Erik Bjornsen celebrates his 15-kilometer classic race victory by trying to take a bite out of his gold medal at Soldier Hollow on Saturday afternoon.
Erik Bjornsen celebrates his 15-kilometer classic race victory by trying to take a bite out of his gold medal at Soldier Hollow on Saturday afternoon. Christopher Reeves/The Park Record

Saturday and Sunday were very different days for Erik Bjornsen.

A day after claiming victory in the men's 15-kilometer classic race, Bjornsen didn't make it past the quarterfinals in the freestyle sprint on Sunday afternoon.

But that didn't dampen the mood of the U.S. Ski Team and Alaska Pacific University team member, who said he's enjoying the way he's been skiing lately.

"I haven't had the best start to the year," he said. "But I knew I was feeling better the last few weeks, so I thought I had a chance. I was just going out trying to have fun and ski smart."

He decided to take a chance on Saturday when it came to ski selection.

"I went for fast skis over skis with good kick," he said. "I had a good start. I had to herring-bone a lot of hills (where skiers get out of the track and basically run up a hill with their skis in a 'V'), but the skis were wicked fast on the downhill, so I think that was a good plan."

But that doesn't mean the race was easy for Bjornsen.

"The second lap, I definitely had a kilometer or two where I was really struggling, feeling the altitude," he said. "But, the last lap, I knew I was shooting for the podium, so I just kind of kicked it as hard as I could and was able to pull out the win. I was really stoked about it."

Bjornsen finished the staggered-start race in 39 minutes, 3.6 seconds, besting second-place finisher (and fellow APU team member) Reese Hanneman by 11 seconds. Kris Freeman finished in third place with a time of 39:26.4.

After making the right equipment selection for success on Saturday, Bjornsen experienced an equipment malfunction on Sunday afternoon in the freestyle sprint quarterfinal race.

"Going into [Sunday], I was feeling good and ready to go for another win," he said. "But I broke a pole and came up short."

Overall, however, Bjornsen enjoyed the weekend of racing at Soldier Hollow and looks forward to continued racing this week.

"I like the big hills and the openness it's a good spectator course," he said.

Erik Bjornsen makes his way up a hill during Saturday s 15-kilometer classic race at Soldier Hollow. Christopher Reeves/The Park Record
Erik Bjornsen makes his way up a hill during Saturday s 15-kilometer classic race at Soldier Hollow. Christopher Reeves/The Park Record
"It's a hard course, too the guy with the best endurance usually can win. I come from sea level, so the altitude is always a little bit of a struggle, but I'm getting better at it."

Summer sessions in the Midway/Park City area have helped acclimatize him as well.

"I was here twice this summer training on the roller-ski course a lot," he said.

All the extra practice he's been getting since being named to the U.S. Ski Team has been helping him improve in both distance and sprinting races.

"I was known more as a sprinter a few years ago," he said. "The last couple years, I've turned into more of a distance racer maybe. But maybe not a couple weeks ago I won the sprint and was fourth in the distance. I go back and forth."

Now, he's hoping that being a well-rounded skier earns him a ticket to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

"These are one of the selection races for Sochi," he said. "I'm hoping to have some good races and be selected for the Sochi team, and also to get more skiing in to prepare for the World Cup in Poland right after this."

Landing on the U.S. Olympic team is something Bjornsen has pictured a thousand times.

"It would be a dream come true, that's for sure," he said. "I mean, I've been thinking about it since I started skiing. I'd love to make it, but my long-term goal is to win a medal at the Olympics someday. I'm looking at 2018 too."

But, for the immediate future, the 22-year-old has his eyes set on more national titles.

"I still have a lot of work ahead to make the [Olympic] team," he said. "I'm trying not to get too caught up in it and focus on the future. I've got to prepare for the 30-kilometer [freestyle] in a couple days."