Three days of elite cross-country ski racing took place this past weekend at the Snow Farm ski resort near Wananka, New Zealand, during New Zealand National Cross-Country Ski Championships, with the U.S. Ski Team (USST) taking first in every race and taking up most of the remaining spots on the podium.
Friday, Sept. 9, saw 22 athletes from Australia, Korea and the U.S. compete in the race series’ first competition, a classic sprint.
Dominating the men’s classic sprint was USST veteran Andy Newell, who qualified first with a time of 3:37.69 and continued to dominate through the rounds for the win. Finishing in second behind Newell was South Korea’s Hwang Jun-Ho, and taking the final podium spot in third was Ben Saxton, Newell’s teammate on the Stratton Mountain School (SMS) T2 Team.
On the women’s side, all three top spots went to the U.S., with Ida Sargent (USST) edging teammate Jessie Diggins for first and Sophie Caldwell rounding out the podium in third. Caldwell won the qualifier in 3:07.55.
“We love coming down here and getting to race at Snow Farm,” USST Head Coach Chris Grover said, according to a press release. “The timing worked out really well this year because normally we’d be running our own time trials so when a race gets organised and we get to participate in it that’s great.
“It was really nice to have the Korean team here so we had some solid competition,” he added. “It was beautiful weather, beautiful tracks and everyone went out there and had a hard effort so we’re really satisfied.”
International Ski Federation (FIS) points were awarded to the top contenders.
On Saturday, Sept. 10, athletes returned to the Snow Farm for the 10 and 15 k classic mass starts.
In the women’s 10 k, Diggins crossed the line first in 30:58.4, beating Sargent by 7.4 seconds, while Caldwell took third for the second-straight day, 13.8 seconds after Diggins.
“Normally striding on a really steep hill isn’t a particular strength of mine so it was nice to embrace the climb and say, ‘OK this is where I’m going to try to make a move’ and try to make it stick,’ ” Diggins told race organizers, according to a press release. “It was fun to just try something a little out of my normal range!”
Newell took his second win of the weekend, topping the men’s 15 k in 38:12.2. Saxton followed 11.4 seconds later for second place, just ahead of Noah Hoffman (USST) in third (+13.7).
“With the mass start, everyone got to ski together for most of the race,” Grover told USSA. “It was a great opportunity for athletes to try to make breaks and for others to reel them in. It was also an opportunity for each athlete to measure their relative technique strengths and weaknesses against the bigger group through different technique features — for example, who is skiing the downhills more aggressively, who is stronger in the double pole, who is stronger in the striding.”
The final day of competition for the three-day race series at the Snow Farm included the 5/10 k freestyle interval starts.
In the men’s 10 k, Hamilton took first, completing the course in 26:08. Rounding out the rest of the podium were two South Korean skiers, Yong-Jin Cho, who finished 17 seconds off Hamilton’s time in second, and Hwang Jun-Ho, 38 seconds back in third.
“This time of year it’s important to remind yourself how to prepare for a race mentally and how to attack during it,” Hamilton told race organizers. “So it was great to be out there and think about pacing and hurting really bad. It’s good to revisit that at this time of year so we can be ready for the [Northern Hemisphere] winter.”
The women’s 5 k went to Liz Stephen (USST) who beat her competition by nearly 50 seconds in 13:28. Lee Chae-won of South Korea finished 49 seconds back in second place, and Australian Aimee Watson placed third (+1:18).
Stephen told organizers that getting back on snow was one of the most positive aspects of their visit.
“We can get as fit as we want in the summer on roller skis, but it doesn’t transfer exactly and the technique work here for me has been really important,” she said.