Local skiers dominate nordic sprints | SierraSun.com

Local skiers dominate nordic sprints

Mark Nadell
Special to the Sun

Photo by Mark NadellAlder Creek Middle School skier Russell Kennedy prepares to attack "Surprise Hill" during the Truckee Sprints Friday. Kennedy placed first in his race.

A different kind of nordic competition roared into town last week, with hundreds of athletes and spectators glued to the constant and thrilling action at Truckee High’s Surprise Stadium on Friday.

The Second Annual Truckee Sprints were billed as a chance to see one of the most exciting types of racing in the cross country ski world, and the races did not disappoint.

After a season of scant snowfall and warm temperatures ” making it hard to imagine such an event being held at the venue ” Mother Nature cooperated once again with enough snowfall and brisk temperatures to make racing perfect around the 1-kilometer sprint course through the stadium and into the nearby playing field.

With banked turns, a steep downhill and glow-sticks lining the course, this was a spectator event not to be missed.

A sprint competition always begins with a set of preliminary races to determine the seedings for the “heats” leading up to the final races. Every skier sets out a few seconds apart in a “time-trial” that determines whether or not they will advance to the semifinal rounds. Skiers are then placed into groups of eight and compete head-to-head, with the top two racers in each heat moving on to the finals.

Strategy and tactics are critical to this type of race ” athletes only want to ski fast enough in the early rounds to pass safely to the next round. If the racer goes too easy, he or she will end up in a heat with stiff competition; if the racer goes too hard, he or she might not have anything left for the next round of skiing.

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The Truckee schools once again showed their dominance on the CNISSF race circuit, with almost all of the top spots going to Truckee High and Alder Creek Middle School. In the high school girls division, Bernie Nelson, of Truckee, set the pace in the prelims and never looked back, winning each of her quarterfinal and semifinal heats to advance to a talent-packed girls final. There, she was matched up against Truckee’s 2005 winner Maisha Goodpaster, along with some of the other top skiers in the state. But in a sprint race, it’s hard to bet against Nelson, as her competitive spirit tends to take over in the head-to-head competitions.

In the high school boys event, Truckee’s Junior National Champion Matthew Gelso tuned up for a trip to Kranj, Slovenia for the World Junior Competition by dusting the field in both the preliminary heats and in every head-to-head competition. From there, it was just a question of who could hold on to Gelso throughout the heats. In the end it was Truckee’s Tyler Wright, who just squeaked out a second-place finish over his teammate, Spencer Wood. The Truckee boys showed that they are the sprinters to beat by taking six out the top eight spots in the final.

In the middle school races, the race of the day turned out to be in the girls division, with season-long rivals Sophie Aaron and Annika Taylor of Alder Creek neck-and-neck throughout the afternoon. For the first time this season, Aaron was edged out in a race, with Taylor having the fastest preliminary time by less than one second. With each girl winning their semifinal, the stage was set for an exciting final competition. The huge crowd of spectators roared throughout the final as Taylor sat back and let Aaron set the initial pace, then made her move in full view of the fans. The win went to Taylor, with Aaron finishing a close second and Kristin King, of Mammoth Middle School, sneaking in to take the third position. Once again, six out of the top eight spots went to Alder Creek.

The middle school boys competition was a little less of a contest, as Alder Creek’s Russell Kennedy continued his dominating ways on the school circuit by posting the top preliminary time by a whopping six seconds over his nearest competitor. Once in the finals, Kennedy showed that he was not to be beaten, as he sprinted out to an early lead and cruised to an easy win over Miles Heapes, of North Tahoe Middle. Five of the next six spots then went to Alder Creek, with Ryan Zusy taking the bronze medal in the final.

The CNISSF schedule takes a breather this week, with the next event scheduled for North Tahoe High School on Feb. 3. That race is also unique because it will be a “Continuous Sprint” event, where competitors will first race a Classic-style event, and then immediately change over to skating gear and finish the race in that style. The middle schoolers will race Classic only.