ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Friday was a good day for Team Hanneman and its friends. Younger brother Logan Hanneman won the qualifier, older brother Reese Hanneman won the final, and Alaska Pacific University (APU) put three skiers in the final and two on the podium in the men’s freestyle sprint on a bluebird day at Kincaid Park on Day 2 of racing at the 2018 U.S. Cross Country Championships.
A long day of sprint racing got underway with the men’s qualifier at 10 a.m., precisely 10 minutes before the official sunrise. But it was already brighter then than at any point during the day on Wednesday, when a sodden snowfall blotted out most of the daylight and APU skier Rosie Frankowski openly mused about wearing a headlamp during her warmup.
Friday, by contrast, brought light fog in the morning, burning off to reveal full sunshine during the heart of the day and bring actual warmth to the hundreds of fans lining the sprint course around Kincaid Stadium and up and down the Gong Hill. Temperatures had reached as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit during the night before, and were never much above 19 degrees during the day Friday. The course of mostly manmade snow, with a mixture of natural snow from the roughly three inches that fell on Wednesday, was firm and fast. There was no wind. In stark contrast to the slush racers experienced on Wednesday, conditions were essentially perfect.
Logan Hanneman Fastest in Qualifying
Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess (Bend Endurance Academy) led out the field of 191 men with bib No. 1 for the qualifier. Less than an hour later, APU skier Logan Hanneman had proven fastest in the individual time-trial portion of the day.
Logan’s time on the 1.6-kilometer course was 3:07.40. The 24 year old was followed, on the imaginary but meaningful “qualifier podium,” by Kevin Bolger, of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) in second, 0.48 seconds back, and Reese Hanneman in third, 1.13 seconds behind.
The rest of the qualifying top 10 were Nick Michaud (Bridger Ski Foundation) in fourth, Martin Bergström (University of Utah) in fifth, Dag Frode Trollebø of the University of Denver (DU) in sixth, Cole Morgan (SVSEF) in seventh, Tyler Kornfield (APU) in eighth, Eivind Romberg Kvaale (DU) in ninth, and Gus Schumacher (Alaska Winter Stars), Wednesday’s top junior in the distance race, in 10th.
Brian Gregg, representing Central Cross Country (CXC), Loppet Nordic Racing (LNR) and Team Gregg, took the coveted 30th and final qualifying spot, 8.82 seconds back from Logan. Nicholas Sweeney (DU) was another second-plus back in 31st.
This laundry list of results is of more than academic interest if you are a male sprinter trying to make the U.S. Olympic team for next month’s Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang. As FasterSkier recently explained, the points list for Olympic selection “will only consider qualification-round finish placing,” and not an athlete’s final position based on racing in the heats. Notably, while both Logan Hanneman (fifth in his semifinal) and the day’s fastest female qualifier, Anne Hart (third in her semifinal), did well, neither of them made their respective final.
If there was one person who had seen Logan Hanneman’s speedy qualifying time coming, it was his older brother.
“He’s one of the best qualifiers,” Reese, 28, said of Logan before this season began. This was true on Friday even though Logan was racing with a dislocated rib, according to Kornfield.
“So the fact that he won the qualifier is unbelievable,” Kornfield said after.
The added significance of the qualifier result for U.S. Olympic selection purposes, coupled with the desire to still have enough energy left to ski well through three rounds of heats, was on the radar of all three eventual podium finishers.
“I would say all the top sprinting guys, everyone’s focusing kind of on the qualifier, more so than normal,” Reese said on Friday. “There’s no margin for error, and you just have to ski it absolutely as fast as possible. It’s definitely different tactics than in the heats… but if you’re fast, you’re fast.”
According to Bolger, who finished second in both qualifying and the final, the significance of the qualifier “absolutely” affected his approach to the day overall.
“Definitely wanted to go into the qualifier and have a strong result,” Bolger said. “I was happy with being second, just barely behind Logan, which I was bummed about but also super happy – there’s a lot weighing on it. So to be able to have a good qualifier, and then still be able to, I think, ski strong throughout the heats, and then into the final – I think that says just as much. So overall I’m really happy.”
“All the pressure was on the qualifier,” echoed Kornfield, who finished third in the final after qualifying in eighth. “I’m normally not very good at qualifying, so the chance of me making that [No. 1 qualifying] spot would have been a moonshot, but I was happy with how I qualified. I know that if I qualify well, then my heats go well, so I was just, after qualifying well, trying to get back and focus on the heats.”
Reese Takes First Throughout Heats
Of the three podium finishers, Reese and Bolger had the smoother paths throughout the day. Reese was first in his quarterfinal and first in his semifinal to automatically advance to the final, winning each heat by less than 0.2 seconds. Similarly, Bolger won his quarterfinal, then was second to Reese in a fast semifinal, 0.17 seconds back.
Kornfield skied fast enough in his semifinal to earn a lucky loser bid for the final in fourth, after finishing second behind Reese in his quarterfinal. The top-four men in that second semifinal all finished within less than a second of Reese as the winner, and both lucky losers — Kvaale in third and Kornfield — came from that heat.
Throughout the rounds, Reese skied fairly close to the front throughout the day. In his quarterfinal, the men’s fifth of the day, he was one of three skiers near the lead as the pack took a righthand turn heading up and out of the stadium. He was second coming off the course’s largest downhill back into the stadium, then turned on Beast Mode, approaching the final straightaway to pull into the lead and take the win in 3:10.62. Kornfield was second, 0.19 seconds back.
In the semifinal, similarly, Reese skied in the top three throughout the race, ultimately leading the four-man group sprint to the line for first.
Reese Hanneman Holds Off Bolger
Nearly four hours into the day, six men lined up for the final, now under bright sunshine. From skier’s right to left, it was Eric Packer (APU), Zak Ketterson (Northern Michigan University), Bolger, Reese, Kvaale, and Kornfield lined up across the south end of the capacious Kincaid Stadium.
That’s three APU skiers with national titles to their name, last year’s classic sprint national champion in Bolger, one skier whose previous best at U.S. nationals was 15th (Kvaale), and a 20 year old whom the livestream announcers called a “surprise finalist” (Ketterson).
The field had a clean start off the line, and into the slight-downhill straightaway through the Kincaid Stadium. After approximately 200 meters, the racers took a righthand turn up to the base of a gradual, all-V2, two-stage uphill. At this point it was Ketterson in the lead, with Kvaale and Reese tucked in immediately behind him, and the other three athletes following no more than a ski length further back.
By the top of this climb, it was still Ketterson in front, with Reese following and Packer up into third position.
Roughly one minute later, it was Ketterson in front coming down the waterfall downhill back into the stadium at high speeds. There was a gap of five meters back to Kornfield and Reese, who jostled slightly on the descent but did not fall, and Bolger and Packer immediately behind them. Ketterson was technically still in front, but five meters’ separation at those speeds meant little, and the lead pack was effectively still five athletes strong.
By the time the racers had negotiated a broad 180-degree turn and climbed back up into the stadium, Hanneman was in the lead coming around the final curve. Bolger was second, with Ketterson and Kornfield just off to his left.
Hanneman came into the final straightaway with a slight lead, and took the middle lane. He skied smoothly through the finish, but Bolger was coming on strong to his left in the outer lane.
Reese kept his slight lead all the way to the finish. Bolger lunged better, but Reese skied faster. Bolger’s lunge got him to within less than half a ski-length of Reese by the finish, but Reese took the victory.
To Reese’s right, Kornfield led Ketterson and Packer in the next lane to the inside. Kvaale skied in leisurely at the back after suffering an untimely broken pole.
Reese’s winning time was 3:11.33 for the 1.6 k course. Bolger was 0.08 seconds back, with Kornfield another 0.8 seconds behind him for third. There was a gap of over a second to Ketterson and Packer, then another 12 seconds back to Kvaale.
Reese aimed to continue his frontrunning ways in the final, he explained to FasterSkier in a post-race interview.
“Everyone’s fighting for the front half because you know that’s kind of where you’ve got to be,” he said. “Everyone’s too fast; you know you’re not going to come from sixth. So I just fought really hard to stay kind of in the front half, throw down the move on the last hill coming into the finish, and it paid off.”
Reese said he was thrilled by a day in which he won the national title — his third — and Logan won the qualifier.
“He’s one of the best in the country,” Reese said of Logan, “and he and I have been going back and forth in the sprints for a while now. He’s the defending champion in this event from last season, so I knew he was a factor. He’s a powerful skier, and it’s awesome to see him do well. I think we’re both better because we’ve been fighting with each other for years.”
Bolger explained he approached the final differently than his other heats.
“Honestly, I just tried to stay relaxed,” the 24-year-old Wisconsin native said. “I tried to kind of keep an open mind and not put too much into it, overthink it. … I wanted to ski kind of my own race and let things unfold in front of me, and then take chances where I could.”
In practice, this put Bolger in fourth coming off the big downhill back into the stadium. But he trusted his skis, and his finishing skills, and was able to move back into second within just a few hundred meters.
“I kind of got, not pushed to the back a little bit, but kind of toward the back,” he recounted. “But coming toward those last few corners I was right in there. And I was confident in my skiing and I knew I was strong, I felt strong, so I was kind of able to push those corners hard.”
Kornfield, similarly, said, “This is a hard course, so you just had to keep pushing to the finish.”
“The way the course starts, it doesn’t start too hard, it’s pretty flat for the first part. And the uphill is so big that – for some reason you can’t break away on that,” Kornfield added of Kincaid’s brand-new sprint course. “You couldn’t gain that much time; I think people were just conserving until that last 200 meters. It always bunched up with about 200 meters to go, and it was only about who had the best kick and who got lucky with the hole shot. If you tried to get yourself in good position by the final, you would have a good go at the finish.”
Reflecting on the vagaries of sprint racing, he noted, “This is an incredibly fair course. It’s incredibly wide, and it was a lot of fun, but we don’t race those kind of back-and-forth heats that often. So I was just pretty relieved to make the podium, because anything could have happened. You could have snapped a pole easily, you could have fallen. It was kind of a relief just to make it to the final in the first place, and then to make it on the podium was unbelievable.”
Kornfield, 26, who was born and raised in Anchorage and has raced at Kincaid Park dozens of times, summoned the same adjective when asked if he had ever seen a crowd like this at Kincaid for a ski race before.
“This is unbelievable,” Kornfield said. “I remember back [at U.S. nationals at Kincaid] in 2010, and I felt like it was just a wave of noise coming in. This is even more. It’s incredible that people were here and out here. I’m so excited that Reese and I could make the podium and make ’em proud.”
(A sportswriter for the local Anchorage Daily News with 30 years’ experience called it “One of the biggest spectator crowds ever to gather at Kincaid Park.”)
Kornfield likely has fond memories of 2010 for many reasons; he won his first national title then. Friday’s third-place finish marked his seventh time on a U.S. nationals podium, including two national titles. Reese, similarly, took home his third national title (after the 2014 classic sprint at Soldier Hollow in Utah and 2016 skate sprint in Houghton, Michigan), and recorded his eighth national podium. And Bolger notched his second-career podium finish at U.S. nationals, after winning the classic sprint at Soldier Hollow last year.
New Sprint Course Meets with Rave Reviews
As FasterSkier recently explained, Friday marked the debut of the new sprint course at Kincaid. And the athletes approved.
“It was a great course,” Reese said. “Really hard – I would say probably the hardest sprint course we’ve had at nationals in a while. It rivals Fairbanks last year. But there’s a big hill, something you would see on a World Cup, or [World] Championships, so that made it hard. Super-fast downhills. … I think it’s one of the best courses we’ve had in a while. There’s some gradual terrain, there’s a hill, an A-climb, one of the biggest climbs I’ve seen on a sprint course in the U.S., probably ever. I think it’s a great course. It’s fair, everybody likes it, it’s fun. But it skis really well, it’s fast. You can’t get too much better than that.”
“It’s a good course,” concurred Bolger. “It’s really fun. Good hills, good downhills, good cornering. I think it kind of gets at, you’ve kind of got to be a good all-around skier to kind of be able to go from the qualifier to the final.”
“This is an incredibly fair course, it’s incredibly wide, and it was a lot of fun,” said Kornfield.
Athletes will get another shot at it on the final race day of U.S. nationals, the classic sprint on Monday. Classic distance races (20/30 k mass starts) are the next races up, starting at 10 a.m. Sunday morning.
–Gabby Naranja contributed