Bolger and Bender take wet Classic titles |

Bolger and Bender take wet Classic titles

Soldier Hollow hosts L.L. Bean U.S. Cross Country Championships

Kevin Bolger of the University of Utah wins gold in the classic sprint at the L.L.Bean U.S. Cross Country Championships at the Soldier Hollow Nordic Center near Midway, Utah on Sunday.
Photo courtesy of USSA – Tom Kelly

The University of Utah’s Kevin Bolger and Bridger Ski Foundation’s Jennie Bender both survived challenging weather and tight battles to win national classic sprint titles at the L.L.Bean U.S. Cross Country Championships at Soldier Hollow on Sunday. It was Bolger’s first U.S. title and the fourth time Bender has taken a national sprint title.

Bolger was the second lucky loser from semifinals, coming out of a fast first semi heat. He was also the lone American in the final sprint, battling University of Denver’s Moritz Madlener to the finish to pick up the win. John Hegman and Cole Morgan, both Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, took silver and bronze.

Bender held off had charges by silver medalist Becca Rorabaugh of APU Nordic and Kaitlynn Miller of Craftsbury Nordic to record her fourth career title – all in sprints. Bender won each of her three heats. Miller won her quarterfinal and semifinal, while Rorabaugh advanced as a lucky loser in each heat.

“Today was pandemonium, and pretty much one of the hardest conditions a classic sprint can be in terms of waxing,” said Bender. “Our tech team busted ass to get the boards riding hard, and it was my job to keep the head down and fight it out. It came together for me today and I am elated to have another national title under the belt.”

Waxing was, indeed, a monumental challenge with temperatures hovering just above and below freezing with a mix of heavy, wet snow and rain falling during most of the day.

After a day of rest from competition, Ben Lustgarten of Craftsbury Nordic skied to an impressive first U.S. title taking the men’s 30k classic at the Championships on Tuesday. APU Nordic’s Chelsea Holmes won the women’s 20k. It was the first U.S. title for both.

Lustgarten covered the 30k course in one hour, 21 minutes, six seconds – a 38-second margin over silver medalist David Norris of APU Nordic. The bronze went to veteran Kris Freeman of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail.

Holmes took a 49-second win over Katharine Ogden of Stratton Mountain School with Caitlin Patterson of Craftsbury Green winning bronze.

“The conditions were warm and a little messy – a little reminiscent of Eagle Glacier skiing,” Holmes said. “There were plenty of good moments and not-so-good ones, but I really, really wanted to win today, so I am very happy that it all came together!”

Lustgarten started with the lead pack and spent the first few laps gauging the competition and his skis.

“I wanted to stay behind a few guys to judge both my energy and theirs, and to see where I could make moves and respond to attacks,” said Lustgarten. “My skis felt great, I had awesome kick, and they were among the faster skis out there. I tried to ski very smooth, gentle and light – not wasting energy and getting maximum glide.”

With confidence in his skis, Lustgarten took the race lead and continued to yo-yo off the front, skiing the climbs conservatively so the pack would catch up with him and not leaving himself alone out front on what was a windy day on the trails at Soldier Hollow.

“After a while I realized with my skis I could ski off the front comfortably,” he said. “So I started to push the climbs harder.” On the final two laps, he put it in a higher gear, pushing the double pole hard and carrying a lead off the hills.

Coming into the finish, Lustgarten wanted to build a gap over second running Norris, winner of last season’s Slumberland American Birkebeiner, who also had very fast skis.

“I just felt awesome,” said Lustgarten. “I skied smooth and didn’t waste any energy. My wax techs nailed the skis and the feeds were perfect. It was a great day!”

Ogden took the early lead in the women’s 20k before Holmes took control on the second of five laps and controlled the race through the finish.

“I am so grateful to the APU crew of coaches and techs for great skis and for so much awesome support,” Holmes added. “To be able to have a great race to give back to them means a lot to me.”

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