It may be Katharine Ogden’s first-ever Junior World Championships, but the 17-year-old Stratton Mountain School (SMS) skier is having a week to remember.
Ogden placed sixth in Friday’s 10-kilometer skiathlon in Almaty, Kazakhstan, following an 11th-place finish in Wednesday’s 5 k freestyle. The American finished just 13.2 seconds behind winner Sofie Nordsveen Hustad of Norway (27:02.8) and was 6.4 seconds from the podium.
“I am beyond stoked about my race today!” Ogden wrote in an email. “Going into the race I was originally hoping for a top 20, but after the 5 k on Wednesday I was really hoping for a top-10 result.”
Ogden explained that the race went smoothly, as she was able to avoid crashing during the hectic mass start. She was then able to maintain a position in the top 20 for the majority of the classic portion.
“It was really cool to be able to ski with some fast, aggressive Europeans and to experience a crazy, Euro-style mass start for the first time,” she wrote.
Germany’s Victoria Carl broke away during the first lap of the skate portion, and Ogden joined the pack chasing her down. By the second of two skate laps, the lead group had dwindled down to six skiers and was fairly spread out, Ogden explained.
“Katharine would charge on the climbs, leading the pack uphill and the Russians would immediately react over the climbs and pull in front,” U.S. Ski Team Development Coach Bryan Fish wrote in an email to the press. “It was a hard fought battle on a challenging 2.5 k skate course.”
Ogden would finish in the back of the lead pack, but was just 2.2 seconds behind fifth-place Anastasia Sedova of Russia (+11.0).
“This was a really good, encouraging result for me, and going forward it is really awesome to have the learning experience from my first international mass-start race,” Ogden wrote.
Fish said that Ogden’s result – along with Ian Torchia’s 11th-place finish in the men’s skiathlon – is outstanding in the history of distance racing at Junior Worlds.
“Both Katharine and Ian’s results are in a very small group in the history of U.S. Junior World cross-country ski results. Historically, we have had strong results in junior sprinting and U23,” Fish explained in an email to FasterSkier.
U.S. Women’s Head Coach Matt Whitcomb posted on Facebook that Ogden’s result tied the best women’s Junior Worlds distance result, men or women, after Kristina Tryggstad-Saari placed sixth in the 5 k freestyle in 2002.
“The future is bright for the U.S.!” Whitcomb wrote.
Fish added that there is no special way the U.S. team prepared for the skiathlon – they just treated it like any other distance race.
“The athletes often do two-a-day training where one ski discipline is in the AM and another in the PM, so the body is already somewhat accustomed to it. Certainly, practice is necessary to transition from classic to skate back-to-back,” he explained.
Fish added that based on Ogden and Torchia’s results, “the whole team is riding a high. We’re going to feed off this energy tomorrow for the U23 skiathlon races.”
Meanwhile, Canadian National Junior Team and Nakkertok member Katherine Stewart-Jones cracked the top 15 in 14th (+1:34.0) and Anne-Marie Comeau (CNEPH/NST-Junior) was 25th (+2:02.0).
Stewart-Jones wrote in an email that she was very happy with Friday’s result, as she accomplished her goal of earning a top-15 finish in a distance race at Junior Worlds.
“It is my last individual race I’ll get to do as a junior at Worlds and so I couldn’t be happier with how it finished,” the 19-year-old wrote.
She explained that the race was chaotic from start.
“There were girls falling everywhere and breaking poles. I just focused on staying on my feet, avoiding trouble, and skiing relaxed. I got myself into a good position at the end of the classic leg and was skiing with a big group of girls,” she wrote.
She explained that she felt strong heading into the skate, and was leading the large group of skiers behind the lead group. The other skiers would draft her on the downhills, which made it hard to break away, so Stewart-Jones knew she would have to make her move on the final hill.
“The last kilometer is a blur. I just skied as hard as I could and didn’t think about anything else,” she wrote.
During that last kilometer, she distanced herself from the large group and held on during the final stretch to take 14th.
“All in all, it is such a great feeling to have improved from last year’s 31st place and this is definitely some motivation for the next races and training season!” she wrote.
Comeau managed to avoid getting tangled up at the start and was 29th after the classic portion and 58.5 seconds behind Carl, who led after the classic (13:00.7). However, she picked up the pace after the transition and had the 14th-fastest skate, beating Kazakhstan’s Angelina Shuryga by 0.3 seconds to earn a top-25 finish.
After Hustad, the other podium spots were filled by Carl in second (+2.0) and Sweden’s Ebba Andersson in third (+6.8).
“After the classic [portion] I was in fourth or fifth place, so I didn’t expect to become a champion today,” Hustad told the International Ski Federation (FIS). “I had amazing skis, I just glided into the finish line.”
Andersson said to FIS, “The course is very tough and fun at the same time. I really did not expect that I would be on the podium. Of course I am very happy today!”
Other North American skiers included Americans Hailey Swirbul (Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club) in 35th (+2:45.4), Julia Kern (Cambridge Sports Union) in 38th (+3:19.1), and Alayna Sonnesyn (University of Vermont) in 50th (+4:56.2).
Canadian Maya Macisaac-Jones (Rocky Mountain Racers/NST-Junior) finished in 45th (+4:00.9) while Annah Hanthorn (Whitehorse) was 47th (+4:36.2).
Hanthorn was faced with some unusual adversity, as Canadian High-Performance Development Coordinator Lisa Patterson told Cross Country Canada.
“Annah had her skis taken from the exchange box by a Finnish skier. Annah wasted at least 30 seconds searching and then skied on the Finn’s skis. At the end of the race she was extremely polite and showed no anger, and actually congratulated the Finnish racer. On a positive note, both said their skis were fast,” Patterson said.
Junior Worlds finish in Almaty on Sunday with the men’s 4 x 5 k relay and the women’s 4 x 3.3 k relay.
– Alex Kochon contributed reporting