By Eric Troyer
FAIRBANKS, Alaska – New England took three of the top six spots in the Junior 2 boys and girls 5-kilometer classic races at the 2013 Cross Country Junior Nationals on Saturday. Julia Kern and Katharine Ogden finished one and two, while Koby Gordon took the J2 boys title.
Kern said getting a podium finish with a friend is special.
“It’s even better when you get to share the victory with your teammate and friend. It just makes it like the cherry on top,” she said.
Kern, Ogden Finish 1-2 for New England
Just a little over two kilometers into the J2 girls race, favorites Kern, Ogden, and Lydia Blanchet, of Alaska, were leading a large pack of racers. After the climb up East Ramp about 2.5 kilometers into the race, the lead pack dropped to five skiers, with Hailey Swirbul, of Rocky Mountain, and Leah Lange, of Intermountain, making up the rest of the pack.
As the racers came out of White Bear with just over a kilometer to go, five skiers still battled it out with Kern leading, but Swirbul was challenging. Ogden had fallen back a bit and Blanchet and Lange had fallen back even further.
“I saw the fourth place girl from Alaska, and she started fading up on what we call whoop-ass hill,” said Swirbul. “I got around her and went for it. Super-painful, but it’s all worth it now.”
With less than a kilometer to go, the pack was starting to get spread out. Kern and Ogden led, followed by Swirbul, Blanchet, and Lange, each a couple of seconds behind the other.
Kern clearly held the lead climbing out of Warm-Up into the Stadium, but she was followed closely by Ogden and a little farther back by Swirbul.
Kern kept the lead and finished first in 16 minutes, 37.7 seconds.
“I knew I was doing well, but I wasn’t for sure until I was in the finish straightaway,” she said.
Ogden claimed second, just under three seconds behind.
“I’m not a very strong double-poler, especially compared to her. I’m a little bit scrawnier,” Ogden said. “I would have had to be in front earlier.”
Swirbul, whose brother won the J1 American men’s race, took third in 16:48.7.
“It’s a good day for both of us,” she said.
J2 Boys Start with Fast Pace, End with Close Finish
With just five kilometers to race, the J2 boys started with a fast pace.
“The first hill the pace went out really fast. I was barely hanging on to the back of the lead group, but I knew I had to fight to stay with that lead group if I wanted to have a chance on the podium. That was really hard,” Gordon said.
Halfway through the course a lead pack of seven skiers, led by Zak Ketterson of Midwest, Jake Bassett of Alaska, and Max Donaldson of Alaska, kept up a steady pace.
The group also led at about kilometer 3, but by the climb out of White Bear at just over 3.5 kilometers into the race, the pack was down to four, Ketterson, Donaldson, Gordon and Bassett.
“That’s when the race starts to get really tough with a lot of big climbs and a lot of tough transitions that you have to keep skiing strong,” Gordon said.
Those four were close together as they headed down into the Warm-up Loop with less than a kilometer to go. The last climb out of Warm-Up was critical.
“It was pretty tight the whole race, so it was decided in the last 400 meters,” Donaldson said.
“Everyone was so dead and that’s such a hard hill. That was truly a test of manliness,” Ketterson said.
Gordon was able to pull out the win with a time of 14 minutes, 50.4 seconds, just over one second ahead of Ketterson.
“There was a ton of energy from all the fans coming into there. It was really empowering coming up that last hill,” Gordon said.
But Ketterson isn’t sad about taking second place.
“Based on my other races this week I was kind of down, so I wasn’t getting as high as I wanted to, but this is a great way to finish off the season. I’m really excited right now,” he said.
Donaldson was also happy with his race, finishing third almost 6 seconds back with a time of 14:56.2.
“I did what I could in that race. In the final 200 meters they had the sprinting left in them,” Donaldson said, adding that he doesn’t consider himself much of a sprinter. “I just did what I could to stay in third.”
Bassett fell to fifth, being outsprinted by a half-second by Bill Harmeyer who finished fourth in 15:12.4.
For more photos from 2013 Junior Nationals, visit bertboyer.zenfolio.com. Proceeds go to the National Nordic Foundation (NNF).