Swirbul Sizzles, Kirkeng Dominates U.S. National Championships 10 k Individual

Ken RothJanuary 2, 2023

HOUGHTON, MICHIGAN:  Welcome to FasterSkier’s on-location coverage of the United States National Cross- Country Ski Championships from Houghton, Michigan.

This week, Houghton hosts the U.S. National Cross-Country Championships on the Michigan Technological University’s trail system. The U.S. Nationals mean many things to different competitors. For some, it’s their initiation into the world of high-end competitive ski racing; for others it’s their chance to burnish their credentials; and for still others it’s a combination of competition and enjoyment of skiing.

Today’s competition was the 10-kilometer individual start freestyle race. The women’s race was first, starting at 9:30, followed by the men’s start at 12:30.

Top ten results, Women’s U.S. nationals (Photo: FasterSkier)

The weather in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has been extremely atypical for this time of year with temperatures hitting almost 40 degrees and only dropping to freezing in the evening. Fortunately, a deep snowpack provided good conditions.  With temperatures hovering around freezing with moist snow, it would have been disastrous for a classic race, but today, the conditions were fast and forgiving, close to ideal for a skate race.

U.S. Nationals, Men’s results. (Photo: Fasterskier)
The Results

The women’s competition was won by US National Team member, Hailey Swirbul (Alaska Pacific University Nordic). She was followed in second by National Team member Novie McCabe (University of Utah), with Sydney Palmer-Leger (University of Utah) in third.

The men’s first-place finisher was Andreas Kirkeng from Norway (University of Denver). In second place was John Steel Hagenbuch, (Dartmouth College), and in third place was David Norris (Steamboat Springs Winter Sports).

Men’s podium U.S. Nationals (l-r John Steel Hagenbuch, Andreas Kirkeng, David Norris. (Photo: Fasterskier)
The Race

The men’s race was dominated by the Norwegian, Kirkeng, a college sophomore who won by over 30 seconds. It was a performance made all the more impressive by the fact that as Kirkeng told Fasterskier, he had returned from Europe only five days prior to the race, having travelled home for the holidays. Kirkeng lives 30 minutes from Oslo, and had spent the holidays in the mountains.

It was the first time on these trails for the Norwegian who professed a liking for the course. Kirkeng told Fasterskier that, “The course is really broken into two parts, long straight ups and downs where you really just have to find the flow, and the second half is short kickers with a lot of transitions, you really have to be on top of everything and work hard for it.”

He also told Fasterskier that he had tried out some strategies yesterday with race prep intervals, but that, “There’s no real resting point, so you have to ski smart and save energy where you can.  Save some on the uphills and really pursue the turns.”

The moist snow didn’t faze the Colorado student since it’s very similar to what he has at home in Norway. For the young Norwegian, the podium is a foundation for his young career.

Andreas Kirkeng charging onto lap two as he heads toward victory. (Photo : Fasterskier)

Second place finisher Steel Hagnenbuch, a Dartmouth freshman, told FasterSkier that he was familiar with the course having skied it as a junior in 2020. “It skis almost like an altitude course in that there’s a lot of sustained working sections,” he said. “I thought it was really important to be strong and composed in the working section, that’s probably four minutes of big V-2 work.”

US Ski Team veteran David Norris—who was pulling double duty as both a racer and a coach for S.S.W.S.—told Faster skier that he was, “Grateful to the club letting him coach and race simultaneously.” Norris’s strategy was, “To settle in on the climbs and work all the gradual rolling stuff.” Norris’ experience was able to bring some perspective to the fact that fluoro waxes were not allowed in this race. It was Norris’s first time at a National Championship level race without fluoro waxes. “With a two lap course, it’s really interesting,” he said. “You can see where you glided to on the first lap compared to the second lap. With the new waxes, it seemed like they slowed down after 5 k, but it was quick snow.”

David Norris on his way to a podium in Houghton.  (Photo: FasterSkier)

Norris expressed a theme repeated by skiers through the day: “Racing U.S. Nationals is the absolute best. It’s awesome, 50% of the faces here are familiar and friends . . . I like being here with all of my friends.”

The theme of fun mixed with competition was repeated by women’s champion, Swirbul.

“I’m so happy to be here.  It’s not that the pressure or expectations go away, but there’s so many positive things about the ski community as a whole here … getting to see kids of all ages racing and seeing parents cheering.  That environment makes me fall in love with skiing again.”                                         Hailey Swirbul

Swirbul agreed with Steel Hagnenbuch that the course feels like skiing at altitude.  She said, “It’s super sustained most of the way, it reminds me of altitude racing actually. You have to continuously grind the whole way.” She continued that, “This is my fourth or fifth time in Houghton; it’s always fun to come here and push your limits with the best skiers in the country.”

Hailey Swirbul starting her journey on the way to first place. (Photo: FasterSkier)

Fourth place skier Sarah Goble (Bridger Ski Foundation) attended MTU.  She told Fasterskier the home field advantage definitely helped. “I skied here almost every day for three years. It’s really cool to be back in Michigan.”

APU coach Galen Johnston reiterated how the U.S. Nationals mean different things to different racers. “For some it’s a chance to come and establish the work that’s been done over the course of the year,” he said. “For some it’s a first time here, just coming and seeing what it’s all about.” He continued that for the first timers it’s “A chance for them to get full service from the ski perspective, and a chance to race with the best in the world. It’s a learning experience, so they can see what the next level looks like.”

The carnage that awaits finishers at Houghton (Photo: FasterSkier)

All racers and coaches Fasterskier spoke with had high praise for the venue, the quality of organization and conditions. Racing in Houghton continues on Wednesday with Men’s and Women’s Classic Sprints. Tune in to FasterSkier for livestreaming and race coverage.

Men’s and Women’s 10 k Freestyle, Full Results

 

Ken Roth

Ken lives in Southeastern Michigan. He's an avid outdoor sport enthusiast. He's an attorney, former Mayor of Northville, Michigan, and former bowling center owner. He's spent much of the last 35 years trying to chase down his wife on classic skis; to no avail.

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