WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. — Katharine Ogden, or KO as she’s known to many of her friends on the SuperTour circuit, used patience, pacing and tactics to deliver a knock-out punch to the rest of the women’s field in the first distance SuperTour race of the 2015/2016 season.
Cold temperatures persisted in West Yellowstone, the annual site of the season-opening SuperTour races, but despite a one-hour start delay to let temperatures rise, the competition heated up quickly. The course for the women’s 10-kilometer freestyle individual start was flatter than many that the SuperTour regulars face throughout the season, but because they also offer fewer opportunities to glide on downhills, courses with less climbing aren’t always easier. Saturday’s race utilized a 5 k loop in near-perfect, cold conditions.
As a concession to the cold, racers started at 15-second intervals, and after about 20 B-seeded skiers through, the elite women in the field started out on the course.
Chelsea Holmes of Alaska Pacific University (APU), certainly one of the favorites heading into the day, was one of the first A-seeds to start.
“I was psyched on the late start – I love a long morning,” Holmes said in a post-race interview. “My skis were great, the techs worked really hard and did an amazing job, but honestly, I was rather terrified in my warmup. I just felt smashed.”
An experienced competitor, Holmes, 28, didn’t let that get to her.
“I don’t think that how you feel in warmup is always an indication of how your race is going to go, so I just tried to keep that in mind,” she said.
However, as one of the first A-seeds on the course, Holmes didn’t get a lot of feedback regarding her position in comparison to others.
“I tried not to let it affect me, I was going as hard as I could, and honestly, I don’t know if those splits would have made any difference,” she said. “I was focused on my race plan and not really thinking about what was happening behind me.”
Holmes is often a fast starter, and Saturday was no exception. She had a strong lead at 5 k, and at the 7.5 k mark, she was still some 22 seconds ahead of Ogden, according to splits from coaches on course.
A U.S. Ski Team rookie, Ogden of the Stratton Mountain School (SMS) started 15 seconds behind Holmes. In the same distance opener last year, Ogden, who turned 18 earlier this month, placed second in West Yellowstone.
Going into Saturday’s race, she said she was “feeling pretty nervous but trying not to think about it … I had a lot of expectations, partly because I had a pretty good day last year on this course.”
After a good warmup, and feeling that her “skis were really fast,” she set out behind Holmes and 15 seconds ahead of of eventual third-place finisher, Emilie Cedervaern of the University of New Mexico.
“My first lap was pretty slow actually,” Ogden said. “That wasn’t part of my race plan, but it happens to me pretty often. … I was pretty psyched because I was starting behind Chelsea Holmes, and she’s really fast. It was awesome to be able to get a glimpse of her now and then and think ‘OK, this is a good race because she hasn’t completely dropped me!’ ”
As the race progressed, Ogden continued to ski well, but didn’t pose an obvious threat.
“Emilie actually passed me at one point,” Ogden reflected, “but I managed to pass her back.”
At the 7.5 k mark, with just 2.5 k left to go, on-course splits indicated that Ogden was still some 20 seconds down to Holmes, skiing in third or fourth place. In those last few kilometers, however, she found another gear.
“I was getting myself back into a position where I could see Chelsea again, and at the bottom of the last hill, my coach Matt Boobar told me that I was only four seconds down. I thought, ‘OK, maybe I can catch up.”
She did. At the finish, Ogden clocked 27:07 minutes, beating Holmes’ time by 1.8 seconds.
As the A-seed skiers continued to roll in to the finish, it became apparent that Holmes and Ogden had outpaced the rest of the field. When final results were posted, the up-and-comer Ogden had eked out the victory and Cedervaern held on for third, 35.6 seconds behind Ogden. It was her first SuperTour win and third podium.
Despite narrowly missing the win, Holmes, who placed fourth in Friday’s sprint, called it a “very successful start to the race season.”
In a text message after the race, Cedervaern wrote that she was generally happy with her race despite feeling “tired and slow” between 5 and 7 k. “Other than that I thought it went very well!” she wrote.
Six-and-a-half seconds off the podium, Jennie Bender, who won Friday’s freestyle sprint, placed fourth (+42.1). The Bridger Ski Foundation skier finished 3.1 seconds ahead of the University of Utah’s Veronika Mayerhofer in fifth (+45.2), and Caitlin Patterson (Craftsbury Green Racing Project) was sixth (+52.4).
Seventh through ninth were separated by half a second, with APU’s Rosie Frankowski in seventh (+53.4), Eliska Hajkova, a Boulder Nordic Junior Racing Team coach, in eighth (+53.6), and Becca Rorabaugh (APU) in ninth (+53.9). Utah’s Sloan Storey rounded out the top 10 in 10th (+1:01).
The SuperTour’s next stop is in Sun Valley, Idaho, for next weekend’s classic sprint and distance races.
About the Author: Travis followed up a somewhat undistinguished competitive career with the University of Colorado with coaching positions in Steamboat, Boise, and most recently as the Gold Team Coach in Sun Valley. As of 2011, he works with middle school skiers, including his own two boys, and sells second homes to dot-com millionaires in Nordic Town USA: Sun Valley, Idaho.