U.S. SuperTour Finals (Fairbanks, Alaska): Freestyle sprints
On Wednesday the 2017 U.S. SuperTour Finals, also referred to as Spring Series, the last of the year’s elite level sprints went down in Fairbanks, Alaska.
The women raced a 1.5-kilometer course while the men skied a slightly longer 1.6 k course, both run at the Birch Hill Recreation Area in Fairbanks.
Earlier in the week, Jessie Diggins of the Stratton Mountain School (SMS) Elite Team and U.S. Ski Team (USST) showed why she’s one of the World Cup’s top overall skiers as she dominated the SuperTour Finals skiathlon.
Once again, and early on, Wednesday’s sprint had the appearance of another race to lose for Diggins. She qualified first, completing the course in 3:34.09 minutes. Her nearest competitor in qualification was Kikkan Randall of Alaska Pacific University (APU) and the USST, 6.72 seconds back.
As the heats progressed the looks of a Diggins-Randall show was in the makes. Both skiers were convincing in their trajectory to the finals as they placed first in their respective quarters and semis. And in the finals it became a two-skier race with the pair skiing decisively off the front.
Diggins scorched the finals, toeing the line in 3:30.39 minutes, nearly four seconds faster than her qualifying time. Randall, who skied in a tight race with Diggins until the closing stretch, placed second (+2.39).
Erika Flowers (SMS Elite Team) reached the podium in third (+15.65), ahead of her teammate Sophie Caldwell (SMS Elite Team/USST) in fourth (+19.03), Kelsey Phinney (Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation) in fifth (+23.06), and Ida Sargent (Craftsbury Green Racing Project/USST) sixth (+27.77).
“I thought it was normal, given I set the pace, so I did it to myself,” Diggins said on the phone, recalling the final. “I thought it felt like a pretty normal, brutal World Cup final. I was going out hard, playing for keeps, that is what you do when it comes to Spring Series, you still have fun but you race hard.”
Asked is she felt any added pressure to perform well racing stateside, Diggins noted she attempts to keep things in perspective.
“There is some pressure and at the same time there’s not,” Diggins added. “Because my goals for the year focused around World Championships and the Tour de Ski, that is where I am aiming to be fast and those are the targets I am intending to hit. So coming here, you are always wanting to ski fast … I feel like there is not an incredible amount of pressure because it is the end of the season and everybody is in a totally different place and mentally I am super excited for that place flight to Hawaii I am going to be on the day after the races. I think everyone is in very different places and I think it’s not fair for us to put pressure on ourselves. I think we just go out and have fun and race hard. This isn’t how you qualify for the Olympics and there is good reason for that.”
SMS Elite Team Head Coach Pat O’Brien provided some insight into the large time gaps in the women’s final.
“Coarse was pretty long and hard, I think it plays to people with some more muscular endurance and less fast twitch, especially this late in the season when people are tired,” O’Brien wrote in an email. “This isn’t a 3 min sprint on manmade that prioritizes finishing speed like a European World Cup. It was just straight tough out there! … No falls, just a bunch of tired ladies slugging it out at 8PM at night near the arctic circle. Hard work by all!”
Local skier Logan Hanneman (APU), who grew up and attended college in Fairbanks, made the hometown proud. He eventually pulled out the win in the men’s final.
Hanneman qualified fourth (+6.27) behind Simi Hamilton (SMS Elite Team/USST) who topped the qualifier in 3:11.35 minutes. (After the qualifier Hamilton pulled from the competition).
In the men’s final, several skiers appeared to be in play for the win. Hanneman placed first in his quarter and semi. Canadian skier Evan Palmer-Charrette (NTDC Thunder Bay), also looked like a threat as he proved a knock-out type closer. Another guest skier, Norway’s Haakon Hjelstuen, a former Michigan Tech skier, skied heady and strong.
Also appearing in the men’s finals were two skiers who are known to pounce when opportunity knocks: Tyler Kornfield (APU) and Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess (Bend Endurance Academy). Tad Elliott (Ski & Snowboard Club Vail) completed the six-skier final.
Heading into the last technical descent on course Hanneman was third behind Kornfield and then Palmer-Charrette. A few tight corners remained with a climb back up to the finish.
“I ended up taking the last sweeping left corner very wide and accelerated as I moved right,” Hanneman explained in an email. “Then we were able to hit the bottom of the climb basically 3 abreast. Once I saw that I had a lane open I just opened it up and went for it!”
Here’s how the final played out: Hanneman placed first in 3:16.77 minutes, Palmer-Charrette was second (+1.08), Kornfield third (+3.84), Hjelstuen fourth (+3.98), Blackhorse-von Jess fifth (+6.38), and Elliott sixth (+7.17).
It appears Hanneman was able to channel his nervous energy into positive forward momentum.
“I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself to win this race,” Hanneman wrote of performing in front of his hometown crowd. “To have these races in my hometown is one thing, but then knowing that I could do well in the sprint added a lot of nerves to the equation. I definitely really wanted to perform well for the volunteers, the crowd, etc. they have supported me through all of the skiing programs here in Fairbanks for years and I really wanted to ski my best for them. I am so very happy that this is how it turned out!”
Hunter Wonders (APU) won the junior men’s sprint in 3:32.76 (he was also the winner of Monday’s 11.25 k classic) with a hard-charging final push, Max Donaldson (University of Alaska Fairbanks) placed second (+0.40) and Logan Mowry (Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks/FXC) was third (+4.76).
For the junior women, Hannah Rudd (University of Alaska Anchorage) took the lead on the final climb and secured the win in 4:08.46, Dottie Anderson (Loppet Nordic Racing) placed second (+1.96) and Jenna Difolco (Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks/FXC) was third (+7.64).
Racing continues Friday with a mixed gender/mixed technique relay.