Far West demonstrates its excellence in XC
Special to the Sun
Just about every sport has its national championship, where the creme de la creme meet to decide the title of “best” in the country. Cross Country skiing is no exception, and last week the top young Nordic skiers in the United States gathered in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for a series of races to crown the best of the best.
After having the championships held in their own backyard at Auburn Ski Club last year, this year’s Far West Nordic Ski team traveled about 2,000 miles to try to better their record number of medals from last year’s events.
Thirty-two athletes, along with a contingent of coaches, support crew and parents, spent a week in Houghton, Mich. at the cross country ski trails at Michigan Tech University. More than half of them were either current or former athletes from Truckee High School, including defending national sprint competition champion Matthew Gelso. The trip was well worth it for Truckee’s local Nordic contingent, with Gelso bringing home three more overall national titles and the Truckee High boys winning the Roger Weston Award for best high school team in the country.
Even though the weather along Lake Superior in March is often known to be brutally cold, the local crew brought along their own “California” sunshine to the frozen North. With temperatures rising throughout the week, the conditions became more fit for T-shirts rather than the more common thermal underwear and balaclava garments that were brought along. The ski trails held up remarkably well throughout the week, with the earlier races being held on colder, drier snow, while by the end of the events it was more spring-like in nature, with the wax crews for the teams busily trying to keep up with the changes.
The week began with the Classic Sprint competition on Monday, March 6, and things could not have started much worse for the local crew. Whether it was miscalculating the necessary wax by the coaching crew, the adjustment to sea level skiing or just inexperience from traveling, the week began with an across-the-board lack of top results in the preliminary round to decide which athletes went on to the quarterfinal heats.
New snow in the morning that quickly warmed up to the freezing temperature made for tricky kick waxing conditions for all the teams. A meager four competitors from Far West ” including Truckee’s Bernie Nelson and Joaquin Goodpaster ” were able to advance, with defending champion Gelso barely able to enter the heats with a 22nd-place finish.
But while the other three were quickly eliminated in the quarterfinals, Gelso was able to “get his stuff together,” as he put it, and began his run toward the finals. Gelso’s run culminated with his second National Championship in the J1 division.
The best that the rest of the Far West crew could manage was Goodpaster’s 9th-place medal (medals are awarded in the individual events through the top 10), and Bernie Nelson’s and Dominic Henriques’ (Tahoe City) 22nd place.
While the athletes went back and regrouped for the second competition of the week, the Long Distance Classic race, the coaches and wax technicians furiously worked away at trying to find the right combination of grip and glide for Wednesday’s event ” a 15-kilometer race for the J1 and Older Boys, 10 kilometers for the J1 and Older Girls, and 5 kilometers for all the J2 (15 and younger) racers.
It was clear right from the start that the local athletes had all started to get their “stuff” together. Truckee’s Daniel Gelso placed fifth and Andrew Pado 15th in the J2 boys division, both of them gaining “All-American” status by having their time less than 7 percent behind the first-place finisher.
And while Truckee’s Bernie Nelson could only muster an 18th-place All-American finish, Mammoth Lakes’ Sophie Leonard blasted her way to a fifth-place medal in the girls J2 division. But once again, the highlight of the day went to Gelso, who simply destroyed the field on his third and final lap of the 15 kilometer course and pulled away to win by almost 45 seconds over his nearest rival.
After a rest day to switch to freestyle/skating technique, review the course and get in a little sightseeing on Michigan’s Keewanaw Peninsula (where the races were held), Friday dawned relatively warm and calm, with the snow becoming more spring-like as the day wore on and the sun beginning to lift away the clouds.
Gelso, now the talk of the competition, was beginning to instill a little fear in the other teams, as one could hear coaches discussing on their radios where their athletes were placing relative to Gelso’s position during the race. But once again, the talk was cheap, and nothing coaches or athletes could say or do changed the fact that Gelso was clearly at the top of his game. And he dominated the J1 Boys 10 kilometer event once again, winning this time by almost one minute over his rivals, making it a rare three-for-three clean sweep of the individual titles at the competition. Not even the Older Junior division skiers could match his best times throughout the week, as Gelso posted the top time in each and every race, regardless of age.
After what Nelson considered to be a couple of disappointing finishes earlier in the week, the Truckee skier was gearing up for a big race in the Freestyle event. This time she didn’t disappoint, taking the Bronze medal in the J2 Girls 5 kilometer event.
The Far West J2 girls made an impressive showing in general on this day, as they took four of the top 20 spots, highlighted by Sophie Leonard’s seventh place and Dayna Stimson’s (Mammoth Lakes) 12th. The last Far West medal of the day went to University of Nevada, Reno’s Dominic Henriquesat, whose fifth place gave him his second medal of the competition.
The final event of the week, as always, was the three-person Team Relay, a Freestyle race around either a 3-kilometer or 5-kilometer loop. Although Far West had high hopes on this day given the success of the previous day’s results, medals were scarce. Even Gelso’s fastest time of the day wasn’t enough to bring his team of Henriques and Garrett Reid back into the medal hunt in the OJ Boys division.
But all wasn’t lost, however, as the J2 Girls were anchored by another dominating performance from Nelson, who brought her team back from 9th place after the first two legs and stormed into a Bronze medal in a photo finish at the line with the team from Alaska. Nelson’s time proved to be the fastest of the day for all the J2 girls, and she needed every bit of it to get her team back into medal contention.
One of the highlights of the week occurred at Saturday evening’s Award Ceremony, where it was announced that the top high school boys team from around the country at Junior Olympics turned out to be the Truckee High School Boys team.
Truckee’s nine representatives at the competition scored the most points of any high school for the first time in its history, matching the girls win of the Roger Weston award from 2004 in Lake Placid.
In addition to Gelso, the Truckee team included Alex Ferneyhough, Daniel Gelso, Jordan Nadell, Andrew Pado, Colin Shane, Alex Taylor, Spencer Wood and Tyler Wright.
In addition to the athletes above, the rest of the Far West Nordic ski team included Andrew Armstrong (Bishop), Erika Cornell (currently attending St. Pauls School in New Hampshire), Joaquin Goodpaster (Colorado University), Maisha Goodpaster (Truckee), Dominic Henriques (University of Nevada), Gabrielle Joffe (Kentfield), Russell Kennedy (Truckee), Sophie Leonard (Mammoth Lakes), Tom McElravey (Tahoe City), Bernie Nelson (Truckee), Alexandra O’Neil (Truckee), Matthew Picken (Mammoth Lakes), Carl Reid (Palo Alto), Joanne Reid (Palo Alto), Garrett Reid (Colorado Univ.), Danny Rodrigues (Nevada City), Sam Sterling (Williams College), Dayna Stimson (Mammoth Lakes), Bryce Tiernan (Bishop), Sara Violett (Brownsville), and Janelle Webb (Applegate). Next year’s National Competition is just around the corner at the 2002 Olympic Venue in Soldier Hollow, Utah.
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