When Australian Phillip Bellingham lunged for the finish line in the men’s 2017 Kangaroo Hoppet a week ago on Saturday, Aug. 26, in Falls Creek, Victoria, it wasn’t his fellow national team member Callum Watson he had to worry about. Nor was it anyone sporting a suit with the Australian flag. It was a skier wearing the colors of Norway.
The winner, however, was not Norwegian. It was American Miles Havlick, a 27-year-old Boulder, Colo., native. Why was he sporting a Scandinavian suit while racing in the Southern Hemisphere? School.
After retiring from professional skiing and leaving the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) Gold Team in 2016, Havlick enrolled at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway, to obtain a master’s degree in exercise physiology (he received an undergraduate degree in exercise physiology from the University of Utah in 2013) through NTNU’s two-year program.
When the Norwegian university went on summer “holiday”, Havlick spent it the way any diehard skier might: on snow. From the beginning of July until the end of August, Havlick worked as the international guest coach for the Birkebeiner Ski Club in Mount Beauty, a small town in Victoria, Australia. Along with leading adult ski clinics, Havlick worked with local primary school and high schoolers as well.
“They have a very welcoming and passionate ski community down there and it was great to experience the skiing culture in the Southern Hemisphere,” Havlick wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “Obviously, I spent a lot of time on snow over the past few months which provided a good opportunity to try to burn off some Tim Tams in between coaching sessions.”
That appeared to be enough for Havlick’s Hoppet performance, which came at the end of his two-month break from school. He, Bellingham, Watson, and Switzerland’s Valerio Leccardi broke away from the pack by 1o k on the course’s infamous “Paralyzer Climb”. From there, the four exchanged the lead until the final push to the finish.
“The last kilometer was pretty hectic with finishers from the Joey and Birkie events clogging up the trail which made weaving around other competitors pretty tactical,” Havlick wrote of the busy race day. “Going into the race, I knew I probably wasn’t in as great of shape as the others but if I could just manage to hang on until the end I would have a shot in the final kick. The race organizers and volunteers did an amazing job with this event and I will certainly be back!”
Havlick outlunged Bellingham by two-tenths of a second for the win in a time of 1:37:24.2 hours. Bellingham claimed second, just one second ahead of Leccardi in third (+1.2).
Missing the podium by 2.8 seconds was Watson in fourth, four seconds back from Havlick’s winning time. A second American and Havlick’s former teammate, Matt Gelso (SVSEF) finished fifth, 4 minutes and 36.2 seconds after Havlick. Gelso won last year’s Kangaroo Hoppet, and returned this year, arriving in Australia a week prior to the event.
“My race played out much differently with me getting dropped relatively early but that wasn’t entirely unexpected,” Gelso, 29, wrote in an email. “I of course was going for the win again this year but it was not to be. Mainly I was happy to be out racing and training after a very frustrating and challenging last 2 months.”
Gelso and his SVSEF teammate Mary Rose spent seven days in Australia before joining their other Gold Team teammates and head coach Chris Mallory in New Zealand.
“Now I am in New Zealand to put in some good specific volume training and do some more racing,” Gelso wrote. “As for more marathons, I am not totally sure. I will possibly race in the Merino Muster down here at Snow Farm but other than that I have not planned out next race season beyond US Nationals.”
Also finishing in the men’s top 10 was American Andre Lovett in seventh (+7:56.2). American Jeremy Hecker placed 14th (+13:25.5), Canadian Caelan Pangman McLean was 15th (+13:30.0), American Jeffery Clarke 68th (+44:04.2), Canadian Dayle Gilliatt 109th (+1:03:04.0), American Aris Apostolou 111th (+1:03:30.5), Canadian Robert Palliser 114th (+1:04:38.3), Canadian Pierre Ethier 126th (+1:09:52.0), Canadian John Wragg 153rd (+1:22:44.5), American Charlie Dee 157th (+1:27:51.9), American Jay Wiener 202nd (+2:13:32.4), and American Robert Saalfeld 205th (+2:22:06.4).
Rose’s Podium Repeat
In the women’s 42 k race, Australian Barbara Jezersek won in a time of 1:46:59.8. Rose placed second, 5 minutes, 42.8 seconds later. It was Rose’s second straight year as the Hoppet runner-up, having been edged by her SVSEF teammate Deedra Irwin last year.
“I competed in the Hoppet last year and absolutely loved the event!” Rose wrote in an email. “It is exciting to be racing in August and surrounded by over 1,000 cross-country skiing enthusiasts. It is a unique event and one that I plan on attending well after I am done skiing at the elite level.”
Rose’s week in Australia was intended to be used as a chance to adjust to the time zone prior to her club team’s on-snow camp in New Zealand and to get a longer race effort in.
“Like any race, I wanted to win,” Rose wrote of the Hoppet. “I knew that was a lofty goal but one that I thought was achievable.”
The pace set by Jezersek, however, held off Rose from the win and gave the 26-year-old Steamboat Springs, Colo., native a second Hoppet place finish for the second year in a row.
“Barbara Jezersek is a very strong skier and has some notable finishes on the World Cup and at the Olympics,” Rose wrote. “From the start Barbara was skiing very strong and aggressively weaving in and out of all the elite-wave racers. It was difficult to follow her and hold her pace while navigating everyone around us. Once she broke away I skied with 3 other guys until the last 15km and then had to push it in solo. It was an awesome event this year with perfect weather and lots of snow!”
Following Rose was France’s Iris Pessey in third (+8:40.6). The only other North American senior woman to participate in the event, American Kayla Billett, raced to 16th (+47:34.5).
Close to 230 men and 62 women raced the 2017 Hoppet, Australia’s international ski marathon and a Worldloppet. Though Havlick, this year’s male winner, indicated that racing is no longer his priority, he does have a few more marathons he’s keeping in mind.
“At the moment, I hope to compete in the China Tour de Ski during the first week of January which includes the Chinese Vasa and then maybe a marathon or two this spring if it works with my school schedule,” Havlick wrote. “For the most part, my ski racing days are behind me but it was pretty fun to jump into the mix for the Hoppet and come out on top!”