FAIRBANKS, Alaska — The Norwegians got flowers and glory for sweeping the podium of the Junior 1 division on Monday.
They won’t get medals, however, nor will they get points in the team standings at the U.S. Cross Country Junior Nationals, since those are reserved for American skiers.
In the 10K interval-start freestyle race that kicked off the competition at Birch Hill Recreation Area on Monday, Mattis Stenshagen, Martin Thon and Sjur Slettom — all members of the NTG Lillehammer Club — claimed the top three spots in J1.
Stenshagen, 16, even bested all the Older Junior competitors (ages 17-19) with time of 26 minutes, 34.2 seconds.
Logan Hanneman, representing Team Alaska, won the OJ and placed second overall 3.2 seconds after Stenshagen.
“We hoped (for a sweep), but it’s a little bit surprising,” Stenshagen said. “The first 8K was very good but the last 2K was not so good.”
Stenshagen, as a B-seeded skier, raced without the benefit of getting splits, unlike the 30 skiers in the top-seeded A group. Thon was seeded in the C group and Slettom started even earlier in the D group.
Stenshagen said the seeding did not matter. “I just think about myself,” he said.
Team Norway head coach Per Ola Gasmann explained that juniors and seniors generally race together in Norway, making it tougher to place high and gather a favorable FIS ranking.
“It is much easier to get low FIS points in the U.S. than in Norway,” Gasmann said.
Six Norwegians — all J1s — are competing at the Junior Nationals as part of an exchange with the American National Nordic Foundation after a dozen U.S. skiers participated recently at the Norwegian junior championships in the Olympic town of Lillehammer.
Hanneman welcomed the extra competition.
“I think it’s really awesome. We’re getting an international racing experience without going anywhere,” he said.
Hanneman, a sophomore skier at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, only returned from the NCAA Championships in Vermont at 11 p.m. Sunday. He didn’t fall asleep until 2 a.m. and got maybe six hours of rest before Monday’s competition.
Hanneman, 19, said he felt “pretty terrible” but managed to pull off a solid race by not starting too aggressively. He skied a slightly faster second of two loops than Stenshagen but was not quite able to erase a seven-second deficit from the midway point.
“If you go out too fast it bites you in the second lap,” he said. “The race doesn’t start until the second time going up Tower Direct.”
Ben Saxton of Midwest was the runner-up OJ and fourth overall while Eli Hoenig of New England completed the OJ podium.
In J1, due to the Norwegians’ domination, Ian Torchia of New England missed out on the flower ceremony podium but will collect a gold medal for being the top American.
With relatively slow snow and a temperature in the teens, skiers were challenged by a course that featured 290 feet of climbing per lap, much of it on the Black Funk and Tower Direct ascents.
But they were also required to execute high-speed cornering on a black-diamond downhill in the opening kilometer. More than a few racers were unable to negotiate a sharp left-hand turn and crashed. Organizers even added padding to a ditch where several skiers wound up. Two skiers broke pole handles and another made a dramatic recovery after losing his balance on the turn, only to wipe out on an ensuing downhill. The area was popular with spectators seeking entertainment.
J2 winner Max Donaldson of Team Alaska managed to emerge unscathed.
“It’s not worth it to crash or take it too quick,” Donaldson said. “Otherwise you can be in the woods and lose 30 seconds.”
Boosted by cheering fans on his home trails, Donaldson, the recent Alaska High School Skimeister, powered his slight frame to a convincing 5-kilometer win in 13:30.
“I’ve never raced these guys. I was definitely hoping for top three,” Donaldson said.
Koby Gordon of New England placed second in 13:47 while Jake Bassett of Alaska notched third in 13:57.
With six of the top seven spots in J2 going to skiers from Alaska and New England, those teams are perhaps setting up a showdown in the 3X3-kilometer relay on Tuesday.
In the Alaska Cup team competition, Alaska is also looking to unseat New England, the four-time defending champion.
For more photos from 2013 Junior Nationals, visit bertboyer.zenfolio.com. Proceeds go to the National Nordic Foundation (NNF).