Hailey Swirbul, Finn O’Connell Lead SuperTour at Close of Period 1 Races to Claim Tour de Ski Start Rights


When we checked in on the SuperTour two weeks ago today after the opening race on the highest level of domestic distance racing, Hailey Swirbul had won the classic race in Sovereign Lake, and spoke insightfully of how “relieved” she was to be starting her race season in North America.

A week later, Swirbul had skied strong throughout four races in Sovereign Lake and the first race in Sun Valley and was comfortably in the lead of the women’s SuperTour rankings, pushed in the standings and on the race course only by Sydney Palmer-Leger. Things were tighter on the men’s side, where Bridger Ski Foundation and U.S. Ski Team athlete Finn O’Connell held a one-point lead over John Steel Hagenbuch (USST/Dartmouth).

Fast forward through another weekend, and a heck of a lot of snow in Sun Valley, and not much had changed: Swirbul led the women’s standings over Palmer-Leger, while O’Connell closed out Period 1 of SuperTour racing with, well, a one-point lead over Hagenbuch. Every second counts out there.

Here’s a brief recap of the final two races in Sun Valley. Thoughts from both athletes on their trip to Europe later this month to race the Tour de Ski are hopefully forthcoming.

Classic sprint

Saturday in Sun Valley brought classic sprinting. In a blizzard. The second and third photos here show the snow pelting down, and six men gamely lining up for the final in conditions marked by, shall we say, somewhat reduced visibility.

Xavier McKeever, the reigning Canadian national champion in this event at age 19, set the pace in qualifying. He covered the 1.4 kilometers of the Lake Creek Nordic Center sprint course in 3:38.43, which should give you a general read on how draggy the conditions were. He was followed in the qual by Tom Mancini (Utah), 0.32 seconds back, and Will Koch (USST/Colorado), 1.10 seconds back.

Some familiar faces from Period 1 of women’s SuperTour racing led the way on Saturday, just as they have throughout the last two weeks: Hailey Swirbul (USST/APU) set the fastest mark in qualifying, followed by Sydney Palmer-Leger (USST/SMS) 0.76 seconds back. Sammy Smith (USST/SVSEF) was third, 6.31 seconds back. The top time for the women’s qual was down to 4:14.99.

Time passed. Snow fell. Conditions slowed.

Ultimately, McKeever took the men’s final, now roughly nine seconds slower than his qual in 3:47.87. Mancini followed a boot length behind in second, 0.03 seconds back. There was a gap of nearly four seconds to Walker Hall (USST/Utah) in third, with APU skiers Michael Earnhart, Thomas O’Harra, and Garrett Butts, in that order, rounding out the rest of the final.

The women’s final saw Palmer-Leger and Swirbul reverse their positions from qualifying, with Palmer-Leger taking the win in 4:36.01, now a healthy 20 seconds slower than the qual as the snow came down. Swirbul was 0.43 seconds back in second. Both were 7+ seconds ahead of third, Alex Lawson of Craftsbury Green Racing Project.

Samantha Smith of Sun Valley, Sarah Goble of BSF, and Nina Schamberger of Summit Nordic were fourth through sixth. Smith and Schamberger are both U18 athletes born in 2005, if you would like to go feel old now.

Results: men’s qual | women’s qual | finals

Distance skate

Sunday, it snowed even more. The race start was delayed by an hour due to the blizzard. Social media showed howling winds and bundled-up skiers disappearing into the maelstrom. It looked like, well, cross-country skiing in December.

There was relatively little drama at the top of the women’s standings going into the 10-kilometer interval-start skate race. Swirbul had a healthy lead over Palmer-Leger in second, and was far clear of third; so long as she had a reasonably strong race and didn’t melt down completely, she would claim the overall leader position for Period 1 of the SuperTour, and the World Cup start that comes with it.

On the men’s side, however, things could not be closer. Finn O’Connell had been one point ahead of John Steel Hagenbuch coming into Saturday’s classic sprint. Then O’Connell finished 15th on the day (thereby earning six points in the SuperTour standings), and Hagenbuch 14th (seven points). The two men were in a dead heat on Sunday morning. One last race, 10 kilometers, winner (okay: higher-placing athlete) goes to the World Cup, loser goes to Houghton. No pressure, boys.

After 10 more kilometers, O’Connell won the race within a race. He was fifth, Hagenbuch was sixth. O’Connell accrued 115 points through Period 1; Hagenbuch, 114 points. (Disclosure, Mancini racked up 118 points, but while the cosmopolitan nature of NCAA racing is a clear strength, USSS can only award international start rights to the highest-placing American citizen.) Between two men who will train a combined 1500-plus hours this year, World Cup start rights were determined by 28 seconds.

To back up slightly, Mancini won the distance race, in 29:38.5, the second win and third podium this season for the Frenchman. David Norris (Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club), making the most of his quasi-retirement, was second, roughly 30 seconds back. Zanden McMullen (USST/APU) was third, another ten seconds in arrears. O’Connell, as noted, was fifth, 28 seconds ahead of Hagenbuch.

The distaff race brought the rare women’s SuperTour to start this year not won by either Hailey Swirbul or Sydney Palmer-Leger; the pair had combined to win five of the first six races. This time Alex Lawson took the win, covering 10 kilometers in a snow-slowed 33:54.3. Second and third went to, well, Swirbul (+8.3) and Palmer-Leger (+31.7).

Results (all distance races)

The overall SuperTour points leaders, both men and women, now receive start rights for Period 2 of the World Cup, which consists of the Tour de Ski. I would strongly assume that both athletes will accept those start rights — indeed, O’Connell said last week that his goal for the start of the season was just this, to qualify for the Tour de Ski — but that is just my assumption rather than me affirmatively reporting that.

Update: A Thursday blog update from BSF stated, “Finn is now leading the Supertour and will race the prestigious Tour De Ski World Cup events!”

The first race of the Tour de Ski is a skate sprint in Val Müstair, Switzerland, on December 31. The first race at U.S. Nationals is a 10-kilometer interval-start skate in Houghton, Michigan, on January 2. The overall SuperTour points leaders following all four races at U.S. Nationals will receive World Cup start rights for World Cup Period 3 (six races in Livigno, Italy; Les Rousses, France; and Toblach, Italy).

Related reading:

Selection criteria for 2022/2023 World Cup team

Overall SuperTour standings through first seven races from USSS (also contains standings for U23 qualification)

— Gavin Kentch

Would you like to read more articles like this? Would you like to help cover the site’s expenses to send Gavin on in-person reporting trips to both Houghton and Whistler for U.S. Nationals and World Juniors? Find out more about our GoFundMe (terms and conditions: we’re donating anything in excess of actual expenses back to NNF), and consider donating, here. You may have noticed that there are not, currently, any ads up on this site; your support truly makes a huge difference to the financial viability of this startup website. Thank you for your consideration.

Leave a Reply

Share post:



More like this

Domestic Teams Preview 2023: Stratton Mountain School

What is the official name of this ski team?...

Domestic Teams Preview 2023: Gus Schumacher, JC Schoonmaker, Novie McCabe, Renae Anderson Join APU

Speaking at a press conference this February in advance...

Laukli Wins Again at Pikes Peak Ascent; Rémi Bonnet Takes Down 1993 Course Record in Men’s Race

Sophia Laukli wins. Again. Racing against a full international...

Pikes Peak Preview: Sophia Laukli Prepares to Go Uphill Fast

Sophia Laukli has proven on multiple occasions this summer...
%d bloggers like this: