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“It’s almost cheating, having that good of skis,” Rune Ødegård of the University of Colorado joked after wining the men’s 10 k individual classic at the NCAA Championships Thursday. The junior from Molde, Norway defended his 2013 10 k classic title in spectacular form, with a time of 24:34.5.
“It’s been a goal all season, winning NCAA again. It’s a good feeling right now,” said the 24-year-old of his win.
Thursday’s NCAA races were held at Soldier Hollow in Midway, Utah, the venue of the 2014 U.S. Cross Country Championships, but the scene could not have looked more different than it did in January.
Instead of a blanket of snow and bluebird skies often associated with the venue, the clouds were abundant and grey, there was hardly any snow to be seen, and temperatures were in the 50s. The ground would have been completely brown and barren had it not been for the white trail of manmade snow that snaked around the site of the 2002 Olympics.
Such conditions are often terrible for waxing, especially for western teams who are used to pristine extra-blue days. Today, however, they got it right.
Ødegård started 15 seconds behind the University of Vermont’s Scott Patterson, a favorite in Thursday’s race who ended his day in 24th. Originally planning to catch Patterson and work together, the norwegian changed his mind.
“I soon realized that I had so fast skis that it was better for me to go at it alone after catching up with him,” he said. “Obviously it worked out really well.”
After passing Patterson, Ødegård picked off the competitors in front of him one-by-one, a difficult feat when racing in the top seed.
“I saw people ahead of me all the time, and it gives me kick to catch up to people.”
While racing the twists and turns of the Soldier Hollow 5 k, Ødegård knew the race would be won on the transitions of the course rather than the large climbs.
“It’s all about being smart and using energy where you can and not killing yourself up Hermod’s. (the largest climb of the course). Everyone skis that hill pretty much the same pace, it’s all about using the rest of the course,” he said.
For Ødegård, the win represents not only a personal legacy in the NCAA Championships, but also a family tradition. Two of his siblings were both part of the Colorado ski team with his sister, Unni, who was a member of the NCAA Championship teams in 1998 and 1999 and his brother, Gier, who was part of the second place team in 2002.
Hoping to continue the legacy, Ødegård thinks that both he and his team have what it takes to claim a national title again.
“It’s a new day,” he said of Saturday’s race. “I know me and Mads [Strøm] are strong skiers so we try to go for the two top spots. That’s going to be the goal. I know it will be tough. It’s NCAAs. its why we’re here; it’s what we were training for all season.”
Colorado currently sits in third behind Denver and Utah.
Second place finisher Pierre Guedon, a sophomore at the University of Denver, stared his first year at the school with a bang. After transferring from five years of school in his native France, the 25-year-old has had a breakout season with the pioneers.
Initially discouraged with his second place starting position in Thursday’s race, Pierre rocketed out from the gate to catch the first starter and eventual third place finisher Niklas Persson of the University of Utah. The pair skied together for the majority of the race, using each other as motivation throughout the course.
“I don’t like to have an early bib, because we don’t have good splits,” he said. “But the coaches were all around the track. I knew I was doing a good race.”
For Guedon, the result was more about his team than his individual result.
“It was an amazing team performance for the girls and guys. We knew that we had a good team. We crushed it all season long,” he said.
It was indeed a good day for Denver. Not only did Guedon finish second, but teammates Moritz Madlener and Trygve Marskat placed fifth and eighth, earning them 89 points.
The men’s success in tandem with the women’s 80 point performance rocketed Denver into first in the rankings, 55 points ahead of the University of Utah.
Dave Stewart, head coach of the Denver nordic team, was ecstatic with this team’s results.
“It was one of our strongest days ever at NCAAs. We looked to improve over the season and have some of our best races of the season, so it’s really great to see that,” he said. Stewart sited waxing and the athlete’s patience as a key to today’s success.
As the team shifts their focus to Saturday’s mass start, there is once main goal.
“Our goal is always to win this thing,” said Stewart.
But Denver isn’t going to be able to claim the NCAA title without a fight.
Coming in third place, Persson, a sophomore of the University of Utah, made his team’s intentions very clear. “We want to win. This is our home course and we are here to win. That’s definitely the goal. So it’s important for the team that we do well,” he said.
NCAA racing continues Friday with the slalom races held at Park City Mountain Result. Saturday will mark the conclusion of NCAA racing with the much-anticipated 15 k and 20 k freestyle mass starts. It will be then that the 2014 title is decided and the goals that each team has been working towards this year will either be realized or re-shelved for next season.
Team Standings (after two of four events):
New Mexico 232
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Lander Karath is FasterSkier's Associate Editor from Bozeman, Montana and a Bridger Ski Foundation alumnus. Between his studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, he is an outdoor enthusiast and a political junkie.