apparent that some women had very slick skis, as they herringboned and double poled as well as they could.
But even the skiers at the front of the race did not have perfect skis, as glide was traded for kick up the hills. After one lap most of the UVM and Dartmouth teams were near the front, joined by Wednesday’s race winner, Utah’s Maria Graefnings, CU’s Eliska Hajkova adn MSU’s Ase Carlson.
Lucy Garrec of UVM said that her skis were “Great for climbing, very jerky on downhills”, but emphasized,“kick was definitely more important.”
Dartmouth’s Sophie Caldwell, who raced on no-wax skis, said that different skis were running well in different places on the course, but that snow conditions were so slow it evened things out.
Caldwell and teammate Annie Hart led much of the first lap, Caldwell explaining “we didn’t want to waste our energy so we went pretty easy.”
Feeling good about her first lap, breathing in control and skiing relaxed, Garrec took over on the second lap, but her strategy was similar to Caldwell’s and she did not want to push the pace; when her teammate Amy Glen took the lead Garrec gave it up readily.
“We definitely compiled our efforts,” said Glen of the way the UVM and Dartmouth teams worked together during the race. Glen said that racing such a strong group of competitors week after week in the East had helped them all achieve a pace consistent with the strongest Western and Central competitors.
It was Glen and Caldwell who finally established themselves as the frontrunners for the victory, and the two emerged together, Glen skiing in front and Caldwell matching her stride as they skied up the hill into the stadium. At first, it looked as though Glen was the stronger sprinter, a small gap opening as they turned the far corner of the stadium.
Caldwell said it was at that moment she decided she wasn’t giving up.
“All of a sudden I was like, ‘Wait a second, I can still do this!’” said Caldwell. “I didn’t know if I had a chance, but then I got a little extra energy and just went for it.”
The competitors were pole to pole down the line, lunging across simultaneously to a cacophony of screaming spectators. As their bodies lay strewn out just past the finish mark, a photo finish was pronounced, and the jury began to review the high definition footage of the finish.
Sixteen seconds after the exciting finish, Garrec crossed the line for third place. Behind her in fourth place was Dartmouth’s Annie Hart, and in fifth finished Caitlin Patterson of UVM. Dartmouth’s Erika Flowers and Maria Graefnings had a close sprint at the finish, Flowers gaining the edge and placing sixth to Graefnings seventh. In eighth through tenth were Makalya Cappel(DU), Annie Pokorny (MID), and Eilska Hajkova (CU), respectively.
The rest of the women’s field finished during the agonizing wait for the reported champion, the time gap between the first and the 38th finisher a margin of eight minutes. Finally, the review came back and Glen was awarded the victory, Caldwell securing second place.
“It was a little nerve-racking,” described Caldwell of the long-awaited judgment, “but I would obviously be happy either way. I am psyched for Amy and it is pretty sweet to have the east be in the top six, too. . .I think we’re all thrilled with that – it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a race.”
For Amy Glen, who is a senior on the UVM team from Anchorage, Alaska, this was both her last college race and her very first college win. When asked what made victory possible for her today, Glen said, simply, “Everything.”
Glen listed, “My team, my coaches gave us awesome skis, I worked with my teammates – and I just felt really relaxed and just went for it.”
Glen said that her connection with her teammates was the biggest motivator. She never felt she was racing as an individual or for an individual title.
“I always felt my teammates with me, “said Glen, “it was never just me.”
Related article: Wednesday’s 5/10k skate
1 HAVLICK, Miles UU 56:24.3
2 NORRIS, David MSU 56:25.8
3 BERNSTEIN, Franz UVM 56:40.8
4 PACKER, Eric DAR 57:05.2
5 JOHNSON, Patrick MID 57:07.1
6 SMITH, Didrik UU 57:07.5
7 OEDEGAARD, Rune CU 57:32.3
8 DOUGHERTY, Andrew DU 57:34.3
9 TARLING, Sam DAR 57:41.8
10 PRESTSEATER, Sjur UNM 58:00.4
1 GLEN, Amy UVM 53:32.1
2 CALDWELL, Sophie DAR 53:32.2
3 GARREC, Lucy UVM 53:48.7
4 HART, Annie DAR 53:58.3
5 PATTERSON, Caitlin UVM 54:10.1
6 FLOWERS, Erika DAR 54:33.2
7 GRAEFNINGS, Maria UU 54:34.0
8 CAPPEL, Makalya DU 54:37.5
9 POKORNY, Annie MID 54:45.8
10 HAJKOVA, Eliska CU 55:15.2