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Skiers conquer rough conditions

MARK NADELL, Special to the Sun

Constant scheduling and course changes due to warm weather and a lack of snow kept parents, racers, coaches and assistants scurrying to stay prepared during the United States Ski Association’s Junior Olympic Competition held in Jackson, N.H., March 6-11.Twenty four Junior racers from the Far West Division (California and Nevada) overcame many obstacles. Although the contingent did not fare as well as it did last year when racers won a personal best 12 medals, it came just seconds away from topping the 1999 performance.The Junior Olympics (JO’s) is the World Series of events for cross country ski racers under the age of 20 years old. This year, a lack of snow, warm weather, and deteriorating snow conditions made the competition a definite challenge for both racers and their coaches. In spite of the threat of a rain-out, all the events were completed in a variety of snow conditions, ranging from icy tracks, to slush & puddles, to finally ending up in a farmer’s field for the Sprint and Relay events, complete with aromatic trailside smells and mud puddles greeting any racer who ventured too far afield.The Far West group, led by Head Coach Glenn Jobe and Assistant Nancy Fiddler (along with a large contingent of assistant coaches and parent/helpers), was aiming to improve on last year’s JO medal amounts, when the Far West was able to garner a record amount at the competitions in Alaska. This year, however, they would have to settle for more modest amount of “precious metal,” winning a total of eight medals (an individual finish in the top 10, or a relay finish in the top five): five medals won by Far West skiers in the “National” competition, and three won by Far West skiers in the “Guest” category.These races proved that the difference between the top 10 and the next tier of competitors was just a matter of a few seconds.”Several skiers were 10 seconds away from us getting 12 or more medals,” Jobe said. “It was that close.” Even more important to Jobe were the number of skiers in what is called the U.S.S.A.’s “All-American” category, whose times were within 7 percent of the winning time in that division. “We had 5 skiers turn in All-American times,” says Jobe. “Skiing that close to the winner means that we’re not far off from competing at the highest level.”In all, the Far West skiers turned in 17 “Top-20” performances in the various events, which wasn’t far off their record-setting pace at the 1999 Junior Olympic competitions in Alaska.Race dates were changed during the week with very little notice, meaning that the coaches and helpers needed to adapt quickly to be able to have the equipment and racers prepared in time. Since these races were against the best young skiers in the country, there wasn’t any room for error.The events started out on Monday with the 5 and 10 km. freestyle (skate) race. Notable finishes in this event were turned in by Natalie Joffe, of Kentfield, Calif, finishing 20th in her first JO competition, which is especially impressive considering that she and fellow racer Kara LaPoint of Truckee are actually in a younger (J3) division and “moved up” a division to race at JO’s. Other excellent performances for the girls included Laura Spohr of Tahoe City (17th J1 Girls), Emma Garrard of the University of Nevada, Reno (13th OJ Girls), and Emily Robins of Tahoe City (19th OJ Girls). In the boys event, Eric Wieman of the University of Nevada, Reno narrowly missed a medal with an “All-American” performance (11th OJ Boys), with great races also turned in by Louis Van Blarigan of Truckee, another All-American performance (18th J1 Boys), Nick Sterling of Truckee (18th J2 Boys), and Ian Case of Grass Valley (22nd OJ Boys). Finally, Esther Bottomley of Soda Springs (via Australia) was able to chalk up Far West’s first win of the week with a first place in the Guest division against racers from Canada and Sweden.After a rest day, Wednesday’s event was the 5 km/10 km/15 km Classic races. Conditions ranged from ice at the start to slush puddles by the time the later races were underway. Another win by Bottomley in the Guest division highlighted the day for the Far West. Emma Garrard strided to an eighth place medal in the OJ Girls 10 km. event, and Kara LaPoint finished 15th (J2 Girls). Finally, Emily Robins continued her solid skiing with a 22nd place finish (OJ Girls). For the boys, Ian Case received his first medal of the competition by finishing an “All-American” 10th place in the OJ Boys 15 km. race, and Scott Hill of Carnelian Bay was another All-American, narrowly missing a medal by finishing 11th in the J1 Boys event. Eric Wieman (12th OJ Boys) and Tony Bozzio of Tahoe City (21st J1 Boys) rounded out the top Far West racers for the day.Another schedule change, and the scramble was on for the Relay Competition on Thursday, March 9. The highlight this day was turned in by the OJ Women, who skied to a 5th place medal. After missing a medal by less than a second in the same event last year in Alaska, Emily Robins was able to finally step up to the podium, along with Emma Garrard and Laura Spohr for only the third Relay Medal in Far West history. This year’s near-miss went to the J2 Girls team of Kara LaPoint, Rory Bosio of Tahoe City, and Natalie Joffe, who finished a scant six seconds away from the fifth place medal. Another top 10 finish went to the ninth place OJ Boys team of Eric Wieman, Ian Case, and Eric Ford of the University of Nevada, Reno.The last day of competitions featured the wild and wooly Sprint Races on Saturday, March 11. With 60 or 70 skiers jockeying for position in a race of a little more than two minutes, anything could happen. With the trail conditions deteriorating rapidly, there was very little room for maneuvering. In the preliminary heats, Nick Sterling was able to ski to an impressive eighth place, and finished 13th overall in the final sprint event. Esther Bottomley chalked up yet another win in the Guest division, and other top 20 finishes were put in by Margeaux Joffe of Kentfield (16th J2 Girls), Rory Bosio (17th J2 Girls), and Ian Case (12th OJ Boys).The Far West team also included Shannon Lankenau of Truckee (J2 Girls), Betsy Van Blarigan of Truckee (J2 Girls), Jessica Ford of Lee Vining (J1 Girls), Ann Spohr of Tahoe City (J1 Girls), Andrew Van Blarigan of Truckee (J2 Boys), Phillip Violett of Brownsville (J2 Boys), Jakub Benes of Oakland (J1 Boys), Cory Martin of South Lake Tahoe (J1 Boys), and Dana Mosman of Nevada City (J1 Boys).All in all, the Far West skiers completed a solid week of racing against the best young skiers in the country. Although their “take” of medals was less than last year, Head Coach Glenn Jobe said that this group of skiers performed about as well as last year’s record-setting contingent.”With the races being held on an ‘easier’ course, with fast conditions, just meant that there wasn’t much room for error,” Jobe said. “Our kids are used to skiing more difficult mountain courses. They just didn’t train a lot on the flatter type of terrain at low elevation like we had in Jackson.”Or as one competitor’s mother put it, “Our kids skied fast. It’s just that the other kids skied faster.”Jobe said that with another year of hard training, this group of skiers will be able to hold its own with the best the country has to offer at next year’s Junior Olympics competition.


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