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Watts, Bathe Collect Oosik Wins in Talkeetna

Denali and the Alaska Range in the upper Susitna Valley, near the site of this year’s Oosik Classic. (Photo: Gavin Kentch)

The population of Germany is roughly 82 million. The population of Talkeetna, Alaska, was 876 in the 2010 census. At least three skiers from Germany have won the Oosik Classic, the annual late-season classic marathon that takes skiers on the rivers and hills around beautiful downtown Talkeetna for 50 kilometers, give or take, each spring. No native son or daughter has yet to win Talkeetna’s hometown race … but one Talkeetna native is getting closer.

Anchorage skier and former Alaska Pacific University (APU) Masters Coach Dylan Watts collected his third-career Oosik title Saturday afternoon, covering probably slightly less than 50 k in 2:22:40 to pace a field of 65 skiers in the longer race on a perfect spring day. He was followed 1:21 later by current APU Masters Coach Galen Johnston, who moved up from his previous career-best 50 k Oosik finish of fifth to take second overall. Third was Anchorage skier and current University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) athlete Seiji Takagi, an additional six minutes back.

Watts was not immediately available for comment.

Beautiful Downtown Talkeetna in summer (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Johnston had nothing but praise for his former APU colleague, coupled with a certain degree of hometown pride. “It has been a couple years since I’ve been able to race the Oosik,” Johnston wrote to FasterSkier after the race. “Coming back to it and being able to pull off second, relatively close to the win, made me hungry to want to come back and take a first-ever hometown 50k win.”

Johnston continued, “For a while it was a Norwegian’s race. Now we have an American Oosik master in Dylan [Watts]. I’d love to crack into that winners’ circle for the home crowd.”

Reflecting the international diversity of Alaska’s NCAA ski programs, former Oosik champions have indeed hailed from Norway (Trond Flagstad, Kjetil Dammen, Thomas Oyberg), as well as Sweden (Erik Söderstrom) and Germany (Jonas Löffler, Michael Fehrenbach, NCAA champion Marius Korthauer). (Plus Holly Brooks once won the race wearing Aino-Kaisa Saarinen’s Finnish Olympic suit.) Numerous winners have hailed from Anchorage or Fairbanks. Just no one from Talkeetna yet.

This year’s women’s winner, Nichole Bathe, originally called Madison, Wisc., home, but has spent the past four seasons in Fairbanks. The end may be in sight for the UAF senior, but is not here yet, as Bathe still plans to compete in all four races at Spring Series (USSA Distance Nationals) starting in Fairbanks later this month.

Bathe found Saturday’s outing “pretty fun,” she wrote to FasterSkier. “I skied alone for most of it. I went out of the start pretty hard because it was a flat course for the most part so I just wanted to see how fast I could double pole really. The 50K course hooked back up to the 25K course with around 15K left and so that was pretty interesting with the course being single tracked through the woods and really narrow, it was kinda fun to dodge the 25K skiers as well as getting to walk up some of the hills behind them!”

First place for each gender was good for several hundred dollars. In deference to her current student-athlete collegiate status, Bathe clarified that she was still waiting to figure out if she would be allowed to receive her winnings, and “as of now haven’t accepted anything.”

The combined Oosik Classic podium, including Sadie Fox (far left), Seiji Takagi (third from left), Dylan Watts (next from left), and Galen Johnston (next from left). (Photo: Dan Beutel)

Bathe crossed the finish line in 2:53:19, good for 11th overall. She was relatively unchallenged within the women’s race, as second-place Shalane Frost and third-place Nicole De Yong were each over ten minutes behind her. Frost and De Yong reprised their podium finishes from the Tour of Anchorage 50 k skate race two weeks earlier.

The 25 k men’s race was also a rematch of sorts, as three Alaska Winter Stars U18 athletes who had raced against each other all season long, in the Besh Cup Junior Nationals qualifying series as well as high school races, toed the line once more. Gus Schumacher was once again victorious, adding the Oosik title to his three golds and one silver at JNs as he crossed the finish line first in 1:24:24. In the day’s closest race, he was shortly followed by Andrew Hull (+:05) and Zach Bassett (+:11).

The 25 k women’s race, by contrast, saw a mix of age and experience. First was Soldotna’s Sadie Fox, currently a sophomore at the University of Alaska Anchorage, whose 1:32:33 was only slightly off her winning time in this year’s 25 k classic Tour of Anchorage. Second, over ten minutes later, was Karina Packer, a 20-something Anchorageite who skied in college (Dartmouth ’15). One second behind her was another former college skier, the ageless Nancy Pease (Dartmouth ’82), a legend in Alaska skiing and mountain running circles.

Pease won the Tour of Anchorage 50 k in 1989, several years before either of the athletes ahead of her on Saturday was born. She set the women’s course record in the Bird Ridge Hill Climb in 1993, lodging a time in the two-mile, 3,400′ vertical feet ascent that no one has come close to in the two decades since. (Subsequent skiers with slower times include Holly Brooks, Jessica Yeaton, Mara Rabinowitz, Becca Rorabaugh, Kikkan Randall, etc.) In July 1989 the Anchorage Daily News hailed Pease as the “Toughest Woman in Alaska.” Perhaps little has changed.

A total of 65 skiers finished the 50 k on Saturday, plus nearly 600 more in the 25 k. The total field of 662 finishers, nearly the size of Talkeetna itself, made the Oosik the country’s largest classic-only ski race this winter, well ahead of the Craftsbury Marathon. In a year without the Birkie, southcentral Alaska can claim the largest classic ski race, largest ski race overall, and richest ski race in the country this winter.

Results

— Gavin Kentch

Cologna, Eide Win Engadin; Gregg Third

The 49th edition of Engadin Skimarathon took place on Sunday, March 12, with the 42-kilometer freestyle race spanning from Maloja to S-chanf, Switzerland. This was the seventh stage of the FIS Worldloppet Cup with sub-zero temperatures. While a large pack skied together for most of the race, Switzerland’s 21-year-old Dajan Danuser (SC Vaettis) tested his luck and broke away early, distancing himself from the chase pack by 15-20 seconds and skiing alone for most of the race. A few kilometers before the finish, Switzerland’s Dario Cologna  and Norway’s Anders Gløersen and Eirik Brandsdal reeled Danuser in and passed him. A group of 20 skiers reached the final stretch together and sprinted to the finish. Cologna outlasted all of them in 1:27:46 for his third Engadin victory, edging Gløersen by six-hundredths of a second and Russia’s Ilia Chernousov by 0.07 seconds. Less than 11 seconds separated the top 20, with the likes of French World Cup skiers Maurice Manificat, Renaud Jay, and Jean-Marc Gaillard finishing fourth through…

Buttin, Dabudyk Win Otepää Tartu Maraton; Lake Placid Loppet Postponed

– The sixth event of the Worldloppet series, the Tartu Maraton, was originally scheduled to take place this past Sunday, Feb. 26, in Tartu, Estonia. However, due to lack of snow, the marathon was moved 45 kilometers south to Otepää, Estonia. Organizers decided to hold the race on the 5 k World Cup loop at the Otepää stadium and reduced the distance from 55 k to 34 k. In the men’s race, a group of 12 skiers formed the lead pack, including all of Team Gel Rossignol and the Haute-Savoie Nordic Team. Bastien Buttin (Haute-Savoie) won the sprint at the 4 k mark, and from there, with multiple lead changes, the race came down to 10 men fighting for the victory. Buttin took the win by one second over Benoît Chauvet (Team Gel Rossignol), finishing in 1:29:28 hours. Bastien Poirrier (+2.0) of Team Gel Rossignol finished third. The top 10 finished all within six seconds of first. Most of the men double poled the entire race, but…

Three Birkie Scenarios: Shortened One-Way Race, Untimed Event or Party

(Press release) HAYWARD, Wis. (February 21, 2017) – With unseasonable weather again today, the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) has announced that Birkie Week events previously scheduled for Friday, February 24 have been moved to Saturday, February 25. These events include the Kortelopet and Prince Haakon races. In addition, ABSF officials have determined there are three possible scenarios for Saturday, February 25 events. Scenario #1 – With some snow remaining on the trails from the American Birkebeiner Trailhead to the OO Trailhead (at Highway OO), Birkie staff are monitoring trail conditions. With hopes of measurable snow on Friday, there is a very slim chance that a one-way, timed race could be held (American Birkebeiner, Kortelopet and Prince Haakon races). Scenario #2 – If there is enough snow and conditions are such that 10,000 plus participants can safely ski, however unsafe for a competitive race, there is a possibility of an untimed, open-track, looped-event…

Birkie Announces Schedule Changes, Continues to Work on Contingency Plans

(Press release) Hayward, WI (February 21, 2017) – The American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) today announced that after yesterday’s unseasonable rain, Duffy’s Field just outside of Hayward, WI, and the Birkie Trail south of Highway OO are no longer feasible for Slumberland American Birkebeiner, Kortelopet and Prince Haakon Events. Even with snow in the forecast, a downtown or Hayward area finish will not be reinstated. The ABSF team is working on contingency plans for Friday and Saturday events with a focus on the Birkie Trails north of Highway OO. The safety of our participants is first and foremost in our minds, followed by our goal of creating the best possible participant experience for all. Both things are weighed and considered with each and every decision we make. With that in mind, while Thursday’s events, normally held on Hayward’s snow-covered Main Street, may not look the same they are infused with #BirkieFever…

Pedersen, Smutná Victorious at Jizerská Padesatka

The eighth stage of the Ski Classics took place on Sunday, Feb. 19, with the 50-kilometer Jizerská Padesatka in Liberec, Czech Republic. There, Morton Eide Pedersen (Team BN Bank) and Petter Eliassen (Team Leaseplan) prevented Tord Asle Gjerdalen (Team Santander) from claiming his fourth victory of the series after the two broke away on the long uphill about 19 k before the finish and dropped Gjerdalen. Pedersen was able to claim the victory after winning this race back in 2015, finishing Sunday in 1:55:53.1 hours, by just 0.5 seconds ahead of Eliassen (+0.5). Gjerdalen took third, 1:13.6 minutes back, with the help of his teammate Anders Aukland, who helped Gjerdalen after the breakaway. Aukland finished fifth (+1:17.1), behind Ermil Vokuev (Russian Marathon Team) in fourth (+1:13.8). Gjerdalen said that he felt that he had some lactic acid built up in his muscles. “I had a good day today,” Pedersen said, according to a Ski Classics press release. ”I saved some energy in…

Anxiety, Forecast Temps High as Birkie Approaches

By Gavin Kentch With just over a week to go until the first marathon event of the 2017 American Birkebeiner, race officials are measuring ice thickness on Lake Hayward, groomers are taking protective action, and 13,000 skiers around the country are becoming amateur meteorologists. First, the facts. The 29-kilometer Kortelopet race is currently scheduled for next Friday, Feb. 24. The 15 k Prince Haakon is set for that afternoon. The main event, the 44th American Birkebeiner, a 50 k freestyle or 55 k classic point-to-point race from Cable to Hayward, starts at 8:15 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25. The Birkie trail “is currently in good condition with a 4-8 [inch] solid base,” Nancy Knutson, marketing and communications director at the Birkie, wrote to FasterSkier on Thursday afternoon. (That’s closer to eight inches north of OO, at roughly the midway point of the trail, and closer to four inches at points south, Birkie officials wrote…

Gjerdalen, Smutná Win Dobbiaco-Cortina; Duvillard, Gräfnings Top La Transjurassienne

— The seventh event of the Ski Classics tour took place last Saturday, Feb. 11, at the Gran Fondo Dobbiaco-Cortina in Italy. In the men’s 50-kilometer classic race, Petter Eliassen (Team Leaseplan) returned to racing and set a fast pace from the start. Joining Eliassen in the lead pack were Tord Asle Gjerdalen (Team Santander) and Morten Eide Pedersen (Team BN Bank). After the longest climb on the course, Eliassen and Gjerdalen were able to break away to battle for the victory. The last 10 k of the course were downhill, which led straight into the stadium at Fiames. At the finish line, Gjerdalen was able to outstretch Eliassen by 0.4 seconds to claim his third victory of the 2016/2017 Ski Classics season with a time of 2:04:59.3 hours. Pedersen (+1:43.1) was able to beat out his surging teammate Øystein Pettersen (+1:44.3) for third place on the podium. Gjerdalen continues to hold the yellow bib as the Ski…

Olex Ends 30-Year German Drought at König Ludwig Lauf

After warmer than usual temperatures and rain it was uncertain if the fourth stop of the Worldloppet circuit would happen or not on Sunday, Feb. 5. The organizers of the 44th König Ludwig Lauf in Oberammergau, Germany, able to work all night in order to get the conditions ready for the classic and freestyle races, which were shortened from 50 kilometers to 38 k. After Germany had been without a homegrown winner in the race for 30 years, Max Olex, of the Adidas XCS-Team (who previously raced at the University of Alaska Fairbanks), was able to end the drought in the elite men’s freestyle race, outlasting Damien Tarantola (Haute-Savoie Nordic Team) and Buttin Bastien (Haute-Savoie Nordic Team) in a photo finish. Olex (1:26:20.6) was able to outlunge Tarantola (+0.1) and Bastien (+0.8). Toni Livers (Team Gel Rossignol) was leading on the final uphill in front of the pack of 20 men, but a crash on the downhill forced him to…

Smutná Holds Off Norgren; Gjerdalen Wins Third Marcialonga

The sixth race in the Ski Classic series took place on Sunday, Jan. 29, with the 44th annual Marcialonga, a 57-kilometer classic race (this year from Mozzin to Cavalese, Italy).  The race was orginally suppoed to be 70k, but was shortened due to low snow. In the women’s race, Britta Johansson Norgen of Team Lager 157, and Katerina Smutná (Team Santander) broke away from the group early and were able to keep up the pace until the finish. Smutná was able to outlast Norgen at the finish to beat her by 0.8 seconds, taking the win in 2:22:46.4 hours. Sara Lindborg (+4:22.2) of Team Serneke rounded out the podium. Norgren had a game plan to keep a fast pace throughout the whole race so the only person that would be able to follow her was Smutná. She was able to achieve that goal, but just didn’t have enough power at the end to defend her 2016 Marcialonga title….