Three-time Olympic biathlete Jeremy Teela pulled off an incredible win over U.S. Nordic Combined Team standout Billy Demong in the third Smartwool Wasatch Citizens Series cross-country race on Saturday.
Teela, a Heber resident, was skiing on his home course at Soldier Hollow, so he knows every hill and corner like the back of his hand. He was able to conserve just enough energy to squeak out a one-second victory in the final sprint of the 10.4-kilometer race.
Fresh from a podium finish in a World Cup relay in Germany, Demong is home for a few days to prepare for the World Championships in Italy next month. Using the local race as a hard training day, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist skied in a pack that included three of his nordic combined teammates for the whole race. He easily outpaced them in the final stretch, but Teela had more left in his legs and skated across the line in first place. The top five skiers all broke 26 minutes, a 15-mile-per-hour pace.
In the women's race, Kamas resident Stacy McCooey was the winner over Parkite Roxanne Toly. It was a particularly sweet day for McCooey. She was close to Toly two weeks ago, finishing just a minute back, but had never beaten her in a series race. Determined that this would be her day to outdo her longtime rival, McCooey started strong and never looked back.
The thermometer reading was below zero when the sun finally came over the ridge at 8:30 a.m. Fortunately, most of the fog burned off before the race started two hours later, but many of the 225 participants were very happy to have neck gaiters over their chins. Soldier Hollow's man-made snow was extremely fast, so face protection was particularly important on the speedy downhills.
The members of the Rasmussen family were the ones to beat on Saturday. They had a clean sweep of winning times. Mom Joanne topped the Novice Women field by almost three minutes, with daughter Jenae winning the 12-13 class by 40 seconds and son Aiden finishing more than a half minute in front of the next 10-11-year-old boy.
Many other local juniors took home medals. Garrett Bullough and Jack Leitzke were first-time winners in the older two age groups. Lauchlen Cheney-Seymour was the fastest 12-13 year old, garnering his second victory of the series. Budding ski jumper Sabine Wilson also cruised to a second gold medal in the 8-9 class, and Madison Morgan topped the 14-15-year-old division. The Leger-Redel sisters both won bronze medals in their age groups.
Park City women took all but one of the older age groups. Tanya Swenson, Deborah Wagner and Marit Glenne have perfect records in the series, with three victories each. Lora Smith got her second gold in a row, and Kirsten Whetstone was a first-time winner.
Local class winners among the men included Kurt Reynolds, who had his best series race ever. He finished more than a minute ahead of the field in a tough 50-54-year-old division. Julian Zgoda was the runner-up for the second time this year in that group.
Perennial winner Tom Noaker finished with a convincing three-and-a-half-minute lead over the second-place 60-64 year old. Torbjorn Karlsen was back to form with his first win of the year among the 55-59s. In the Novice Men division, John Fassio took home a gold medal to go with the silver and bronze he's won in previous series events.
The next race in the Smartwool Wasatch Citizens Series will be a 10-kilometer classic-technique event on Feb. 9 at Mountain Dell.
Between now and then, the top junior skiers in the West will be at Soldier Hollow for a Junior National qualifying event. They'll start with a sprint race on Friday, Feb. 1, and finish with a classic-technique event the next day. This is a great opportunity to see some future Olympians in action.