Sugar Bowl Academy’s Hannah Halvorsen climbing Nordic ranks | SierraSun.com

Sugar Bowl Academy’s Hannah Halvorsen climbing Nordic ranks

Special to the Sun

Hannah Halvorsen, despite her young age, has stood out for years among the Truckee-Tahoe area's Nordic racing crowd. Now, the Sugar Bowl Academy senior is demanding attention on a global front.

After a dominant performance at the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships the first week of January, Halvorsen was one of two Americans nominated to compete in the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, from Feb. 12-21.

"I went into Nationals with more confidence than last year," said Halvorsen, who won the 5K freestyle in her U18 division — and also placed 11th in the Women's 10K classic, fifth in the freestyle sprint and 12th in the classic sprint.

"I had a lot of fun because I was less nervous and I was also able to race faster knowing that my training was there. This confidence started to build throughout the summer and fall when I realized I could ski with the [US Ski Team women] during workouts."

For juniors like Halvorsen, U.S. Nationals is the basis for selection to several international race series. At last year's U.S. Nationals, for instance, Halvorsen qualified for World Juniors — the most competitive races in the world for skiers under 20 — and the Under-18 Nations Cup trip. She elected to ski in the Nations Cup.

This year, Halvorsen again qualified for World Juniors, and again turned down her spot, this time to attend the event that had been her yearlong goal: The Youth Olympic Games. She'll also race in the Nations Cup series in Otepaa, Estonia.

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Held every four years, the Youth Olympics provide an opportunity for the best young athletes in the world to compete and experience the Olympic spirit and atmosphere. This year the United States was able to bring just one male and one female skier under 18 to compete.

Being the top U18 Nordic skier in the nation was a lofty goal, as Halvorsen well knew, but she had made a habit in her brief ski career of setting and achieving big goals.

"We knew going in that qualifying for the Youth Olympics was going to be challenging," said Martin Benes, head Nordic coach at the Sugar Bowl Academy. "But Hannah has made a lot of positive changes in her training and preparation over the past year and she entered the week [of U.S. Nationals] in a really good spot."

Countless hours of training and preparation in the summer and fall, including an international junior camp and U.S. Ski Team camp, helped set Halvorsen up for success.

"I am looking forward to both the classic sprint and the 5K skate at the Youth Olympics because I think this is an awesome opportunity to race my best against skiers my age from around the world," Halvorsen said. "I am also pumped for the relay in Estonia because I think the U.S. has a great shot at a medal."

Hunter Wonders of Anchorage, Alaska, will join Halvorsen on the U.S. team competing in the Youth Olympics.

Sierra Sun Sports Editor Sylas Wright contributed to this story.