My oh, my… so close!
Day 8 of the U18 Nation’s Trip started early with the coaches eating breakfast at 6 am and heading up to the venue to perform final race prep on the skis. The rest of the team was in the dining hall for the buffet by 7 am, and then on a bus at 7:45 am — all before sunrise.
Knyken Skisenter was a much quieter place Sunday morning without the extra youth competition. Skiers previewed the course (the girls skiing 3K loop, which was mostly the 5K with a few sections removed), and then 9:30 am was here and it was time to race. The Norwegian and Swedish girls are fielding some very strong teams, and it was fun to watch them dual it out at front, with the Sweden 1 team holding off two chasing Norwegians at the end. The US gals clocked in at 6th and 9th places.
The boys were up next, at 10:15 am. Expected to be another Scandinavian showdown, the race quickly grew into something much bigger. Luke Jager took the starting leg, double poling the entire 5K (as did Norway 2) and skiing with the lead pack. Canyon Tobin took over for the first skate leg, and again, gave up no ground as the lead group dwindled down to two Norwegians, two Swedes and one Finn. Tobin tagged off to Gus Schumacher in the stadium, and then as the lead group hit the hill heading up to the bridge, someone fell, landing on Schumacher’s pole, breaking it. Luckily trip leader Chris Harvey was at the bridge, and hand up a new pole. However, the new pole was a little too long. Schumacher chased after the lead pack, and only a few hundred meters later, coach Andrew Kastning provided second, better fitting pole. Expending significant effort, Schumacher eventually regained contact with the lead group. The pack entering the stadium was down to four – Norway, Sweden, Finland and the US – and that’s the order of finish, with the US squad just seconds off the podium. While not a historic event in finishing 4th (in 2009 US squad had an amazing set of relays, third for the girls and second for the boys!), it still was an exciting race to watch and a very satisfying way to wrap up the racing!
Post-race, a lunch was served at the chalet followed by a brief awards ceremony recognizing the Sunday winners. Athletes did some clothing exchanges between teams (hats were popular), then cleaned up their race skis for traveling. While the coaches finished the clean up in the wax room, most of the team hiked multiple sets of stairs to get to the top of the big ski jump. The reward was a fantastic view of the valley, including a peek at the fjord at Orkanger.
The remainder of the afternoon was open, then a final hotel supper at 6 pm, followed by another team meeting. The coaches reviewed the racing performance and mapped out the schedule for the next couple of days (skiing each day, plus some shopping). The meeting ended with a stretch session with Harvey (and a review of cat pictures).
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