Nordic Junior Olympics coming to Auburn Ski Club
As 400 racers zip across the freshly groomed trails at Auburn Ski Club in preparation for the big weekend, the nervous anticipation and excitement only Junior Olympics brings is palpable.
For younger prep cross-country skiers in the United States, Junior Olympics is the first taste of national competition. For others, it’s a chance to ski faster and harder than the year before, and hopefully take home a medal.
When Auburn Ski Club hosted its first Junior Olympics in 1971, cross-country ski legend Bill Koch competed. He eventually went on to win Olympic silver.
When Junior Olympics were held here in 2005, Truckee’s own Matt Gelso took home Far West’s first-ever gold. He is now on the U.S. Development Ski Team and a top collegiate racer.
The Far West Team also has come a long way since 2005. For the first time, the team has filled its 42-athlete roster of athletes who hail from Truckee, Reno, Mammoth and Palo Alto. Far West Coach Jeff Schloss like’s the team’s chances to go down as one of the best in the club’s history.
“I have seen the program increase almost unbelievably in my time working with Far West juniors,” Schloss said. “It is really fantastic to see so many athletes willing to put in the extremely difficult training it takes to qualify for the JO team, and I am really proud of all of them.
“Cross-country skiing is one of the most demanding aerobic sports in the world, and no one can achieve success at it without countless hours of hard training.”
Schloss said his returners have a good shot at besting times from last year. The team also has the potential to improve on its eighth-place team finish in 2008, he said.
Veteran racer Bernie Nelson, 18, said she feels the same way.
“I expect big things from our little team,” Nelson said. “We’re stronger than we’ve ever been. We’re young but we had a young team in ’05 and we did well.”
Nelson is one of the few athletes on the 2005 team that placed fifth at JOs.
“I’m a stronger skier both mentally and physically, but I’m also less nervous but get fired up when I need to,” Nelson said.
As for results, Nelson is determined to “Take one home … at home”
“I’m gonna go for it and go all out,” she said. “I have nothing to lose.
“I can race these courses with my eyes closed,” Nelson said. “Plus, I’m used to the weather and the altitude. I’m used to the T-shirt training and racing.”
Schloss said there’s something greater about competing at home than simply standing on a podium.
“We know the snow conditions and we know the trails,” he said. “We have been skiing the race courses at the Auburn Ski Club almost daily, so we know them inch-by-inch. It is for sure an advantage to have the races at home.
“(But) it’s not all about the medals and the results; the biggest indication of success is that the athletes pushed themselves, trained hard for the events, and gave it their all. If each athlete feels that in at least one race they gave it everything they had, skied absolutely as well as they could on that day, then I will be happy.”
That’s not to say it’s going to be easy:
“We are not kidding ourselves. We know how good the competition is from all over the United States, and we know we are going to have to ski faster than we ever have to improve our results. We are ready for the challenge!”
The first-year J1 racer from Palo Alto took home two impressive seventh-place finishes (second American) at last month’s Western Regional Collegiate races at Auburn Ski Club. She also has a gold medal from the 2008 JOs. Reid is coached by and trains with her mother, Olympian Beth (Heiden) Reid.
The 2008 and 2009 California/Nevada State Champion, and winner of several JO qualifiers, Kennedy is the top cross-country skier in the state.
A 2008 All-American and the 2009 California/Nevada State Champion, Nelson has won a handful of JO qualifiers and high school races this year.
The 2008 California/Nevada State Champion on the same course as JOs, Taylor is the top J2 qualifier in the state. Taylor wants to place in the top five at the championships.
The top J2 qualifier in the state, Ondry’s hard work and consistent training should pay off at nationals.
Sunday, March 8
3 p.m. – 4:45 p.m. Opening Ceremonies at Truckee High School with guest speaker Alison Gannett of Save Our Snow Foundation.
Monday, March 9
Freestyle sprint races
9 a.m. – 10:55 a.m. qualification heats
Noon- 2:50 p.m. quarter, semis and finals
Wednesday, March 11
9 a.m. – 12:40 p.m. Freestyle races
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Awards Banquet at Alder Creek Middle School
Friday, March 13
9 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Classic races
Saturday, March 14
9 a.m. – 12:55 p.m. team relay races
6:30 p.m. guest speaker Miriam Horn at Truckee High School, open to the public
7 p.m. awards ceremony