Big day for Bridger skiers |

Big day for Bridger skiers

Torin Koos (middle) celebrates his victory in the freestyle sprint race at Soldier Hollow on Sunday afternoon. Ben Saxton (left) finished second, with Reese Hanneman (right) taking the bronze medal. Tom Kelly/U.S. Ski Team

Torin Koos got off to a poor start in Sunday’s freestyle sprint race at the 2014 U.S. Cross Country Championships at Soldier Hollow.

During the morning’s qualifying races, Koos broke a strap at the start. But, he still managed to put himself in position to make the quarterfinals.

From there, his equipment didn’t malfunction and he went on to claim the freestyle sprint title for the third time in the last four years.

Though he didn’t win the event last year, Koos still found his way onto the podium in the classic sprint and the 30-kilometer classic race in 2013.

A familiar face atop the Soldier Hollow podium, Koos said the course crew did a fantastic job setting up this year’s courses.

"It was a great race," he said. "It’s a new course and I think it’s an even better course than we’re used to here at Soldier Hollow. It made for some really great racing."

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He said it was a good test to see who the best all-around skier was on Sunday.

"Everybody was fighting super hard, but it was clean and it was like a real test of everything," he said. "You had the climbing, you had the descending, you had the tactics and you had the finish."

It was a good day for Koos’s Bridger Ski Foundation team member Jennie Bender on the women’s side. Bender completed a gold-medal sweep for Bridger by beating out Caitlin Gregg and Rosie Brennan.

"Honestly, that’s amazing that we got Jennie and myself on there," Koos said. "We talked about if we’d go 1-1 here at Soldier Hollow, we really thought it’d happen in a classic. For us to win the skate, it’s a really great way to start the week for Bridger."

Indeed, both Koos and Bender are the reigning national champions in the classic sprint race. They’ll get a chance to defend their titles on Friday, Jan. 10, at 12:30 p.m.

But, for Koos, national titles aren’t the end goal he wants to go to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He said that’s what he focused on after the qualifying race almost ended in disappointment.

"The qualifier was a little bit off," he said. "But, I refocused and said, ‘Let’s do this. We’ve got Sochi coming up. I’ve got to put myself on that team.’"

He added that he hopes the U.S. Olympic Team looks at his versatility when making final team selections.

"I think it was really good to win this today," he said. "I scored World Cup points last year in both distance and sprinting. I think I’m an all-arounder they can use with a sprint focus."

And, from what he knows about the Sochi course, it sounds like it plays into his strengths.

"For the Sochi course, it’s got a really tough climb, where you’re really going to have to jump skate," he said. "A long jump skate is my specialty I really hope I get the opportunity to show what I can do in that and be in the mix for some of the relays as well."