ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Andy Newell’s victory was over almost as soon as he’d finished. The U.S. Ski Team member’s lane switch in the last 80 or so meters before the finish of the men’s 1.4-kilometer classic sprint final at SuperTour Finals on Sunday prompted several jury members to convene once he finished first.
In the second lane from the right out of four lanes to the finish, Reese Hanneman of Alaska Pacific University (APU) had been trailing Newell slightly, who was farthest right, before Newell decided to shift left to the inside of a slight lefthand curve before the final straightway.
He had to accelerate to do so and needed to leave enough room between him and Hanneman before jumping across his lane, two tracks to the left. Hanneman, who’s lived and trained in Anchorage for the last five seasons and is originally from Fairbanks, later said he had to stand up for a second and the move cost him a chance at winning. Newell claimed he had the space and went for the opening.
The two double poled to the line, where Newell stayed ahead of Hanneman by several meters through the finish. Hanneman tossed his head back in disappointment — it was the one low point of an otherwise picture-perfect day. Warm sun, consistent conditions, and for Hanneman, a win in each of the preceding heats with the exception of the qualifier, in which he placed second to Newell by 2.6 seconds.
In the final, Hanneman had to come to grips with losing to Newell in the end-all race of the day. In first for much of the 1.4 k loop, which included a gradual downhill into a tight right corner and long descent before the big climb back up, Hanneman initially attacked at the bottom of the final hill known as Elliott’s Climb and led halfway up.
Newell followed him closely and pulled up alongside Hanneman some 200 meters before the finish, then the two raced side by side over the top. Skiing in the same suit for the same team as Newell, Ben Saxton of the Stratton Mountain School (SMS) was the next closest competitor a few seconds back.
Just after the crest before the flat to the finish, that’s where the moment in question went down. That’s what sent APU head coach Erik Flora running to the finish to meet with jury members after the two finished. According to Hanneman, the jury was already aware of the incident and in the process of discussing whether to deny Newell of the victory because of obstruction.
About an hour and 45 minutes later, the announcement was made: unofficially, Hanneman had won, and everyone else in the final had moved up one place — Saxton to second, Tyler Kornfield (APU) in third, Pat O’Brien (Craftsbury Green Racing Project) in fourth, and Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess (Bend Endurance Academy) in fifth. Newell was relegated to sixth with a competition suspension.
A 15-minute protest period allowed Stratton coaches to file the first official protest of the day, in which they opposed the decision to penalize Newell. Twenty-five minutes later, the jury arrived at their decision: Hanneman would remain the classic-sprint champion and Newell was sixth.
It wasn’t the way anyone wanted it to happen.
“I would rather win without all that shenanigans, but that was one of the few times I’ve actually felt like a move really kind of did affect the race,” the 24-year-old Hanneman said. “So that’s why I wanted to stand behind that.”
As the jury informed both men of their decision inside the timing trailer the finish, Hanneman sat on a table looking down and Newell stood up, smiling. He wasn’t happy. If anything, he was in awe.
“I don’t see how that’s possible. … I don’t really now what they’re thinking,” Newell said. “I think they’re kind of beginners in there.”
For someone who laughed as he said he’s “been to a lot of TD meetings in my life,” Newell’s frustrations were easily understood. Hanneman got it and initially didn’t want to rock the boat. Second was a great result, but he stood behind his coaches’ decision to follow up with the jury. Hanneman is known as one of the most social guys on the circuit, amiable and friends with a lot of people. Newell’s also highly respected at the domestic and international levels.
“That’s what I want it to be. I have nothing against anybody, I don’t want anyone having anything against me,” Hanneman said. “But I don’t want people to abuse that and ski all over me because I’m a nice guy.”
As for the official decision, technical delegate Bill Rogers said Newell was issued a competition suspension for obstruction, something that wouldn’t affect other races this week.
“Basically we had the jury made a decision based on evidence, Andy Newell protested that and so we did have a closed jury meeting, which involves interviewing both the athletes and then separately meeting to go over the evidence,” Rogers said.
The process itself involved calling the athletes and their coaches to the table, which convened outside then moved into a private meeting inside the timing trailer, to review video and photos. Hanneman argued that Newell skied over his skis: “They have pictures of video of him just mobbing all over my gear,” he said.
Newell couldn’t say whether there was contact or not, but said he made a point to get far enough ahead of Hanneman to make his lane change.
“I also changed two tracks over instead of one so I wouldn’t block him,” Newell said. “I guess according to the video he stands up a little bit, but I am barely even going near the tips of his skis, if they did at all.”
The process itself, according to Newell, involves the jury asking each skier involved “was is it intentional or not, is the first question … and it was obviously not intentional,” he said. “And then, was there an advantage or not? And that’s kind of the shady area. It’s not like Reese lost much time, he did maybe stand up for a second and so if you call that an advantage or not, I don’t know because it didn’t really affect the outcome of the race.”
Hanneman said the jury asked about contact first, to which he said, “Absolutely. Was it intentional? That’s more up to [Newell], I have no clue. But to say you accidentally switched tracks? That doesn’t happen. … I felt like once he made that move that kind of decided the race. It seems like they made the right decision even though I wish they didn’t have to make that decision at all.”
Newell knew that because his previous infraction at World Cup Finals last weekend was a technical warning, equivalent to a yellow card on the World Cup (for skating while changing lanes in a classic sprint), it wouldn’t affect anything at SuperTour Finals. Plus, the season was over after these races in Anchorage.
The penalty cost Newell $650 dollars in prize money, plus the $100 he and his coaches had to put forward to protest. At the end of the day, he made $100 for sixth place, which the protest fee negated.
On the flip side, Hanneman took home an extra $250 dollars for the win ($750 for first as opposed to $500 for second). It was the SuperTour leader’s second victory in national-caliber classic sprints this season after he won his first national title at U.S. Cross Country Championships in the classic sprint in January.
But he also knew what the other side of a jury decision felt like. In December, Hanneman was disqualified for skating in a Besh Cup classic sprint — which he initially won.
“I know that it’s not fun but when you do something that’s questionable, like when I skated in Besh Cup, I was like, well, I shouldn’t have done that and know I know,” he said. “You need that to reinforce … Andy needs to know that he can’t make a move like that because it’s not fair racing. You have to some checks like that to keep people in line.”
According to Rogers, “Unfortunately, obstruction in sprints is common. I think it’s very normal.” He declined to explain how the jury made their final decision and the evidence they considered in the process.
At the end of the day, Hanneman was a champion and the 20-year-old Saxton had one of the best races of his career in second — up there with his runner-up finish in the skate sprint at 2014 nationals. He finished 4.74 seconds behind Hanneman (who ultimately won in 3:25.56) and held off Kornfield by 1.49 seconds.
For Kornfield, the 2012 national classic-sprint champion, third stood as his best race of the season. He finished 4 seconds ahead of O’Brien, who ended up fourth, and 13 seconds ahead of Blackhorse-von Jess in fifth.
Saxton said Hanneman and Newell took off toward the bottom of the hill, over the first roller on the way up to the finish. He was caught in the far left lane in fourth and unable to go with them. Despite the fact that he thought he could’ve stuck with them to the finish, Saxton said he was happy with his result — even if it was third at first.
“I haven’t felt this good all year. This was an incredible feeling,” Saxton said.
“Andy and Reese threw down World Cup qualifiers today so that’s pretty awesome,” he added, referring to Newell’s top time of 3:19.52. Hanneman was 2.6 seconds back in second and Blackhorse-von Jess advanced to the heats 4.09 seconds behind Newell in third. Saxton qualified fourth (+7.4).
Saxton went on to win his quarterfinal (as did Newell), as well as the first semifinal by 0.24 seconds over Newell.
“It’s pretty cool for me to get to race against Andy [and] experience that for the first time,” Saxton said. “[Watching him in the quarterfinals] it was incredible dichotomy between him and the other skiers. He’s so relaxed. It’s not that there technique is bad, but it’s just this innate tightness. There’s a laboredness in their movements.”
So to beat him in the semifinal was fun.
“In my semi, we went side by side up the hill, so it was cool to feel that pace and feel the turn of pace,” Saxton said. “It was exciting.”
Hanneman bested O’Brien in the second semifinal by 0.83 seconds. O’Brien and Simi Hamilton (SMST2/USST) also won their quarterfinals, but Hamilton placed fourth in the second semifinal, 2.6 seconds behind Blackhorse-von Jess in third, and did not make the final.
“Reese is skiing incredible,” said Saxton, Hanneman’s roommate in Europe last year, shortly after the finish. “I could not be happier for that guy.”
— Nat Herz contributed reporting
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Alex Kochon (email@example.com) 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.
March 24, 2014 at 8:21 am
Doubt the competition suspension for obstruction against Andy would have happened if it was a World Cup race.
March 24, 2014 at 12:21 pm
March 24, 2014 at 3:44 pm
My wife and I were standing behind the barrier a exactly where this infraction occurred and on the same side of the course. It appeared to us that Newell skied right over the front of Hanneman’s skis–between the tips and the bindings. I remember very clearly looking down and seeing Newell’s skis cross over Hanneman’s. Newell had clearly opted for the shortest distance to the finish, and if I remember correctly he went from the outside lane across the middle two to the inside and Hanneman right with him. Of course, other people may have seen it differently, such is the nature of the beast. We don’t know or have any connections to either of the skiers or their teams.
We didn’t know what the rules were but wondered if this particular lane change was legal and whether any officials saw it. Newell may have thought he had room but suddenly changing directions like that takes a fraction of a second and he and Hanneman were neck and neck. Well, Newell may have had a yard on Hanneman, but not on his skis. It’s easy to see how a racer could misjudge like that just having topped out after such a grueling climb. It’s too bad, because the worst that Newell would have finished otherwise would have been second. As for what people get away with on the World Cup Tour, the other commentors may be correct, but that the officials are there to enforce the rules as best they can.
Newell has several more chances at redemption before the week is out. Likewise, Hanneman has a couple more chances.
It was a great day for spectators and racers. And it looks like that is going to continue. The World Cup and Olympics and Birkie may have larger crowds, but we both were struck by what an intimate experience this race was for spectators. Hooray for the Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage and all the volunteers and workers who put on so many great races and have done so much to put US Nordic skiing on the map.
March 24, 2014 at 5:49 pm
Kudos to the Jury for enforcing the rules.
March 24, 2014 at 8:55 pm
Quite the “tude” coming from Mr. Newell. from Ski Trax…. “On the World Cup they would definitely let that slide,” he said. “It’s not a big deal. We’re just here having fun. The result doesn’t matter to me.” It mattered to some people sir, grow up and get a pair, the young man was close, very close.
March 24, 2014 at 10:03 pm
It was nice of Newell to show up at these races after a long w.c/Olympic season, and Alaska is a looong way to travel for mid-west/eastern based skiers, and given his pay for this effort is probably marginal, and his FIS point profile were invaluable to the top 20 or so finishers in this race. If he says this was common in w.c. races, where he normally races, and would not have been an issue and not questioned, I would believe him. I am sure the race jury made a correct decision applying the rules as they saw them, under the circumantces existing. I can understand, from his perspective, it is not a big deal (major league vs. minors)
March 24, 2014 at 11:11 pm
Teamepokeesbyn, thanks for a broader perspective…
March 25, 2014 at 9:05 am
Since Newell was going faster he should have yelled TRACK and Reese should have moved over and yielded.
March 25, 2014 at 9:25 am
Nexer: I am no expert but i do not believe FIS rules require an the skier being passed to yield to overtaking skier in mass start races any longer. The overtaking skier needs to find his way by without getting interfered with and without interfering.
March 25, 2014 at 9:59 am
@nexer … Ehhhh… No buddy… lol step aside please.
March 25, 2014 at 10:02 am
By the way, that is one crazy track change, def WC track change speed ! Appears Newell is punching through air over the skis. A kitten may have died during that move.
March 25, 2014 at 10:27 am
Well, this old skier just doesn’t understand how blatant rules violation should be the norm in sprint racing. One more reason for me to view it as roller derby on snow. It may not have been intentional, but cheating is cheating, where is the line drawn then? Just because Mr. Newell isn’t taking these races seriously, I imagine the other folks in that race take it very seriously to gain some much needed points for next year and to test their growth of the past season against WC skiers.
March 25, 2014 at 11:03 am
I agree with @nexer, should have yelled track. And for @nyctvt, if it were a WC, he wouldn’t have made it beyond the quarters.
March 25, 2014 at 11:25 am
@aksking and @nexer Go home, you’re drunk. Big Joe is right, gotta avoid the interference, could get a 10 yard penalty for that.
March 25, 2014 at 11:35 am
In these races FIS sanctioned there is no having to give up the track in the finish lanes—-you must change lanes legally—-here is the rule and my thoughts:
343.9 In all competitions obstruction is not allowed. This behavior is defined as deliberately impeding, blocking (by not following best line), charging or pushing any competitor with any part of the body or ski equipment.
I know they do it Europe—-but that doesn’t make it right, they need to stop it in Europe with more disqualifications—-when you talk championships you are talking money and exposure for a lot of years—look at Crawford’s Olympic gold medal and what has she really done since the medal—but, still she gets the acknowledgement ALL the time.
I think that the barging/interference by Jacobson on Sophie in the Ladies Olympic sprint in Sochie may have taken a medal away from Sophie—as she was skiing hot that day. There was video of the action from a helicopter and there was no question as the rule says—CONTACT—-was made-but we’ll never know the real outcome—-and remember the Olympics only happens once every 4 years.
If the focus on all this cheating is going to be dealt with it is going to have to be the Athletes Commission that puts it on the table or should be in my estimation.
March 25, 2014 at 11:36 am
Wasn’t this one of Newell’s best races this year? I guess winning isn’t everything to him, but dome is still dome in my books.
March 25, 2014 at 6:53 pm
I think Reese Hanneman is in for a rude awakening when he starts to compete on a regular basis on the World Cup Sprint circuit.
March 25, 2014 at 7:13 pm
It’s clear why nordork skiing isn’t very popular…
Nascar is killin’ it in popularity because racers are cruisin around at 200 mph nudgin’ and rubbin’… Andy skis over Reese’s ski or something, so they gotta they get a little Jury together and freak out like somebody cut a kindergartner in line… pony up
rubbin’ son.. is racin’
March 26, 2014 at 12:10 pm
If I had a quarter for every time I got knocked down in a crit, I’d have enough money to pay for the Band-Aids I use to cover up my road rash. Like @faceshots said, if we want this sport to grow, we need some fire-throwing, rubber-burning, tire-hitting-face action.
March 26, 2014 at 2:05 pm
My biggest question is what wave will Newell be in for the Birkie next year after he got disqualified?
March 26, 2014 at 2:09 pm
Wait, not disqualified, relegated. All these terms are so confusing to me. I really think this should be a little more of a self-policing sport. When someone steps on my pole and breaks it when I’m skiing up the first powerline hill, there’s no one there to throw him a red card and tell him to move to the back of our train. There’s me, with a broken Force 10 that I use to carve him a new airhole on his neck. And when those chuckleheads from the wave behind me catch up to us around 20K, I’m definitely courteous. That is, right until someone steps on my ski and slows me down for a second. Then it’s go time, and he’ll be lucky if he finishes with the same equipment he started with. And I’m not talking about the stuff strapped to his hands and feet, boys…
March 26, 2014 at 2:16 pm
I think winners should be decided based upon how well their ski suits coordinate with their equipment. This one’s a bit of a toss-up. While Newell’s poles definitely match almost perfectly, there is the issue of skis and boots. Hanneman’s in the same boat though with the skis, and probably less of a match with poles, but you’ve got those absolutely smashing sunglasses he’s got on. I think we better take this decision to the jury!
March 26, 2014 at 2:17 pm
Doubt it, that’s the heart of WC season. It’s really hard for these athletes to make that sort of commitment when WC points are at stake. It’s really a shame, too, since the Birkie is literally the most important race in the world. This was proven this year when the Norge Birkie was canceled.
March 26, 2014 at 2:20 pm
And I agree, excessive matching is next to godliness. Das Hoff showed us that in the distance race. He defines what a brosciple of fashion should be.
March 26, 2014 at 2:25 pm
Does anybody have a take on what the birkie course will be next year?
March 26, 2014 at 2:47 pm
@birkieschmurke SEE?! I’ve been lobbying for some sort of matching category for the world championships for figure skating. The powers that be seem to be turning a blind eye to what clearly should be an important issue. Figure skating is becoming more and more of farce, we need to take things like this seriously.
If skiing wanted to really get themselves into the spotlight, they’d be looking in to this. Imagine all the TV viewership the races would get if there was a style component? Do you know how many people sit at home watching figure skating, and have no idea what the judges’ criteria are? Imagine Nordic Skiing put in this light?!?!?!
March 26, 2014 at 5:23 pm
Marty Hall wrote: “I think that the barging/interference by Jacobson on Sophie in the Ladies Olympic sprint in Sochie may have taken a medal away from Sophie—as she was skiing hot that day. There was video of the action from a helicopter and there was no question as the rule says—CONTACT—-was made”
That’s exactly what I saw on the replay that morning, and I was very surprised that none of the announcers mentioned it. I was watching online and was baffled at where Sophie went when the camera cut away for about 10 seconds. Neither NBC Sports, NBC Sports online, nor CTV made any mention. To my eyes it was pretty blatant.
As for Newell, as with Koos in Rumford I would say nobody wants to DQ those guys, but their actions put them in a position where it’s questionable. In situations like there where they should be the cream of the crop I think skiing clean is the way to leave no doubt.
April 2, 2014 at 9:50 am
There are thousands of well behaved skiers at the Birkie. Why all this concern about one silly event in the middle of nowhere with such sparse attendance? Come to Hayward and we will teach you proper etiquette.