By Eric Troyer
FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Ben Saxton and Hannah Boyer couldn’t coast to the finish in their wins of the Older Junior classic mass-start races in the 2013 Cross Country Junior Nationals on Saturday. They had fierce competitors on their tales who also happened to be their friends.
Saxton of Midwest, and second-place finisher Logan Hanneman of Alaska, are good friends and were teammates at the World Juniors. But it was Hanneman, a Fairbanksan, who won the other three golds at these races. Saxton finished second in each of those races, including an incredibly close final sprint finish on Thursday, and he didn’t mind taking one from Hanneman.
“It was a pretty great feeling to finally come out on top,” Saxton said.
Boyer had to out-climb and out-double pole good friend Felicia Gesior, of Great Lakes, who is also a teammate with Boyer at Northern Michigan University. Knowing her competitor so well made Boyer nervous about the close finish.
“She’s one of the best double-polers on our team,” Boyer said of Gesior.
Two Sprints Decide First Through Fourth in Boys OJ Race
In the boys OJ 15 k, things really started to heat up in the third lap after the South Tower climb.
“It was super-fun because we were just chillin’ the first two laps,” said Hanneman. “Then Ben and I on the third lap were just dueling it out on every hill.”
With less than three kilometers left, Saxton and Hanneman were leading and skiing side by side.
“I was hoping to be able to drop him on the hills before, but coming up out of White Bear I couldn’t get rid of him,” Hanneman said.
That’s when Saxton knew he had a chance to win it.
“When he didn’t lose me there, right then I could tell he was kind of tired on the switchbacks,” said Saxton. “It happens every time, no matter what the race, the hairs kind of stand up on the back of your neck, and you’re like, ‘All right, I can take this.’ ”
That’s where the race for third place really started to heat up, too. With just over a kilometer to go as they dropped into Sidewinder, Eli Hoenig led New England teammate Jack Hegman. When they dropped into Warm-Up with less than a kilometer to go Saxton and Hanneman were still neck and neck, but Hegman had pulled ahead of Hoenig.
As the leaders came climbing up Warm-up hill into the final stretch, Saxton pulled a little ahead of Hanneman and kept the lead as they double-pole sprinted to the finish.
“We both just launched it up the last hill, but he had a little bit more punch left up and over, so I couldn’t close it,” Hanneman said.
“The guy’s a killer sprinter,” Saxton said of Hanneman. “I fully expected him to come up and we would just go as hard as we could all the way to the line. That’s what we did, I just got a little bit on him before we got there.”
Saxton finished in 44 minutes, 13.5 seconds, just over one second ahead of Hanneman. Hegman and Hoenig were 30 seconds behind but they also had to sprint to the finish with Hegman winning third place by just three-tenths of a second.
By taking second Hanneman just missed out on sweeping the gold medals at this year’s Junior Nationals, a feat last accomplished four years ago by Hanneman. But he wasn’t upset.
“Three out of four isn’t too bad,” he said, adding that he saw benefit in losing.
“It’s also probably pretty good to not necessarily win on the last one because then it makes you hungry for training for the next division,” he said.
Boyer Comes from Behind to Win Her Last Junior Nationals Race
In the girls OJ race, Gesior pulled ahead of the lead pack of seven skiers during the South Tower climb in the second lap of the 10-kilometer race.
“I didn’t know where anyone was, so I just went for it,” she said.
Boyer saw Gesior and Sarah Friestone, of Alaska, pull ahead, but Boyer was behind three other racers.
“I got trapped on the top of tower,” Boyer said. “I couldn’t get around them.”
Eventually, Boyer did get around them and Friestone, but by then Gesior had a sizeable lead. With less than three kilometers to go she had a 20-30 meter gap on Boyer, who was leading the now stretched-out pack. Boyer started to close that gap by the time they reached Sidewinder about 1.5 kilometers later. Friestone led a pack of four skiers chasing Boyer.
As they dropped into Warm-up for the last descent and climb, Gesior still had the lead but only by about five or six meters.
“I knew she was coming, so I just tried to keep ahead of her,” Gesior said.
When they came back into sight climbing Warm-up hill with just over a 100 meters left, they were side-by-side. Boyer took the lead in that final stretch and opened enough of a gap to win by just over one second at 34 minutes, 26 second. Gesior was second at 34:27.1, and Friestone finished 20 seconds back at 34:46.3.
This is the last Junior Nationals for Boyer, who is from Fairbanks, so the win in her hometown was especially sweet.
“I really wanted to end this on a good one,” she said.
For more photos from 2013 Junior Nationals, visit bertboyer.zenfolio.com. Proceeds go to the National Nordic Foundation (NNF).