Racing through the cold
Special to the Sun
Cold, Rocky Mountain-style temperatures greeted both Nordic ski races this past weekend ” the CNISSF Classic race in Mammoth Lakes on Friday for the high school and middle school Nordic league and the first-ever Sierra Nordic Duathlon race at Auburn Ski Club on Saturday.
With two full charter busses of athletes still on the road from Truckee to Mammoth Lakes at race time Friday, officials were forced to delay the start of the first individual CNISSF league race for almost two hours. And even with the delay, racers from many schools were forced to get off the bus and jump on their skis with nary a warm up, with just enough time to slap on some very hard, cold-weather kick wax and line up in the start zone.
Coaches were frantically lining the athletes up according to their start times, barely able to get their skis prepped and ready to go before they were sent off to race the 6-kilometer event (3K for the middle school).
In the varsity girls division, it was two racers who are very familiar with each other challenging for first place. Bernie Nelson of Truckee High and Sophie Leonard of Mammoth, both just returned from the U.S. Nationals Championships in Houghton, Mich., used the first lap almost as a warm-up before starting their real racing on the second lap.
“I really had almost no time to warm up before the race, so I didn’t want to go out too hard and blow up or injure myself,” Nelson said. “I could see pulling a hamstring or something if I sprinted out too hard.”
So Nelson bided her time and paced Leonard on the first lap, only to put the hammer down in the last quarter of the race to pull away for a 16-second margin of victory. Third place went to Dayna Stimson of Mammoth, who was almost a minute back of Leonard. Truckee’s girls took six of the top 10 spots, with North Tahoe racer Dani Griffo finishing sixth. The Lakers’ Sage Clark won the junior varsity girls race.
The varsity boys race held a little more surprise, as two racers who went off in the first wave (skiers were sent off in groups of five and were 15 seconds apart), Spencer Wood of Truckee and Andrew Armstrong of Bishop, were out-skied by fourth-wave racer Daniel Gelso of Truckee.
After the times were sorted out, Gelso had won the overall competition by a full 23 seconds over Wood, while freshman Russell Kennedy of Truckee High sneaked in for a third-place finish 50 seconds behind Wood.
Winston Krauss of North Tahoe, at sixth place, was the top finisher from the Lake Shore, while teammate Miles Heapes took top honors in the junior varsity division.
In the middle school division, Alder Creek dominated both the boys and girls races, placing seven of the top 10 girls and eight of the top 10 boys. Annika Taylor of Alder Creek was unchallenged for the top spot in the girls race, posting a 3K time of 13 minutes and 26 seconds, more than two minutes faster than teammate Annika Deurlington, who edged out Kristin King of Mammoth Middle School by less than one second at the finish.
For the boys, Justin Ondry of Alder Creek continued his dominance of the league by winning in a time of 12:25, which was more than a minute ahead of teammates Evan Dion and Jordan McElroy.
A brand new, high-anticipated race on the local Nordic circuit, the Duathlon is also called a “Continuous Pursuit” race, where competitors start on Classic gear, finish a lap and ski into a “transition zone,” where they change skis and poles and continue the race without stopping. The winner is truly the best overall skier of the day, regardless of specific technique.
And there was not much doubt who was the best on this cold, blustery day at Auburn Ski Club.
Zach Violett, a 24-year-old former Far West Nordic Junior from Brownsville, Calif., is currently on the hunt for an elusive U.S. Nordic Olympic Team spot, with top 10 finishes against the highest level of competition in the country at the recent National Championships in Michigan earlier this month.
While Matthew Gelso has been getting much of the recent local press as the first Far West skier to be named to the U.S. Ski Team, it’s been Violett’s steady rising through the ranks of national skiers that has put him on the radar screen at the national level. And while Violett immediately showed his speed by skiing off to an enormous gap in the first kilometer of this 10K event, he refused to take it easy and cruise to a win.
“I just used it as a very hard training workout, imagining that I had (U.S. Ski Team’s) Kris Freeman right ahead of me,” he said.
Violett used that notion to continue through the transition into the skate portion and win by almost a three-minute margin over up-and-coming competitor August Brautigam of Truckee. Brautigam used a very fast final skate leg to propel himself to a comfortable second-place finish over Jeff Schloss, also of Truckee.
In the women’s division, Beth Reid of Palo Alto continued her dominance of the local circuit, with a blisteringly fast skate leg that was (with the transition time of switching from classic to freestyle) the third-fastest overall, good enough for seventh place on the day.
Second place in the women’s division went to Beth Reid’s daughter Joanne Reid, a 14-year-old junior racer who showed that she can ski with the adults with success. Third place was a tough fight between race sponsor Mary Hall of Sierra Nordic cross country ski shop and Molly Zurn of Truckee. Zurn used a last-minute kick up the final hill to overtake Hall for the bronze spot on the day by a narrow two-second margin.
With many of the juniors taking the day off after the Mammoth race ” as well as preparing for their all-important Junior Olympic Qualifier, the Sierra Skogsloppet at Tahoe Donner on Monday ” the seniors and masters were dominant this day.
For a full results list and schedule go to http://www.farwestnordic.org
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