MIDWAY, Utah — Junior Rune Oedegaard became the University of Colorado’s first Nordic national champion to defend his title in some 45 years and in doing so helped the Buffaloes improve a notch, as CU moved into third place in the standings at the midway point of the 61st annual NCAA Skiing Championships.
Denver used five top eight finishes to wrestle the lead away from host Utah, as the Pioneers have 299 points, scoring 169 of those in Thursday’s cross country classic races. Utah is in second with 248 points, while the Buffaloes are third with 240.5 and New Mexico fourth with 231; the first eastern school is fifth, as Vermont has 186.5 points.
The leader at the midway point had won six titles in a row until last year, when Vermont led Colorado by 21½ points through four events only to see CU rally on the last day; the team in the lead at the halfway mark has claimed 10 of the last 13 championships.
Oedegaard claimed his second straight NCAA classic title, as he skied the 10-kilometer course in 24:34.5, which was good for over an 11-second win over Denver’s Pierre Guedon (24:45.8). He became CU’s third two-time NCAA champion in the same Nordic event, just the second to win in back-to-back years; Clark Matis won the 1968 and 1969 men’s cross country. Kristen Petty was a two-time champ in women’s cross country, but did so her sophomore and senior years (1985, 1987).
“It was tougher than it looked,” Oedegaard said. “When you look at it, you’d think it was an easy course, there aren’t any long steep hills, but at the same time you have to work the whole time, it’s 25 minutes of maximum effort.”
“I caught Scott (Patterson, UVM skier who started in the sixth interval spot just ahead of him) at the top of the first hill, I wanted to catch him quickly because I know he’s a good racer,” he said. “But I realized when I caught up to him that I had unbelievable skis so instead of working with him, I decided to go out on my own and see what I could do.” Patterson, one of the top eastern Nordic skiers, would finish 24th.
“Obviously, the biggest goal of the season is to win at NCAA’s and it’s good because it means so much for your teammates, too,” he continued. “Unfortunately we’re only allowed to ski three here, and there are five other guys back in Boulder who this means a lot to as well, so I have to thank them. They’re a big part of this.”
In addition to being Colorado’s NCAA-best 87th individual title, it was also Oedegaard’s 14th career win, third all-time at the school but the most by a male skier. He broke a tie with fellow Nordic Per Kare Jakobsen, who won 13 races in his career (1988-90); Maria Grevsgaard, also a Nordic competitor, is the all-time CU leader with 24, followed by alpiner Lucie Zikova with 16.
“It’s not something I’ll think about much now, I think I’ll look back on it later,” Oedegaard said. “But of course it’s something to be proud of.”
It marked the fourth time in the last five NCAA’s that a CU skier has emerged as the classic champion; Matt Gelso won in 2010 and Reid Pletcher in 2011. Since the NCAA went to the current Nordic format in the late 1980s of running both classical and freestyle races in lieu of one or the other plus a relay competition, Oedegaard became the first male skier to repeat in the classic and just the second to win it twice, joining Utah’s Luke Bodensteiner.
“It’s always special, you can’t beat winning at NCAA’s,” CU Nordic coach Bruce Cranmer said, “You hope for it and dream of it, and Rune worked really hard for and was really focused on it all year. So many things have to come together for it to work, especially in a classic race and tricky conditions. Having good skis helps, but getting everything dialed in right is harder than people think it is.”
Freshman Mads Stroem was fourth in 25:11.1 to give the Buffs to finishers in the top four; CU’s third scorer, junior Arnaud Du Pasquier, was 19th in 26: 35.2.
“I thought I was going fast, so I’m really disappointed with being fourth,” Stroem said. “I was skiing fast uphill, I had a good day, I was making up a lot of time there, but my skis were too soft and I lost a lot of time on the downhills. Going one and four isn’t bad (for the team), but of course I want to be up there with Rune. It’s about the amount of Klister (wax) you have on your skis, so it’s difficult, but Saturday I’m really motivated for it to be a revenge day. Our goal is to go 1-2, and we weren’t that far off of that today, but we’ll come out and do our best.”
Oedegaard chimed in on his teammate’s frustration.
“I know Mads wants some revenge after today, he’s not satisfied finishing fourth,” Oedegaard said. “Today his skis were a little soft and it probably hurt him a little bit, but that will be motivation for him on Saturday. Yesterday there were two sets of skis that were better than the rest, and not knowing which skis would be better, we flipped a coin last night to see which set we’d each ski on.”
“Mads is in shape and he for sure gave it his all, I think he will be tough, especially Saturday in the freestyle race,” Cranmer said. “You never know the exact chemistry it will take to have a successful race, but he wants to be on top of the podium, that’s the only place he’s happy.”
“We don’t ski in these conditions very often, so we don’t’ have a fleet of skis that are specific for the soft type of Klister,” Cranmer said. “Mads’ skis were a notch softer and I can believe since they weigh about the same, it did make a difference. Mads got the short stick there, how much it hurt you never know, but we didn’t have any other options.
“The snow looks like ice,” he continued. “If you grab it, it’s full on big chunks of ice. You put on really sticky Klister, it’s kind of like honey. There are tons of different varieties that some softer and harder, it grabs those ice crystals on the way uphill and it will free them up when you glide. But it can clump up and can affect your skis and that’s probably what happened to Mads.”
“Arnaud had a good day, it was the first time out for him in the NCAA’s and a top 20 is respectable,” Cranmer said. “I didn’t have expectations that he’d ski a top 10, though you hope for it, but it’s a good finish for him and I’m happy for him. He finished ahead of the third skier from most of the other schools.”
The women’s 5-kilometer race was first, with Vermont’s Anja Gruber claiming gold medal honors with a winning time of 13:38.4. That bested Denver’s Sylvia Nordskar by over nine seconds, with New Mexico’s Eva Severrus third, nearly 22 seconds back, indicating that Gruber attacked the course and essentially blew away the competition.
Colorado’s women’s team is comprised of three freshmen, with Camilla Brautaset posting the best time, 14:44.1, which netted her 16th place. Lucy Newman was 23rd with a 14:55.2 clocking, with Maja Solbakken right behind her in 24th as she posted a 14:55.4 time.
“I was nervous today, I think we all were, so it was good to get this first NCAA race done and over with, and we are looking forward to Saturday,” Brautaset said. “I felt like I tried to go as technical as possible and find a good rhythm. The uphills were better than the flat parts ... I think I lost a lot of time there double polling. I’m satisfied with the race but ready to do even better on Saturday.”
“A full freshman crew without any veterans in there is tough,” Cranmer said. “It’s hard to know if the conditions affected them that much. We would’ve like a little harder and steeper course, if they had the original course we skied at U.S. National’s in Utah’s meet, we could’ve done better. It wasn’t a great day for them but it wasn’t a disaster.”
As for Denver zooming into a healthy lead, Cranmer wasn’t surprised.
“I knew Denver was going to be tough, they have veteran girls and one girl who has been winning all year and their new guys are super strong,” he said. “So it came as no surprise that they had the kind of day they did.”
The slalom races as of now are set for Friday, with the men’s first run at 9:00 a.m., followed by the women’s first run at 10:00 a.m.; the second runs will follow at Noon and 1:00 p.m., respectively. The freestyle races will finish off the NCAA meet on Saturday, with the race times moved up a bit, the men’s 20-kilometer mass start now set for 9:30 a.m. and the women’s 15k race to follow at 11 a.m.
“The hill isn’t in good shape, we trained on it today and it wasn’t race ready,” CU head coach Richard Rokos said of the slalom course, which has been affected by warm temperatures with rain expected. “It’s possible that the slalom could move to Saturday, the weather is changing. But we’ll be ready either day. Bottom line, we have nothing to lose, the two teams ahead of us do more so than us, so we’ll go after it. Slalom almost always proves to be the great equalizer.”
Oedegaard certainly has an individual sweep on his mind as far as Saturday is concerned.
“Of course I will go for it Saturday, especially now that this race is over,” he said. “It (freestyle race) hasn’t been on my mind; this race took a lot of energy, so it will take some focus to get ready. We will spend tomorrow testing a lot of skis.”
(Associate SID Curtis Snyder contributed to this report.)
NCAA Championship Team Scores (4 of 8 events)—1. Denver 299; 2. Utah 248; 3. Colorado 240.5; 4. New Mexico 231; 5. Vermont 186.5; 6. Dartmouth 131; 7. Northern Michigan 125; 8. Montana State 104.5; 9. Alaska-Anchorage 94; 10. Alaska-Fairbanks 76; 11. Middlebury 70.5; 12. New Hampshire 59; 13. Harvard 41; 14. Colby 34; 15. St. Olaf 16; 16. Williams 15; 17. Bowdoin 12; 18. St. Scholastica 6; 19. St. Michael’s 4; 20 (tie). Bates, Plymouth State 1; 22 (tie). Michigan Tech, St. Lawrence 0.
Women’s 5K Classical (38 finishers)—1. Anja Gruber, UVM, 13:38.4; 2. Sylvia Nordskar, DU, 13:47.7; 3. Eva Severrus, UNM, 14:01.0; 4. Nichole Bathe, 14:07.7; 5. Jessica Yeaton, MSU, 14:21.1; 6. Rosie Frankowski, NMU, 14:23.5; 7. Makayla Cappel, DU, 14:24.6; 8. Anna Svendsen, Utah, 14:24.8; 9. Sloan Storey, Utah, 14:26.0; 10. Mary Kate Cirelli, NMU, 14:30.1. CU Finishers: 16. Camilla Brautaset, 14:44.1; 23. Lucy Newman, 14:55.2; 24. Maja Solbakken, 14:55.4.
Men’s 10K Classical (40 finishers)—1. Rune Oedegaard, CU, 24:34.5; 2. Pierre Guedon, DU, 24:45.8; 3. Niklas Persson, Utah, 25:00.9; 4. Mads Stroem, CU, 25:11.1; 5. Moritz Madlener, DU, 25:16.2; 6. Kyle Bratrud, NMU, 25:24.4; 7. Lukas Ebner, UAA, 25:28.5; 8. Tryge Markset, DU, 25:28.6; 9. Aku Nikander, UNM, 25:42.9; 10. Fredrick Schwencke, NMU, 25:47.2. Other CU Finisher: 19. Arnaud Du Pasquier, 26:35.2.