Junior cross-country skiers cross paths in Midway
March 9, 2012
MIDWAY — Bib No. 201 rounded the last turn near the base of Soldier Hollow Resort and kept his legs churning.
Nearly 30 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher, 18-year-old Patrick Caldwell, son of four-time Olympian cross-country skier Tim Caldwell, shot both arms in the air as the crowd’s cheers grew louder and louder.
The young cross-country skier representing the New England Division and Stratton Mountain School in Vermont at the USSA Marriott Junior National Championships crossed the finish line Wednesday morning a national champion in the boys’ J1 category mass-start freestyle 10K race with a final time of 24:39.3.
"Really great moment," he said afterward, trying to catch his breath. "Just trying to take in the whole moment and just enjoy the work that’s put into this. Being here is really fantastic."
In his first ever trip to Utah and Soldier Hollow, the kid from Stratton Mountain made a very big impression on the field and the crowd.
"I was definitely looking for a podium, for sure," he said. "I was just looking to ski how I like to ski in an individual race — and that’s just smooth and relaxed. It worked perfectly today."
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The level of intensity in the J1 boys’ final was heightened when two skiers also from the New England Division — Eli Hoenig of Cambridge Sports Union and Fabian Stocek of Holderness Nordic — wowed the crowd with their neck-and-neck sprint for second place.
After Hoenig edged Stocek by a literal hair (25:07.2 to 25:07.5), he collapsed on the ground in sheer exhaustion.
The trio’s finish made for an all-New England freestyle podium.
Asked if he ever bothered to look back once he took the lead, Caldwell smiled.
"I was definitely keeping tabs on what was going on," he said. "Once I got into the lead, I was trying to focus on what I was doing. Tried to ski as fast as I could without breaking down, and that’s what I did in the second lap."
In the J1 girls’ freestyle race, Corey Stock of Cambridge Sports Union finished first, while Sloan Storey of Sun Valley took second.
In Wednesday’s J2 boys’ freestyle finish, Karsten Hokanson, 15, of Wasatch Nordic Ski Academy finished first, nearly 10 seconds faster than the second-place finisher. Hokanson is part of the Intermountain Division squad that is comprised of Utah-based competitors along with Idaho, Montana and a sliver of Wyoming.
"That was a big win," said Gordon Lange, the cross-country ski director for the Park City Nordic Ski Club, who is coaching the J2 boys this year. "On the last giant hill he was in third place; he made a couple of moves to get himself into the front and into the downhill and then broke away. Anytime you get a full-on victory, that’s huge. That was a highlight for our guys."
Ben Grodner of Wasatch Ski Academy finished 10th in the J2 boys’ freestyle event, while Alex Jackson of the Park City Nordic Ski Club finished 42nd.
Two local J2 girls had impressive showings in Wednesday’s freestyle event, as Leah Lange of the Park City Nordic Ski Club finished 17th, while teammate Brenna Egan finished 20th. Sophie McDonald, who Lange said was feeling under the weather, finished 34th.
"They all skied very well, but they’re all super young," he said.
Lange said he hopes his youngsters can take some lessons away from their week competing against the nation’s top racers.
"The sport is technical enough so it always has to be worked on, and physical enough it always has to be worked on," he said. "For a lot of these kids, it’s a little bit of a life-changer. Every time I go, I get reinvigorated by just how good (the athletes are) getting and how professional the teams are becoming."
Today, which is the last day of the event, will feature the sprint freestyle relay scheduled to start at 9 a.m., which Lange said is the traditionally the most exciting event of the national championships.
"We have a lot of depth," he said. "Anytime you have that depth in a relay, you’re a factor."