Nordic madness: The 24th annual Gold Rush trudges through Royal Gorge-USA |

Nordic madness: The 24th annual Gold Rush trudges through Royal Gorge-USA

Photo courtesy of Olof Carmel/Carmel StudiosCompetitors in the 24th annual California Gold Rush race begin their 50K trek on Sunday at Royal Gorge.

It must have been the California sunshine – how else does one explain the huge influx of out-of-state skiers at the 24th annual California Gold Rush at Royal Gorge-USA Cross Country Ski Resort on Sunday?

Competitors, spectators and volunteers alike were treated to another incredible day of sunshine and ski racing on Sunday, with some very fast times and tough competition highlighting the day. For the second year in a row, “retired” U.S. Ski Team member and current adventure racing athlete Justin Wadsworth of Bend, Ore., showed that retirement doesn’t necessarily mean sitting on the Laz-E-Boy and popping the top off a beer in front of the TV.

Wadsworth skied a blistering pace with current U.S. team member Andrew Johnson from Park City, Utah, waiting until the last few meters to edge out Johnson for the win with a time of 2 hours, 4 minutes and 22 seconds. The two of them engaged in a game of cat and mouse for almost the entire 50K race, with less than a second separating them at the wire.

The race for third place was a significant one; Patrick Weaver (Atomic) and Scott Loomis (Subaru Factory Team) were fighting for the overall title in the American Ski Marathon Series. Weaver, another former U.S. Ski team member and winner of the 1999 Gold Rush, battled it out with Loomis five minutes behind the leaders, with Weaver barely edging out the victory by less than a ski length with a time of 2 hours, 9 minutes and 14 seconds, thus winning the overall 2004 Ski Marathon title.

Loomis, the winner of the 2004 Great Ski Race, stated, “Pat was able to gain a small lead on me coming through the stadium, and it took everything I had to try to catch him at the line, but today I just didn’t have enough to pull it out in the end.”

In contrast, the women’s race was a foregone conclusion. Sun Valley’s (Idaho) Brooke Baughman of the Rossignol Factory Team has been on a tear throughout the season, dominating just about every race she’s entered, including this year’s Great Ski Race two weeks ago. She distanced herself immediately from her competitors and never looked back, winning by a margin of almost five minutes in a time of 2:25:33. Her closest competitor was Katrin Smigun (Subaru Factory Team), a two-time Olympian from Estonia now attending school in Utah, who finished with a time of 2:30:06, well ahead of third place Sigrid Aas of the University of New Mexico (2:39:20), who was coming off her impressive double victories in the recent NCAA National Championships at Auburn Ski Club.

In local competition, Tav Streit (Reno) and Tim Hill (Truckee) were having their own “Battle Royale” in the Gold Rush, with the top spot in the lucrative Fischer Cup Race Series being fought out. In the end, Streit was the winner, finishing in 14th place overall with a time of 2:20:55 over Hill, who finished 20th (2:28:05). But the overall Fischer Cup ended in a tie, with each of them claiming the top spot for 2004.

“I knew I had to beat Tim by a few spots, and that was my motivation for the race,” said Streit. “I just wasn’t sure I got him by enough in the end.”

The third local competitor spot went to Terry Daley of Portola with the 21st spot (2:29:21). The top local woman was Laura Stern of Palo Alto in a time of 2:56:49.”

While the Gold Rush is always the highlight of the day, the other races on the docket are also hard-fought competition. The Silver Rush usually attracts its share of top competitors from around the country, and this year was no exception, with former Olympian John Aalberg of Park City, Utah, easily outdistancing his competition with a time of 1 hour, 30 minutes and 22 seconds. Second place went to Vesa Suomalainen of Bellevue, Wash., with a time of 1:28:28, and third to Meiko Hoemke of Salt Lake City (1:29:49). Beth Reid of Palo Alto, who has dominated most of the local races this year, once again proved she can race with the best, finishing in fourth place overall with a time of 1:30:05, over six minutes faster than Muffy Ritz of Ketchum, Idaho, (1:36:12) and Emily Robins (1:36:14), a top Montana State University racer who grew up in Tahoe City.

The 15K Bronze Rush was all about the future of local racing, with the top Junior Olympic athletes from the area vying for the crown. At the finish, it was Matthew Gelso of Truckee, with a time of 40 minutes and 22 seconds, barely edging out a four-second victory over teammate Garrett Reid of Palo Alto (40:26). Third place went to Mark Brady of Anchorage, Alaska with a time of 42:55.

Kara LaPoint, another JO athlete from Truckee, took the top spot for the women with a time of 45:50, easily outdistancing Inge Scheve from Bend, Ore., (47:29) and JO teammate Whitney Prosor of Truckee (47:57).

The 6K Junior Rush went to the even-younger crowd, with the boys’ division dominated by local JO athletes Alex Taylor of Truckee (13:16) and Carl Reid of Palo Alto (13:23) in a close-fought battle to the finish line. Third place went to Daniel Gelso of Truckee in a time of 14:41.

The girls’ division crown was the surprise of the day, with 11-year-old Joanne Reid of Palo Alto victorious over older and more experienced girls in a time of 15:35. Second place was Gabrielle Joffe of Kentfield, with third place going to Sarah Clark of Truckee.

The Gold Rush is one of the largest fund-raisers for the Far West Nordic ski programs, with Royal Gorge donating all the proceeds from the race to both Auburn Ski Club and Far West. The race crew and volunteers did an incredible job with preparing the course and running the race, and the large dose of Vitamin S(unshine) throughout the day ensured that there were lots of smiles at the finish line, even at the end of some hard, grueling racing.

Mark Nadell is the Far West Nordic Administrator.

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