LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Excitement was high in upstate New York as the 2015 NCAA Skiing Championships kicked off in Lake Placid with the men’s 10 kilometer and women’s 5 k freestyle interval starts. Dartmouth’s Patrick Caldwell claimed his first national title, while the University of Utah’s Veronika Mayerhofer led a western sweep in the women’s race.
While Lake Placid has faced a colder-than-average winter, Wednesday welcomed temperatures in the 40s and occasional sun. Snow was hard packed for the men’s race, and conditions were incredibly fast despite the difficulty of the course.
Caldwell finished the 10 k with a time of 25:09.1. The University of Denver’s Moritz Madlener placed second, just 2.1 seconds off the Big Green skier’s winning time. The Univeristy of Colorado’s Rune Malo Ødegård finished third, 26 seconds behind.
Fellow Buff, Mads Ek Støm (+29.8) took fourth, as Montana State University’s Forrest Mahlen (+1:00.7) finished fifth.
Starting in bib 40, Caldwell was the last skier to begin the two-lap race on the challenging Women’s Cross Country Olympic 5 k course at the Mt. Van Hoevenberg Nordic Center. Given the conditions, the Dartmouth sophomore said he entered the race planning to begin fast and maintain high speed until the finish line.
“With the fast conditions I just wanted to go as hard as I could. I tried to get a fast pace from the start and hold it,” he said in a post-race interview.
Caldwell notched the fastest time at the halfway mark, 8 seconds ahead of Madlener. As the Big Green’s skier traversed the second lap his lead over Madlener gradually decreased – at one point it reached 10 seconds but eventually whittled down to 2 seconds. Cakdwell said that he was fading fast by the last kilometers. “The wheels were coming off at the end but I was able to hold it just long enough,” Caldwell said in an interview.
After his victory, Caldwell said that the 10 k freestyle was a target of his in the 2015 season. “I was definitely shooting for this race,” he said. “This is one of my favorite events. I definitely wanted to have a good one today.”
Caldwell is also a member of the U.S. Ski Team D-Team. Given his position between collegiate and national team skiing, the 20-year-old faced a decision – focus solely on skiing or continue racing for Dartmouth. Caldwell chose to spend the winter at school and said that his focus of the season has been to have strong individual and team performances in Lake Placid.
In second place, Denver sophomore Madlener earned his best finish at a NCAA Championships. Last year the German skier placed fifth in the 10 k classic individual start and said his goal was to top the result in either race in Lake Placid. Although he hoped to place better than fifth, Madlener never expected to land on the freestyle podium. The Pioneer said that he was surprised by his second place finish because he is traditionally performs better in the classic technique and didn’t feel strong in the days prior to Wednesday’s race.
Although Madlener was one of the highest ranked skiers he started his race in bib 1, a position that he said had benefits and a drawbacks. “In some ways it’s a disadvantage because you don’t know what the other guys are doing, but I think I had better conditions. I didn’t get information about the others and I think that was good too because you start thinking during the race what the others are doing,” he said.
Madlener has played second fiddle to the dominating Colorado duo of Ødegård and Strøm for the entirety of the western collegiate season. He said it felt good to finish higher than third, especially at the year’s most important races. “There’s always been two Norwegian guys in our region who got third and fourth today. They always tease me and tell me it’s my favorite spot to be third, so I thought today I’m going to show them that I like the second spot too,” he said with a smile.
Ødegård, a senior at CU and two-time NCAA champion, said that the 10 k was one of the best freestyle races of his career. He explained that he paced his race to start slow and finish strong.
“I felt like I had a really strong race, it’s probably one of the best skate races I’ve ever done,” the Norwegian said. “I felt like started smart and I skied faster and faster throughout. I couldn’t believe I was behind because I had a super, super strong race.”
One of the later starters, Ødegård explained he spent much of the race chasing Madlener’s time, which he was ultimately unable to match. He said was impressed with Caldwell’s finish, especially given the slowing conditions that the last starters faced.
“I lost a lot from the top and the end of the last lap. Probably conditions were slowing a bit down there in the last lap but you saw by Caldwell that it was possible to beat it. I just wasn’t strong enough,” he said, adding that he was looking forward to Friday’s classic mass start. Ødegård won the 2013 and 2014 classic races at the NCAA Championships.
Mayerhofer Victorious in 5 k
In the women’s 5 k freestyle the University of Utah’s Veronika Mayerhofer skied to a convincing win with a time of 14:21.4. She bested Denver’s Sylvia Thorson Nordskar by 13.2 seconds. Emilie Cedervaern of the University of New Mexico raced to third, 15.8 seconds back from the victor.
The first American skier, Montana State’s Cambria McDermott (+15.9), finished fourth and 0.1 seconds from third. In fifth was Utah’s Sloan Storey (+22.7).
The women began their race two hours after the men to slightly warmer temperatures and softer snow. Despite the change, the course remained fast and intact for all 40 starters. The western women swept the top 11 to dominate the 5 k. The eastern skiers originally hoped to capitalize on a home course, but their best finish on the day came from Mary Kate Cirelli in 12th. The central regions best finisher was Jordyn Ross in 13th.
Mayerhofer, a freshman, entered Wednesday with low expectations. She had a cold in the days prior to the race and was feeling flat in training. At the start of the race Mayerhofer said her race felt slow. Everything changed after a coach told her she had a one second lead over Nordskar in the first kilometers. According to the Austrian, the news of the lead motivated Mayerhofer to fight for the win and reach the next level of exertion.
The Ute said that she had no particular strategy while fighting on the challenging course that featured several kilometers of climbing. “In a 5 k you have to go as fast as you can,” she said. “Through the first kilometer you have to not kill yourself because it’s a tough course. I think it’s one of the toughest. We are very used to high elevation so you never know how you’re going to feel.”
Mayerhofer said that she enjoys the collegiate circuit because of its focus on the team rather than the individual. With her teammate, Storey also in the top five, Mayerhofer said she was happy to see the team’s training be rewarded at the end of the season.
“It’s my first year of college racing and I was so happy that I could go to the NCAAs,” she said. “I really enjoyed it so much because it is so much for the team and not just individual racing, because cross country skiing is so much on your own. It’s maybe less pressure and everyone is so happy for you.”
Nordskar entered Wednesday’s race with little training or racing logged since the start of the new year, as she sat out much of the season due to illness. Her last race before the Championships was at the Colorado Invite in late January. Although she complained of breathing troubles, Nordskar said she was happy to race again after the draining illness. “I’ve been sick the whole last month and haven’t been able to train,” she said. “That has been difficult but I think I’ve done a good job to comeback and now race.”
Like her DU male counterpart, Nordskar was also the first starter and set the time to beat early on in the race. She said that while the course was challenging, she enjoyed racing at the Olympic venue.
“It was a very hard race but I really liked the course. It’s some brutal hills,” she said. “I really pushed myself today. It was fun and I’m satisfied with my race today even though I couldn’t get to the very top, which was my goal.”
In third was Cedervaern, a New Mexico Junior from Falun, Sweden. The trip to Lake Placid was the Swede’s first NCAA Championships.
“That was good. I was very tired after 2.5 k so I just tried to hammer all the way in,” she said of her race. “5 k is too short to think and I was just trying to hammer the whole way.”
McDermott, a senior at Montana State, said her achievement as the 5 k’s first American was especially satisfying because she was able to share it with her friends and family in attendance. “I’m really excited. It was an awesome course. It was a lot of climbing but I had fast skis and that made it pretty quick,” she said. “I was so happy that my family here to cheer me on and all my friends from home.”
With the first races of the 2015 NCAA Championships complete, the University of Colorado leads the points with 155. The Buffs have won the last two Championships in the East and Wednesday’s race gives them a good beginning to their quest for their 28th championship title. They will have to overcome the University of Utah which sits in second and less than 25 points behind.
The NCAA championships continue on Thursday with the giant slalom at Whiteface Mountain,
2015 NCAA Championships standings after Wednesday (link):
University of Colorado 155
University of Utah 131
University of Vermont 106
University of New Mexico 106
University of Denver 93
Dartmouth College 88
Montana State University 77
Northern Michigan University 76
University of Alaska – Anchorage 56
Williams College 29