Gelso takes first-ever gold for Far West
Special to the Sun
On a day that could go down as a Chamber of Commerce advertisement to the rest of the Nordic skiing country, Truckee also managed to make headlines at the actual competitions on this, the first day of the Junior Olympics Nordic Ski Championships.
Local skier Matt Gelso stunned the field by winning Far West’s first-ever Junior National Championship title in the J1 Boys (16-17 year old) Sprint Competition at Auburn Ski Club, the venue for this week’s JO’s. And it was a good day for the rest of the Far West Nordic team, taking home 6 medals (top 10 finishes) in total.
The Games officially opened on Sunday afternoon with a parade down Commercial Row in downtown Truckee and an assembly, complete with a proclamation by Truckee’s Mayor, Craig Threshie, and the lighting of the Olympic torch by 1980 Olympian Glenn Jobe, currently one of Far West Nordic’s head coaches.
The torch took a circuitous route from Squaw Valley, heading over the Sierra backcountry via the Great Ski Race on Sunday, eventually landing at Hilltop at the finish line. It was then run down to the cauldron at the opening ceremonies, where its lighting signified the start of this week’s Junior Olympics Competitions.
At Monday’s sprint freestyle (skating) event, Gelso was only in sixth place after the preliminary round, but easily won his quarterfinal heat, outdistancing five other competitors on the 1.25-kilometer course. Matched up in the semi-finals against pre-race favorite and last year’s J1 champion Simi Hamilton of the Aspen Valley Ski Club, Gelso matched his rival skate for skate and took second place, good enough to move up to the finals. There, he managed to put on a blistering final sprint to edge out Hamilton for the win, and was rewarded for his efforts by being carried out of the finish area by ecstatic teammates.
Although Gelso’s was the only podium finish for the day, there were other local highlights as well.
Alex Taylor of Truckee qualified for the sprint heats in the J2 Boys division (14-15) with only the 17th fastest time in the preliminary round, but moved up to the semi finals with a strong quarterfinal race, and narrowly missed out on advancing to the “A” finals with a third place in the semis. In the “B” final, Taylor skied to an impressive second place, giving him the sixth spot in the overall race for the day.
Truckee’s Bernie Nelson took a similar road in the J2 Girls division, and her third place in the Semi’s led to an overall seventh place finish for the day. In the OJ Boys (18-19), Phillip Violett of Brownsville (now attending Northern Michigan University) skied the best Sprint race of his life, winning his quarterfinal heat and narrowly missing a higher seeding in the finals by taking third in the Semi’s, leading to third place in the B final for an overall seventh place finish.
Two other teammates, Joaquin Goodpaster of Truckee and Kara LaPoint of Truckee (Denver University), barely managed to snatch the final 10th place medal spots on the basis of third place finishes in their quarterfinal matches. Two other Far West skiers, Gabrielle Joffe of Kentfield and Dominic Henriques of Tahoe City (Denver University) just missed out on the awards with 11th and 12th place finishes, respectively.
Even though the Far West coaches were enthused by the results for the day, they are looking forward to even better results in the upcoming individual races: the freestyle long-distance event on Wednesday and the classic short-distance race on Friday, followed by the team classic relays on Saturday.
If the warm and beautiful springtime weather conditions continue as expected throughout the week, there should be hundreds more smiling faces lining the trails at Auburn Ski Club for the rest of the events, and local racers will be want to show that it isn’t only the weather that makes the West standout from the rest of the country.