Two years of hard work paid off for Team USA at the USANA FIS Nordic Junior World Championships. (U.S. Ski Team-Tom Kelly)
SOLDIER HOLLOW, UT (Feb. 5, 2017) - A dream forged nearly two years ago came true for the USA women Sunday, as they won bronze in the 4x3.3k relay at the 2017 USANA FIS Nordic Junior World Ski Championships at Soldier Hollow. Russia took gold with France winning silver.
Coming into the week, the USA had never won a medal at World Juniors. Now, there are two. Friday Katharine Ogden (Landgrove, VT) of Stratton Mountain School won bronze in the skiathlon. Sunday she closed out the Championships anchoring the relay.
“This didn’t just happen organically,” said U.S. Ski Team Coach Bryan Fish. “This was a part of a plan that these four athletes have worked on for nearly two years. Today they put it together on the snow.”
Cross country relays consist of two legs of classical or diagonal stride skiing, followed by two legs of freestyle or skating. Top teams need to have a balance of athletes with strength across all four legs.
First out for the USA was Hailey Swirbul (Carbondale, CO) of the University of Alaska-Anchorage. Her job was to find the pace and keep the team within contact. “Hailey and I talked out on the course before the race,” said Fish. “I told her to just ski her own race - don’t worry about anyone else. Just ski your race and you’ll stay in contact.”
“I was racing better than I felt like I was racing,” said Swirbul. “Three (kilometers) is a difficult distance to pace - it was tricky. I held back a bit, but think I paced it pretty well and put us in the running for a good race.”
This move by Hannah Halvorsen going into the final short climb of the third leg put the USA into third at 2017 USANA FIS Nordic Junior World Championships. (U.S. Ski Team-Tom Kelly)
Skiing into eighth in the opening 3.3k classic leg, Swirbul kept the USA within a reasonable time gap. Germany had strategically put its best skier, Antonia Froebel, into the opener and she opened up a 17-second margin over Russia. Swirbul’s run was just what USA needed on the opening leg - just 15 seconds out of the medals.
Swirbul handed off to Julia Kern (Waltham, MA) of Stratton Mountain School. Kern had been a bit of a question mark and was not feeling 100%. She sat out the skiathlon to rest. The overall race changed dramatically on the second leg, with Germany dropping quickly back through the ranks and Italy and Russia moving up in a head-to-head battle. Like her teammate, Kern skied solidly and steady and keep the margin to third at 25 seconds, moving up two spots to sixth. Italy’s Anna Comarella skied a torrid leg to put her team ahead at the midway point.
“I was hoping to move up a little more and put in some surges,” said Kern. “But people were skiing really fast and it was a really challenging course. I just tried to hang in there and make as many seconds as I could.”
Kern tagged Hannah Halvorsen (Truckee, CA) of the Sugar Bowl Ski Team who set the first skating leg on fire. Skiing in her first Junior Worlds, Halvorsen engaged quickly in the battle - duking it out with Sweden and France for the bronze medal spot. Tucking tightly on the Cabin Hollow downhill, Halvorsen made an aggressive attack to split between Sweden and France and charge up Horseshoe Hill. On the downhill into the stadium, she gave up one spot, but handed off to Ogden in fourth with the bronze medal just seconds ahead.
“I learned a lot in the 5k individual start,” said Halvorsen. “I realized I just needed to trust myself and not start so fast - just be calm and slowly catch up. It paid up. I was able to hang on and continue to pick up time.”
With the USA now in fourth, it came down to one final skate leg for Ogden, skiing in her final Junior Worlds. She charged up the first hill chasing Lena Quintin of France down into the hollow.
“Hannah came in fourth and I was so excited,” said Ogden. “The podium was right there and I couldn’t not just send it. I went out so hard and kept going. I had a battle with the French girl.”
Her strategy was well planned. On the long, sustained climb on the backside of the 3.3k course, Ogden stepped up the pace and passed Quintin to take the lead. Fans on the course shouted and waved American flags as she crested the climb in the medal position. Now, she had to build a gap. Coming down Cabin Hollow, she was now in view of her anxious teammates in the finish. Most importantly, Ogden was the only skier they could see. She had built an insurmountable gap on Quintin.
“I was crying when I saw her all alone,” said Swirbul, her face decorated in relay tattoos and glitter. “This has been a dream for us for more than two years. To see that dream come true - I was crying, happy, hugging and screaming - all in one emotion.”
Ogden skied into the stadium with little pressure, a smile spreading wider and wider across her face as her teammates greeted her at the finish line.
“We’ve been dreaming about this for nearly two years since a training camp at Lake Placid,” said Kern, who credited the USA’s World Cup team for its inspiration, as well. “They’re the one who set the precedent and we just try to follow and make them proud.”
Halvorsen, whose attacking third leg was a difference maker, shed tears of her own, but also put into perspective the work she and her teammates had done to get to this point in time. “I was so happy but not in shock,” she said, “because I knew we could do it!
For Ogden, it’s been a storybook week - a then career best fifth in the 5k freestyle and bronze medal in the skiathlon. “It was really incredible to stand up at the medals ceremony the other night,” she said. “The only thing I can think of that would be better is standing up there with my friends.”
ATHLETE QUOTES Hailey Swirbul I had a dream last night that we took the silver medal. But bronze is better than we’ve ever done in history and it’s fun to be a part of it.
I was racing better than I felt like I was racing. Three (kilometers) is a difficult distance to pace. It was tricky to figure out how to pace. I held back a bit but think I paced it pretty well and put us in the running for a good race.
I was crying. This has been a dream for us for more than two years. We bought these socks two years ago. To see that dream come true - I was crying, happy, hugging and screaming - all in one emotion.
We’ve taken a ton of motivation from the World Cup girls. All four of us have watched those races together. It’s important to feed off each other as a team. Our World Cup girls do that very well. They take each other’s positive energy and it spirals into more positive energy and into a good result.
Julia Kern This was one of my biggest goals. We’ve been dreaming about this for two years since a training camp at Lake Placid.
We got all our motivation from the World Cup girls. They sent us these socks. They’re the one who set the precedent and we just try to follow and make them proud.
I was hoping to move up a little more and put in some surges. But people were skiing really fast and it was a really challenging course. I just tried to hang in there and make as many seconds as I could.
I was crying - it was a dream come true. I was just overjoyed.
Hannah Halvorsen I’ve thought a medal would be a possibility for a long time.
I learned a lot in the 5k individual start. I realized I just needed to trust myself and not start so fast - just be calm and slowly catch up. It paid up. I was able to hang on and continue to pickup time.
I was so happy but not in shock - because I knew we could do it.
It’s awesome that this was a home event - we have all these people and juniors watching. They see that we’re right in the mix. No matter what the suit, we can ski just as fast and we are.
Katharine Ogden Two years ago in September, 2015 the four of us showed up at a National Training Group camp. One day we went to an outlet store and they had a sale on socks - some great red, white and blue socks. We said, ‘hey, these would be great relay socks.’ We wore them today for the first time. Rosie Brennan also brought some from the girls on the World Cup.
We’ve just loved seeing the girls in the relay. The four of us have been really close friends for a long time. It was our dream to have the four of us on a relay team together just like the national team. It was cool that it all lined up today.
Hannah came in fourth and I was so excited. The podium was right there and I couldn’t not just send it. I went out so hard and kept going. I had a battle with the French girl. My plan was to attack on the long sustained climb and I made my move there.
It was really incredible to stand up at the medals ceremony the other night. The only thing I can think of that would be better is standing up there with my friends.