Despite slush, Great Race goes on
The 25th Great Race got off with a minimal hitch Sunday, despite a foot of fresh slop and dismal conditions the day through.
The race was won by French skier Stephane Passeron, who completed the 30 km course in 1 hour and 30 minutes, 5 minutes ahead of the next racer. Passeron races for the Rossignol Nordic Team and was coming off a second place finish in the 6,000 person American Birkebiener Race in Hayward, Wis. The top female finisher was Jeannie Wall of Bozeman, Mont.
The top local finisher was Tom Rassuchine of Truckee. Rassuchine finished fourth in the same form that dominated the high school league during the mid 1990s when Rassuchine hardly lost a race during his four years at Truckee High School. Fastest among the local women was Debbie Hakansson of Tahoe City.
While the majority of the 680 person field posted times significantly slower due to the poor conditions – the first place time was 20 minutes slower than last year’s first place time – a few relative newcomers put up career bests.
Ten racers that we know of posted career days and those 10 had something similar under their feet: a Michael Dowden wax job.
“Dowden is kind of known around town as a bit of a waxing guru, and in Nordic skiing waxing is it, that’s how you win or lose,” Read said.
Dowden, an avid Nordic racer himself who finished 102nd Sunday, shared his skills with a handpicked 14, 10 of whom recorded personal bests.
“They were the people who I felt had been the ones that had been really interested in the sport and I felt needed to be brought on and showed something so I kind of gave them this gift,” Dowden, who has also waxed skis for Billy Kid and Hank Kashiwa, said.
Dowden is also the produce manager at Albertsons and draws parallels between his profession (produce) and his hobby (waxing): “It’s all perishable and what works today would be different tomorrow.”
Also of note from Sunday’s race, Tahoe-Truckee High School Nordic assistant coach Olaf Carmel bested his rival coach, North Tahoe’s Lars Spurkland, by seven seconds.
The Great Race is the annual fund-raiser for the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team. As such the competition is fierce among the team members. This year Joe Pace, the team’s president, finished ahead of his fellow rescuers.
And almost last but not least was Mary Lahti, who completed the course in six and a quarter hours.
“Lahti’s husband talked to me for two hours there at the finish line wondering where she was,” recalls Read. “She was coming in, but pretty late.”
Read also acknowledged two mistakes that in hindsight he felt were made. Had they to do it over again, and they surely will, Read said they would have re-groomed the course before the start and started the race a half hour later due to the inclement weather.
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On Feb. 4, athletes from Truckee and North Tahoe will walk into Beijing’s National stadium for the 2022 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony.