Locals fare well at Junior Olympics
There’s something to be said for the hometown advantage, even in cross-country skiing.
This week at the 2007 Cross-Country Junior Olympic Championships at Soldier Hollow, the Intermountain Division, which included 10 Utahns, seven of them Parkites, easily captured the Alaska Cup, awarded to the best performing division. The last time the Intermountain Division won was in 1998.
"We had 10 representing the state of Utah and they all had the races they could have. That’s all you ask for," said Nordic Team head coach Gordon Lange.
Lange added that it was no small feat, considering there was a field of about 150 youth and four races.
"It’s the whole atmosphere of being in with your peers the best kids in the country," Lange said. "When you stack up against the best of the best, it’s cool."
According to Lange, a number of factors played into the team’s strong performances throughout the week. All season long, the team has been training on various courses and competing in qualifying events on the Midway venue. He says that the familiarity of the various ins-and-outs of the course definitely gave his squad an advantage.
"Our kids know how to attack the courses," Lange said. "That’s the advantage of home course."
He also thought that the acclimation of the Intermountain Division to high altitude skiing might also have been a contributing factor.
"There’s a distinct disadvantage for kids coming from sea level," Lange said.
Elizabeth Guiney led the Park City contingent with three second-place finishes and a fourth in relay competition. Lange said he wished she would have been able to get first place just once, but was excited about her progress after finishing 10th and 28th in individual events and second in the relay at last year’s event.
"It’s a huge improvement," Lange said. "She’s got to be proud about that."
Danny Guiney also performed well with a fifth-place finish. Anything in the top 20 is counted toward the point total for the Alaska Cup.
Lange was most pleased with the fact that his team produced strong results despite missing key skiers. Defending national champion Rosie Brennan of Park City, as well as three other Intermountain Division racers, were absent from the Junior Olympics to compete at the Junior World Championships in Italy. Lange said his younger skiers rose to the challenge and easily filled in those key gaps.
"We thought the cream of the crop was gone, but we had some good depth from the younger classes," Lange said. "We realized that we didn’t really need Rosie and those other kids. We just needed to stack kids among the top 20 and that’s what we did."
He said that next year there will be many young athletes moving from the J2 to the J1 ranks and he expects the transition to be effortless.
"I think they will be able to compete at J1 really quickly," Lange said.
Lange commented that after the races wrapped up on Saturday, he and the other coaches assessed the talent that would be lost to graduation and was happy to find that the team and the entire division will continue to rank among the top.
"We were looking at the kids at the awards ceremony and looking at the hit we were going to take and we realized it’s not going to be that bad," Lange said. "We realized there are kids that will fill those senior shoes."
Despite recent snowfall, Soldier Hollow still struggled to have enough snow on the Olympic courses, and moved the races to alternate courses covered with man-made snow. Still, Lange said that every day and every course was challenging. He said the hardest part was changing waxes the snow went from hard to slushy. Even with all of the adjusting, though, Lange said the superiority of the venue was evident to the entire field.
"They did a great job," Lange said. "Everybody knows the venue is great. It’s set up to see the racing and the trails are challenging."
For more information about the 2007 Cross-Country Junior National, visit http://www.faterskier.com.
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