Earning the best finish for an American male at this year’s Junior World Championships, Ian Torchia narrowly missed the top 10 in Friday’s 20-kilometer skiathlon in Almaty, Kazakhstan. He placed 11th and finished 2:15 behind winner Alexey Chervotkin of Russia (48:53.3).
Torchia (Northern Michigan University) explained in an email that he started in the back of the pack and managed to avoid a crash before picking off other skiers throughout the classic portion. He was 13th going into the exchange – 48.7 seconds behind Chervotkin, who had the fastest classic leg in 24:10.7 – and wrote that in the skate portion he skied with two other skiers vying for 10th.
“Going into the final downhill I was 11th and one of them went down,” the 18-year-old Torchia wrote. “For a split second I had a moment of elation as I moved into 10th but a Swede [Axel Ekström] sling-shotted right by me to outsprint me for 10th.”
Torchia added that he was excited to finish 11th, especially considering he has one more year of eligibility as a junior.
He wrote that the goal for his first Junior Worlds was to finish in the top 15 of both distance races. While he was discouraged by his 35th-place finish in Wednesday’s 10 k freestyle, he was motivated after watching teammate Katharine Ogden finish sixth in the women’s skiathlon an hour before the men’s start on Friday.
“It really fired me up to go out there and move up as much as possible,” he wrote.
U.S. Ski Team Head Coach Chris Grover tweeted his support after Friday’s race, writing, “Huge results by Katherine Ogden and Ian Torchia today in Almaty. Some of the best WJC results in U.S. distance history. Congrats to all!”
Torchia added that seeing the Russian domination at Junior Worlds is “unbelievable” and will be a source of inspiration during training this coming summer.
The Russian team has indeed been dominant, sweeping the junior men’s podium for the second consecutive race. Finishing just behind Chervotkin, Ivan Yakimushkin was second (+1.6) and Denis Spitsov took third (+2.5), nearly a minute ahead of fourth-place Eirik Sverdrup Augdal of Norway (+1:00.9).
“We didn’t expect that we will be standing together on the podium … there [was] no strategy from the beginning of the race,” Yakimushkin told the International Ski Federation (FIS). “When we [overtook] all the rest, we started to work harder supporting each other.”
Spitsov said to FIS that the amazing weather conditions — the sun was out and the temperature hovered around freezing during the race — helped him collect his second medal of Junior Worlds.
“I did my best and am satisfied with the result. I would also like to congratulate my teammates; great day for the Russian team!” he said.
Alexis Dumas, of the Pierre-Harvey National Training Centre (CNEPH) and the Canadian National Junior Team, was the top Canadian in 18th (+2:41.6).
“My race went really well. I’m super happy with the result. I knew that if I was in good shape and the skis were good I could make the top 20,” the 19-year-old Dumas wrote in an email.
He added that his wax technicians gave him incredible skis for both the classic and skate portions.
He wrote that the start of the race was chaotic, but like Torchia, he was able to avoid falling like many of the other skiers. At the end of the first lap, he skied aggressively enough to put himself in a good position, and at one point found himself skiing just beside the Russians in the first line. However, he relaxed a bit and was not able to maintain the furious pace of the Russian-led lead pack.
After the classic portion, he was 17th, and 1:00.2 behind Chervotkin.
“In skate I just tried to stay with the guys in front of me, but I was starting to feel very tired,” he wrote.
Despite the exhaustion, Dumas was able to break away from the group he was skiing with and ended up chasing Norway’s Gaute Kvaale in the final kilometer. He made up significant ground but, as he said in a Cross Country Canada press release, was not able to “close the deal” at the finish. He ended up just 0.4 seconds behind Kvaale (51:34.5).
Dumas said that making the top 20 gives him a major boost in confidence, especially as he transitions to the U23 category next year.
While the rest of the North American men were outside the top 30, a few crashed in the frantic start. U.S. Ski Team Development Head Coach Bryan Fish wrote in an email to the press that Evan Weinman damaged a classic ski and Thomas Bye broke a pole.
He added that the crashes at the start were the result of the course’s technical nature along with fast snow conditions.
Weinman (Middlebury) would end up finishing 57th (+6:19.1) and Thomas Bye (Michigan Tech) placed 67th (+9:14.8) out of 69 finishers.
On the Canadian side, Ricardo Izquierdo-Bernier (CNEPH/NST-Junior) took 41st (+5:07.6) and had the 28th-fastest skate ski, while teammate Philippe Boucher (CNEPH/NST-Junior) was 53rd (+6:13.0) and Zachary Cristofanilli (CNEPH/NST-U23) finished in 60th (+7:22.1).
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.
– Chelsea Little and Alex Kochon contributed reporting