If it’s mid-October, it’s time for rollerski racing at Soldier Hollow. Competing in the third annual Schützenski Festival, athletes kicked off cross-country rollerski racing earlier Saturday with a pair of 10-kilometer interval-start classic races.
APU skiers Gus Schumacher and Rosie Brennan took the overall wins, in what my math suggests were the year’s deepest rollerski races on the continent. (Honorable mention: sprint day at Alaska REG in July and Keys to the Castle at Mt Van Ho in September.) Read on for more.
Gus Schumacher leads Ben Ogden and Luke Jager in men’s race in podium full of longtime friends
Elite men headed out first on the challenging rollerski track at Soldier Hollow, with Michael Earnhart (USST/APU) scheduled to break through the start wands at 10:45:15 a.m. This start came 17 minutes after a partial solar eclipse had darkened the skies; athletes’ photos from the venue, while not fully crepuscular, did make note of the meteorological phenomenon.
Gus Schumacher (also USST/APU) would later credit the eclipse for his overall victory.
Anyway. Earnhart was on course first, followed by junior skier Cabot Godoy (Sugar Bowl), followed by Luke Jager (also USST/APU), followed by Gavin Galyardt (Montana State), and so forth, each athlete heading out at 15-second intervals. I assume there was some organizing principle for the start order, but I cannot discern it from a distance. The field was specifically not seeded by either ascending nor descending FIS distance points. This is, you know, rollerski racing in October; this was not an official FIS race.
But it could have been. The Soldier Hollow rollerski course is legit. The following lap, findable on Strava as “Schutzenski 3.1km lap,” was the meat of the course. It contains a 42-meter A-Climb, starting at nearly 1,700 meters above sea level (5,600 feet). Athletes covered this lap three times, on my analysis, plus I think a small amount extra.
At the end of the day, Gus Schumacher, who started 55th in a field of 62 elite men, had the fastest time for the 10km course. His winning mark was 22:01.7. Ben Ogden (USST/SMS) was second, 19.5 seconds back. Luke Jager (USST/APU) was third, 13.2 seconds back of Ogden and slightly more than 30 seconds back of Schumacher in first.
Zanden McMullen, also USST and APU, was fourth (+54.7). Graham Houtsma (BSF, +1:11.2), in fifth, was the first finisher not on the national team, and the first athlete who skied for neither Alaska Pacific University nor Stratton Mountain School.
Here is today’s podium shot from the men’s 10km classic, with, from left, Ogden, Schumacher, and Jager.
If you are curious just how small a town American skiing really is, here are those same three athletes on the podium for the Junior Nationals U18 boys 10-kilometer mass start classic race at Lake Placid in March 2017, this time with Ben Ogden in first, Gus Schumacher in second, and Luke Jager in third. Suffice to say that Saturday was not the first time these three athletes had raced each other.
“Always a treat to share the podium with the best of friends 🇺🇸,” as a deeply wholesome Ogden wrote in his Instagram story.
(Other podium finishers in Lake Placid that day in spring 2017 included Sydney Palmer-Leger, Kendall Kramer, Novie McCabe, and John Steel Hagenbuch, if you’d like to really go down memory lane for a bit. But they also included several other athletes later known only to true sicko fans of the sport (not gonna name them here since it would feel a lot like throwing a U18 kid under the bus when I never got close to even qualifying for JOs, and that would be lame and uncalled for). Talent identification in junior sport is hard.)
Rosie Brennan prevails over Jessie Diggins and Julia Kern in women’s race
The eclipse came. The eclipse went. The men went off on their cooldowns, and/or tried their hand at biathlon on the nearby range. At 12:30:15 p.m., Julia Kern led off the women’s field, charging onto the course on the baby-blue Hjul rollerskis used by both men and women throughout Saturday’s races.
There were five athletes in the field of 36 women identified on the start list as affiliated with the U.S. Ski Team: Julia Kern (USST/SMS), Jessie Diggins (USST/SMS), Rosie Brennan (USST/APU), Novie McCabe (USST/APU), and Ava Thurston (USST/Dartmouth). Seeding appears to have been more conscious here than in the men’s field as these five women started first, in that order.
These women also made up the overall podium three laps later: First Brennan, then Diggins, then Kern. Brennan’s winning time for 10km was 24:19.5. Diggins, who started immediately ahead of Brennan and would have provided the Park City local with a steady target to chase through the race’s second half, finished 0.1 seconds behind Brennan on the ground, putting her 15.1 seconds back on the results sheet. Kern was 1:20.5 back of Brennan in third.
Tilde Bångman (Montana State) broke up the APU/SMS parade in fourth (+2:05.4). Novie McCabe (USST/APU) was roughly five seconds back of Bångman in fifth.
In an Instagram story after the race, Diggins suggested that race results were hardly her top priority on Saturday, writing, “Healthy and happy first is the top priority. Here’s why.”
She then linked to this post:
Depending on your browser or mobile platform the Insta caption probably shows up already, but I’m going to quote it in full here to make sure you see it, because I think it’s important.
“To be totally honest, back in July I wasn’t 100% sure I wanted to be racing this season. I know I’m usually a smiley person, and that’s still true, but my brain hasn’t always been a sunshine-and-rainbows place to be this summer.”
“Today was a day I was nervous for because I wasn’t quite sure how I would feel; I was happy and excited to be at camp with my team, but unsure about how I’d feel racing. I was relieved to feel excited to go hard and happy to find that I wanted to engage in race mode and the pain cave, and seeing so many people out there keeps this sport fun for me. Thank you, the smiles and cheering meant a lot! ❤️ It’s good to know that keeping the focus on being healthy and happy is working. .”
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Racing in Soldier Hollow continues tomorrow with a skate sprint.
— Gavin Kentch