The Americans might make a habit of this Swedish summer swing. Midway through a training trip to the Torsby region of southwestern Sweden for the second consecutive August, ten American men stepped out of the Torsby Ski Tunnel for a few hours to compete in the 2023 Inge Bråten Memorial Rollerski Race on Saturday afternoon local time.
All ten made the heats, seven made the semifinals, and a healthy four out of six spots in the men’s final were taken up by Team USA. JC Schoonmaker would ultimately take the win, with Gus Schumacher third, Luke Jager fourth, and Ben Ogden sixth. All four men are on the U.S. Ski Team; Schoonmaker and Jager ski domestically with APU, and Ogden with SMS.
Other Americans who competed Saturday included Zanden McMullen (fourth in semifinal one), Logan Diekmann (fifth in semifinal one), and Brian Bushey (sixth in semifinal two). John Steel Hagenbuch, Walker Hall, and Will Koch must have gone out in the quarterfinals in some manner, but the live results currently available randomly contain quarterfinal no. 5 and nothing else (Hall was sixth here, I guess I can report), so there you have it.
Zak Ketterson was a DNS for the men, as was Novie McCabe for the women. No other American women were on the start list. Rosie Brennan has done one rollerski race in her life to date, and for the time being that’s where her tally still stands.
The race is named after Inge Bråten, who died in 2012 at the age of 63. Bråten coached the Norwegian national team from 1990–1994, then later had stints with Sweden, Canada, and Switzerland. The opening sentence of his eulogy on NRK calls him “perhaps the most successful Norwegian national team coach of all time.” For his part, Matt Whitcomb, head coach of the U.S. Ski Team, has called him “an old friend of the team, somebody I knew.”
A decade later, 22 women and 35 men contested a one-lap skate sprint through central Sunne, Sweden, in Bråten’s memory. Ben Ogden was seeded first for the men’s qual and finished in the same position 1km later, covering the 1,030-meter course in a blistering 2:00.46. Schoonmaker was third in the qual, 1.63 seconds back, with Schumacher next among the Americans in sixth (+3.12).
Ogden won his semifinal, with Schumacher third in a time that garnered him a lucky-loser spot to advance to the final. Schoonmaker took the second semifinal, with Jager, third there, claiming the day’s second lucky-loser spot. The slowest time among all athletes discussed here was Jager’s 2:03.55 in the second semi; these guys weren’t slowing down much out there.
The times suddenly double for both the men’s and women’s final; I assume from this that the athletes raced two laps for the final. Schoonmaker, as noted, took the win there, crossing the line in 4:02.34. Anian Sossau of Germany was second (+0.36), with Schumacher less than a tenth of a second back in third (+.45). Jager came in in fourth (+2.14), with Martin Himma of Estonia fifth (+3.23). Ogden was slightly off the back in sixth (+6.22).
“Going into the race I was just looking to get a hard effort and some more sprint experience under my belt,” wrote Schoonmaker to Nordic Insights after the race. (Schoonmaker’s last sprint experience was in, uh, the skate sprint simulation day at Alaska REG junior camp roughly a month ago. That contest was hardly as prestigious as Saturday’s Inge Bråten race, though it also did have this country’s best (lowest) race penalty for any sprint qual of the last twelve months.)
“It’s always nice to put on a bib in the summer I think just to remind yourself what racing is like and kinda bridge that race feeling from last winter to next,” Schoonmaker added.
Speaking to the race itself, Schoonmaker wrote, “The race was super fun and a positive takeaway for me was that I think I skied a smart and strong race. My body felt really good and I was able to ski the way I wanted while also being mentally present and making good decisions throughout the heats.”
He added, “A bonus was getting a bunch of American dudes into those heats and our team just having a fun and productive day out there.”
On the women’s side, Emma Ribom took the win here for the second year in a row. The three-time world champs medalist from Sweden was dominant in the qualifying round; her time of 2:15.03 there put her over six seconds ahead of Laura Gimmler of Germany in second. (Second through seventh in the qual all went to members of the German national team, which is training in Torsby at present.) Ribom also won her quarterfinal and then her semifinal, although the margins by this point were much closer.
It was once more Ribom over the Germans in the final. Ribom took the win in 4:48.29, with Gimmler 0.80 seconds back in second and Coletta Rydzek just behind her for third (+.85). Sofie Krehl of Germany (+3.61), Lena Keck of Germany (+8.83), and Maiken Min Midtskogen of Norway (+16.76) made up the rest of the final.
Ribom moves on to Alliansloppet, the world’s biggest rollerski race, in Trollhättan, Sweden, next weekend. Strava shows much of the U.S. national team still happily in Torsby in environs, mixing snow skiing in the tunnel with rollerskiing and trail running outside of it.
Elsewhere in the nordic world, most of the SMS Elite Team is currently in Oberhof, Germany, for training on the ski tunnel and rollerski track there, save for Jessie Diggins, Julia Kern, Sydney Palmer-Leger, and coach Jason Cork, who were recently able to make their first Covid-era trip to New Zealand’s Snow Farm.
Those Alaskans not currently on the Torsby trip are pinning their hopes on early-season snow in Hatcher Pass, which could come online for groomed skiing in as little as eight weeks from now, depending upon fall weather. Summer training facilities on Eagle Glacier (above Girdwood, Alaska) are not yet operational again following the November 2018 7.1 earthquake in southcentral Alaska, the death knell for an already aging building, but the Thomas Training Center 2.0 is anticipated to be online for next summer. Stay tuned, and, for the rest of us, happy rollerskiing.
— Gavin Kentch