By Eric Troyer
FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Once again, the Norwegian skiers dominated the Junior 1 10 k classic mass starts in the 2013 Cross Country Junior Nationals on Saturday, but the American racers didn’t let their guests take all the podium spots.
Keegan Swirbul of Rocky Mountain, took third overall in the boys race, which was good for the top American spot, and he finished just one second behind Norwegian and second-place finisher Sjur Slettom.
“I was surprised I was that close,” Swirbul said.
Far West’s Peter Holmes, taking fourth, and New England’s Jack Schrupp, in fifth, both finished ahead of Norwegian Martin Thon to take the second and third American places.
“It’s fun. They’re fast,” said Holmes.
In the girls race, Marion Woods of Alaska, reeled in Lisa Kvamme of Norway, to take third place and the top place for the Americans in the women’s race.
“I’m so glad they’re out here,” Woods said, adding that they helped increase the overall competition.
The Norwegian skiers also include twins Tiril and Lotta Weng, who took first and second, respectively, in the girls race, and Mattis Stenshagen, who took first in the boys race. The Norwegians are racing as guests as part of an effort to give American racers a taste of what’s possible with enough work and the right training and attitude.
Intermountain’s Lizzie Gill, who took fifth overall and the second American spot, likes the competition.
“My dad always tells me that I should try to be skiing like Jessie Diggins,” said Gill, smiling, “but now he tells me to ski like Norwegians.”
The Norwegians are also learning from their experience over here, especially how to race on tight, curvy racecourses.
“In Norway there are not so many corners,” said Stenshagen. “I like it.”
“I like trying something else,” he said, “not just climbing and sitting on the downhills.”
Woods Breaks Away to Take Third, U.S. Title in Girls J1 Race
The Norwegians looked to put the girls J1 10-kilometer race away early. They started strong, all three pulling slightly ahead of a group of American skiers, led by Marion Woods. Kvamme fell back a bit by the third kilometer but was still ahead of a large pack of Americans, still led by Woods, as they charged through the Stadium on to their second lap. Woods was less worried by the leaders than who was behind.
“Going from the bottom of Warm-up to the top of Tower, I knew that something was going to happen,” said Woods. “There was a pretty large pack of girls behind me. Having led for a couple of K I knew that they could make a breakaway at any moment.”
During the second climb of South Tower, both Woods and Lizzie Gill were the ones to make a breakaway. They reeled in Kvamme and were ahead of her with less than three kilometers to go. Several more Americans caught Kvamme, but by the climb to Sidewinder, about 8.5 kilometers into the race, Kvamme had pulled back into fourth place.
That’s when Tiril Weng made her move, pulling about 10 seconds ahead of her sister, Lotta, in less than a kilometer. Woods was still in third followed by Gill, but Kvamme was starting to gain on her. A pack of Americans, led by Amy Bianco, of Midwest, followed and Woods knew they were back there.
“Going up the last hill. I never knew what was really behind me,” said Woods. “I knew that really at any moment they could come on and pass me.”
That pack of Americans never caught Woods, but they started to gain on Gill coming up the Warm-up hill right before the finish.
“I definitely died a little at the end, but they were right behind me and they kept me going, so, yeah, that was pretty fun,” said Gill.
Tiril won the race in 33 minutes, 47.3 seconds, 16 seconds ahead of her sister, who finished in 34:03.7. Woods finished third at 34:26.9 and Kvamme finished fourth at 35:09.0, but it was close as Gill finished just under a second behind. Nicole Bathe, of Midwest, took sixth as the third American, just beating Bianco by less than two seconds.
Swirbul Uses Sidewinder Move to Take American J1 Boys Title
In the boys J1 1o k, the Norwegians also pulled ahead early, but several Americans including Cal Deline, of Rocky Mountain, Thomas O’Harra, of Alaska, and Peter Holmes, of Far West, were hot on their tail.
By kilometer four, O’Harra and the three Norwegians were leading a pack that included Deline, Swirbul, and Eric Backstrum, of Alaska. As they climbed out of Warm-up into the Stadium for their second lap, Norwegians Stenshagen and Slettom had pulled ahead by a few seconds. Close on their tails was Swirbul, Deline, and Norwegian Thon. O’Harra had fallen back to about ninth place.
Stenshagen really started to put the hammer down on the second climb of South Tower. He pulled about 10 seconds ahead of Slettom, who was followed closely by Swirbul and Holmes.
“We knew the Norwegians were going to go in the second lap and they went right where I thought,” said Swirbul, “so I was just trying to conserve as much energy on the first lap and do a 5 k time trial.”
Holmes said the hardest part of the race was increasing the pace up the second climb of South Tower. He wasn’t sure he could hang on.
“I was a little iffy about it, but I’m glad I did,” he said.
With about two kilometers to go, Stenshagen had increased his lead to about 20 seconds over Slettom, who was still followed closely by Swirbul, with Far West’s Holmes a little farther back.
“We just skied together, me and the Far West guy, and then I tried to put a move on him on Sidewinder and it worked real well,” said Swirbul.
Not too far behind was Jack Schrupp, of New England.
Stenshagen increased that lead to about 30 seconds with a kilometer to go, while Swirbul had reeled in Slettom, with Holmes just a few seconds behind.
Stenshagen easily won first by 30 seconds with a time of 29 minutes, 17 seconds. The race for second was much closer, but the last sprint to the finish proved decisive as Slettom pulled away, beating Swirbul by just one second.
“He had a way better double pole than I do, but I was thankful to be that close to him,” said Swirbul.
Swirbul, with a time of 29:49.7, took third overall and first for the Americans. Holmes came in about eight seconds later, taking the second American spot, with Schrupp about four seconds after that, wrapping up the third American spot. Thon finished about nine seconds later, taking sixth place overall.
For more photos from 2013 Junior Nationals, visit bertboyer.zenfolio.com. Proceeds go to the National Nordic Foundation (NNF).