Erik Bjornsen (APU/USST) in qualifying.
MIDWAY, Utah — Erik Bjornsen (APU/USST) looked quick on his feet at Soldier Hollow and came through the finish with the fastest qualifying time of the men’s freestyle sprint field. Brian Gregg (CXC), in an impressive showing for a usual distance-specialist, had the second-fastest time of the day about 3 seconds behind Bjornsen. Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess (Bend Endurance Academy) was third.
“I’m feeling really tired actually,” Bjornsen said after the qualifier. “I didn’t ski much of a warmup, and it went well.”
Looking ahead to the heats, he said he’d have to talk strategy with his coaches. ”
“I don’t want to get passed on the downhill so if that means sitting behind someone, maybe kind of blow them up on the first hill,” Bjornsen said. “We’ll see.”
On the lengthened course (from 1.3 to 1.7 k) compared to the classic sprint:
“I knew that would be an advantage for me. My fitness is pretty good right now, I just didn’t want to slow the pace down, though. I’ve been trying to work on my sprinting, going out hard so I kept with that strategy.” — Bjornsen, 1st
“It’s better a little longer. It’s still short, quote-unquote, but it’s A. elevation, and B. that first climb is like a minute and 15 seconds long, which is not insignificant.” — Blackhorse-von Jess, 3rd
On personal bests:
“My focus was definitely this year on the distance races so it’s sweet. Somebody said, ‘Hey nice job, you’re in second,’ at the finish and I thought they were joking. It is helpful that I had Peter Kling [APU] right in front of me so I was able to try to catch up to him, but the skis were really good. It’s nice having a little bit longer; that works well for me.” — Gregg, 2nd
“We’ll see how the heats go, but it’s nice to end nationals so far on a good note, but still looking forward to the heats. It would be magical to move on so I want that to happen.” — Tad Elliott (SSCV/Team HomeGrown/U.S. Ski Team), 15th
On pushing through the pain:
“Just felt really good to lay it down. It hurts, hurts a lot. … I was just trying to stay smooth on the V2 and glide as much as I could, focus on that instead of I guess like time and where I was. It’s a hard week of races, and that’s what U.S. nationals is, but I think I came into it really well prepared and everything went as planned. I got my goals accomplished and it feels pretty awesome.” — Ben Saxton (F.A.S.T.), 8th
“I’ve been training a lot with [Sam] Naney this summer and Scott Johnston and MOD and all those guys, and we’ve been doing a lot of speed work, which I think has helped a little bit on the sprinting, but that’s definitely by far the best qualifying I’ve ever had. Pretty sure I just cut my sprint points in half (laughs) because I started 36th.” — Brian Gregg