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 – For a few minutes on Saturday, it appeared to have happened again.
According to the live-timing board, Julia Kern of New England and Alaska’s Lydia Blanchet tied for the second straight race at the 2012 Cross Country Junior Nationals, this time with the help of their respective teams in the 3×3-kilometer freestyle relay.
It couldn’t be, and it wasn’t.
Upon video review, race officials at Soldier Hollow determined that Kern had the edge in the finish-line lunge, giving New England (with Zoe Snow and Katharine Ogden) the J2 girls relay victory.
Blanchet and her teammates, Sarrissa Lammers and Taryn Hunt-Smith, were second by 0.2 seconds.
After tying Blanchet’s time in the 5 k classic individual start on Friday, Kern couldn’t believe they could be dead-even again.
“It’s kind of crazy that we had a photo finish again,” she said. “They gave us a really good challenge.”
After Ogden (Stratton Mountain School) passed off to Kern (Cambridge Sports Union) in second, Kern had the fastest anchor time in 6:41.1. Blanchet wasn’t far off, tagging off in first and skiing the second fastest split in 6:41.8.
Kern had to pass her for the victory and her third Junior Nationals title of the week. She essentially did so at the line.
“It was a really amazing finish,” Kern said.
Earlier in the race, she played it safe.
“I decided to go behind her,” Kern said. “[Blanchet] paced it slow, and I didn’t want her to pull away. At top of bridge she stopped; she didn’t want me to draft her.”
By the long downhill before the last climb, Kern was in front. Blanchet of Alaska Pacific University held on until the very end and the two sprinted alone to the line, where Kern collapsed after the finish and sent Blanchet swerving.
The Midwest’s team of Racquel Wohlk, Vivian Hett and Alayna Sonnesyn finished third, 31.4 seconds out of first.
“I planned on holding back the pace and killing it on Hermod’s [Hill],” Blanchet said of her race strategy. “She stayed with me the whole way. … I was gonna try to slingshot around her on the hill and that didn’t really work. I don’t know, my downhills weren’t that great today.”
Fourth at the first handoff, Hunt-Smith (APU) brought them to first. She planned to hold back on the first hill, but feeling good, decided to go for it and ended up behind the leader, Abbey Habermehl of Rocky Mountain.
“I had super-fast skis and passed her on a tuck,” Hunt-Smith said. “I went for it on Hermod’s and heard [Ogden] behind me. It was such a motivator.”
“Alaska pushed us so hard,” Ogden said, after trailing Hunt-Smith and Habermehl on the infamous climb. “I started out pretty much right in there with top four. I ended up being pretty far behind the leader until the downhill on bottom of Hermod’s, then I passed the two Rocky Mountain girls. The hill was probably my strong point.”
Snow, who jumped out to the second-place position for New England, said she was initially boxed out, but double poled her way to the front by the first hill.
“On the last hill, I really tried to kick it in, finish strong,” Snow said.
She came in 0.8 seconds behind the leader, Gretchen Burkholder of Steamboat Springs. Her Rocky Mountain team went on to place fifth after another Rocky Mountain squad in fourth.
Alaskan Boys Win Relay
Things were pretty hectic from the start of the J2 boys relay on Saturday. With 19 eager 14- and 15-year-olds vying for first, the field remained thick and tough to navigate.
A select few made it through.
Sam Miller of the Bridger Ski Foundation gave a solid effort to put his Intermountain squad ahead at the first handoff, and Jack Elder (New England/Cumberland) skied a blistering second leg to bring his team to second.
At the end of the day, consistency mattered, and Alaska came out on top.
After Tanner Ramey (Alaska Winter Stars) initially put the team in third, Jacob Volz picked off racers to tag off in first. Friday’s 5 k classic winner, Thomas O’Harra held the lead and edged Intermountain’s Karsten Hokanson (Wasatch Nordic Ski Academy) for the win.
The Alaskans completed the course in 17:57.3, and Intermountain (Miller, Peter Neal and Hokanson) finished 2.5 seconds behind for second place. New England (Ben Hegman, Elder and Koby Gordon) placed third (+17.1).
“The tag-off was crazy; the second leg on our other team [Matthew Muffolato] broke a pole,” Ramey said. “I planned to draft off the leaders for most of it and try to take the lead at the end, which worked decently.”
After Ramey positioned his team in third, Volz (APU) picked off the two skiers in front of him, one from Intermountain and the other from Far West.
“I just got in behind a few people up the hollow,” Volz said of the first climb. “Down at bottom of Hermod’s, I felt good so just took it up the hill and passed a bunch of people.”
With a bond between the three teammates that dates back to middle school, O’Harra (APU) said he was bursting with excitement in the exchange zone.
“I saw that Jacob was winning and that pumped me up,” O’Harra said. “I just went out there and kept nothing from myself, you know?”
Second heading up the final climb, his skis helped him on the descent.
“My coaches are really good waxers; they had awesome skis in general,” O’Harra said. “I was pretty confident I could win.”
The win was O’Harra’s second Junior Nationals victory in as many days. He had not topped the podium before Friday.
Audrey Mangan contributed reporting.
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.