Local nordic racers shine at U.S. Nationals
Special to the Sun
A contingent of skiers from Far West traveled to Utah last week to compete in the U.S. Nationals races at Soldier Hollow, Utah, the site of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. At stake for many of the racers was simply a chance to compete and compare themselves to the fastest young skiers in the country. But for some, notably Matt Gelso of Truckee, it was a chance to shine in the major spotlight of cross country skiing’s most important event in the U.S., and even more importantly, to acquire a spot on the U.S. Ski Team’s World Junior Team and earn a trip to Kranj, Slovenia this month for the Nordic World Junior Competitions.
In all, there were 20 skiers from California competing at the events, which ranged from short sprint competitions to a 30-kilometer distance race. Some who competed were associated with their college racing teams, and a few were entered into the Senior (20-and-older) division. But the focus for Far West this week was on two Truckee athletes: Gelso and Auburn Ski Club Nordic Coach Melody Scheefer.
Gelso turned heads immediately on his first day of competition, in the Freestyle Sprints, which require not only great anaerobic ability and technique, but also head-to-head race tactics. The morning qualifiers were action-packed as racers went full throttle around the technical 1.3-kilometer course, which included a short, decisive steep uphill, tight turns and a ripping downhill to the finish. Gelso was able to finish sixth out of all the juniors in the competition in the prelims, but ended up winning the whole shebang in the head-to-head heats (two juniors were able to advance to the senior finals, placing them ahead of Gelso on points).
In the finals, Gelso said, “Off the start line I found myself boxed in, but I watched the race unfold in front of me and on the steep, short hill I made my move to the front and led down the hill and across the flats to the finish line.”
Far West assistant coach Gary York said, “Matt is very humble. He was absolutely brilliant in the sprints. He remained patient and watched the race unfold and then made his move.”
Gelso continued his dominant performance in the next race, a 15-kilometer Classic event, capturing the overall junior title and placing 22nd overall among U.S. racers ” an incredible achievement. He then showed that he deserved the eventual top ranking among all the juniors at the competition by placing a very strong 3rd overall in the 10-kilometer Freestyle (skate) event on Sunday. Another item to note is that Gelso is still only a J1-level racer (16- to 17-year-olds), and he was competing at this competition against racers a year or two older, as well.
Another local racer who caught the eyes of U.S. team coaches was Auburn Ski Club’s newest nordic coach, Melody Scheefer. After a successful college career at Williams College in Massachusetts, and a year-long stint as the head coach of Whitman College in Washington, Scheefer has landed here to help coach the local juniors. She showed that she’s got some significant speed of her own. In the two races she competed in, Scheefer took an astounding 17th overall (12th place among Americans) in the Classic race, and then turned around and performed even better in the Freestyle with a 12th overall (top 10 among Americans).
Other local racers who competed well at these races included Truckee’s Bernie Nelson, Maisha Goodpaster, Kara LaPoint and Whitney Prosor for the women, and Nick Sterling (competing in the Under 23 division), Joaquin Goodpaster, Alex Taylor, Spencer Wood, Tyler Wright and Colin Shane for the boys. Each of them had at least one excellent result in the three races that took place while they were in Utah. All have come back with a lot more experience from racing at the country’s highest level of competition.
For a complete list of U.S. National Championship results visit http://www.farwestnordic.org.