Nordic champs crowned
Special to the Sun
The beautiful thing about cross country ski racing is that racers just can’t “mail it in.”
The variety of factors involved with skiing fast is so complex that predictions for a given race aren’t usually worth the effort to make. There are the waxing conditions; the condition of the race course and how it suits certain skiers over others; a particular skier’s health; and how tired and worn out one racer might be compared to the other.
But after Bernie Nelson’s dominating performances throughout her racing career ” especially after her State Championship win as a freshman in 2006, and after her clear-cut wins in every race on the CNISSF circuit this year ” one would have been hard-pressed to find anyone who didn’t assume that the Truckee High sophomore would take back-to-back state championship gold medals in her first two years of high school.
This was also true in light of having her main foil of the past two seasons, Sophie Leonard of Mammoth High, transferring to a school in Colorado. But another Mammoth student, junior Dayna Stimson, managed to throw a serious wrench into the best-laid plans of Nelson in the weekend’s two-day Pursuit Event at Auburn Ski Club’s Training Center on Donner Summit.
After a season of fits and starts and one cancellation, racers were raring to go for Friday’s Freestyle (Skate) race at the “Club.” Because of the late afternoon start, conditions were slow and challenging for the 5-kilometer (two-lap) course, especially for the girls race at 2 p.m.
An interval start event, skiers began the race in 15-second increments in a “time-trial” format to determine the fastest skier on the day and, more importantly, to determine the start order for the second half of the Pursuit race on Saturday.
It was clear after one lap that Nelson’s dominance was being seriously challenged, with both Stimson and Gabrielle Joffe of Marin Catholic setting a blistering pace over the first half of the race. And when the results were in, it was a surprising 29-second margin in place for Stimson, with Nelson another 11 seconds behind.
In Friday’s high school boys division, Spencer Wood of Truckee High showed that he was going to be the skier to beat, with a resounding 42-second win over his nearest competitor, teammate Daniel Gelso. Andrew Armstrong of Bishop rounded out the top three.
Truckee racers, who had three of the top five boys and seven of the top 10 girls, put themselves in comfortable position to win the varsity team honors for the Championships.
With Nelson, the fastest skier in the state, starting 40 seconds behind Stimson in full-on “chase mode,” many young athletes might have succumbed to pressure. Not Stimson, who skied even faster in Saturday’s Classic event than she did in Friday’s race. She and Nelson were the only two racers on the day to achieve that feat. And while Nelson was fast on Saturday, Stimson was even faster, posting an overall two-event time of 36 minutes and 37 seconds to gain a 1 minute and 17 second win over second-place Nelson.
“I still can’t believe I’m the state champion,” an animated Stimson said on Saturday. “I am just so happy to win this.”
Joffe managed to easily hold on to her third-place spot over a strong showing from Truckee’s Angela Raso, who helped ensure a clear-cut victory for the Truckee High girls in the Varsity division. The sole medal winner (top 15) for the North Tahoe girls was Morgan Paulson, who finished 14th.
It was going to take an exceptional effort by Gelso to overcome Wood’s large time margin from the day before. With that knowledge in hand, Wood chose to ski conservatively on the first lap, keeping an adequate reserve in case it was necessary to turn on the burners for lap No. 2.
“When I was told after the first lap that I had only lost a couple of seconds, and as easy as I was skiing, I was pretty confident at that point,” Wood said. “I am really excited to win States, especially after how poorly I had been skiing mid-season. I feel like I’m ready now for the big races coming up at Junior Olympics in March.”
Gelso had no trouble holding on to the second spot; he even posting the fastest classic technique time on the day. Bishop High’s Armstrong, however, found himself in a dogfight for third, narrowly holding off Truckee’s Russell Kennedy by a mere seven seconds.
Alex Ferneyhough of Truckee managed to move up five spots on the day to round out the top five for high schoolers and ensure Truckee’s dominance in the State Championship Team division for yet another year.
Winston Krauss was North Tahoe’s highest finisher, in seventh place, and teammate Tom McElravey was eighth.
Although the weekend races were the last on the official CNISSF schedule, many of the top racers from the league will be going on to the Cross Country Skiing National Championships at the Junior Olympics at Soldier Hollow, Utah, next month. Check out http://www.farwestnordic.org for complete results and information for all the upcoming Junior and Senior/Master Nordic races.