Liz Stephen wins Red Bull 400
September 29, 2015
Olympian Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, Vt.) of the U.S. Cross-Country Ski Team held off a hard-charging Veronika Mayerhofer of Austria to claim the win at the Red Bull 400 hill climb at the Utah Olympic Park on Saturday. The event made its U.S. debut, attracting more than 400 athletes who climbed a 400-meter course up the HS134-meter ski-jump landing hill and inrun. Turkey’s Ahmet Arslan took the men’s title. U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team member Bryan Fletcher (Steamboat Springs, Colo.) was fifth, leading three American Olympic Nordic skiers in the top 10.
The hill climb essentially reversed the path of a ski jumper, starting at the end of the outrun with a flat 50 meters before hitting the Olympic HS134 meter ski jump. After 100 meters, the pitch increased precipitously up to the 250-meter mark where it briefly flattened before athletes climbed stairs onto the inrun and up to the top of the jump. Most of the steep portions were hand crawled with athletes grasping onto cargo netting placed over the plastic jumping surface.
Stephen had posted the fastest qualifying heat for the women, but Mayerhofer, an Austrian cross-country skier and runner, was in striking distance in the other heat. Stephen took an early lead into the pitch, but had Mayerhofer hot on her heels. At the stairway climb from the landing area up onto the ski jump itself, Stephen had about a 10-meter lead. Mayerhofer quickly closed the gap, but didn’t have enough to overtake Stephen.
"This is a fun race and something I’ve never done before — running up a ski jump." said Stephen. "But I like to ski up mountains so I felt it would be a good crossover."
Stephen, an Olympian and one of the top cross-country skiers in the world, is especially noted for her prowess on hills. She is one of the perennial favorites in the annual climb up Alpe Cermis in the closing stage of the Tour de Ski.
"Compared to the Alpe Cermis, this is a lot shorter," she said. "Cermis is more of a mental endurance thing. Here you hurt for the whole time, but there is always that adrenaline thing that gets you through the first few minutes. At Cermis, there’s another 40 minutes. It’s much easier to get your head around it mentally in a short event like this."
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Fletcher, an Olympian and World Cup winner in Nordic combined, is more accustomed to flying down the hill rather than climbing up. He was sixth in his qualifying heat and stepped it up to fifth in the finals.
"The race was awesome — it was challenging and fun," said Fletcher. "The hardest part was knowing that after the first heat you would have to do it again."
He was joined by Torin Koos (Leavenworth, Wash.), a four-time Olympic cross-country skier who finished seventh, and Olympic champion Billy Demong (Vermontville, N.Y.), who was ninth.
"A couple years ago I saw on TV in Europe a Red Bull run up Planica (Slovenian ski jump). It looked like such a cool event I knew if I ever had the chance to throw down I’d have to take on the big hill," said Koos.
"I thought I might have a chance for the podium and was in a good position to make it happen. Then rigor mortis, the stiff pain of death, kicked into high gear in the [hamstrings]."
The event was produced in partnership by the USSA’s 2015 Club of the Year, Park City Nordic, along with the Utah Olympic Park, and served as a major fundraiser for the club.