On a sunny warm winter afternoon, Telemark Resort in Cable, Wisconsin hosted most of the nation’s best sprinters for the CXC SuperTour classic sprints. The atmosphere in this skier paradise was unique. The Wednesday afternoon schedule meant that spectators were few. Also, this being a midweek day in post-Olympic selection times, the field size was small. However, what the field lacked in size was more than balanced in quality. This low-key atmosphere made for a fun and festive time for the athletes, most of whom have been traveling the country and competing together since November. The event had all the stress of a time-trial, yet the excitement and energy that surrounds and well-run SuperTour event. Even though the environment lacked the crowds that existed at Madison Capitol Square Sprints a couple of weeks ago, money was still on the line, and performances were every bit as exciting and fast. It was a great show.
While the ordinary number of men (sixteen) qualified for rounds, a decision was made to limit the women’s qualifiers to just eight. While for both men and women the number of entrants did not much exceed the number of qualifiers, the talent present meant that some very good skiers were eliminated prior to rounds. The field was clearly top heavy.
There were two big surprises in the men’s race, one good, another not. On the good side, University of Alaska-Fairbanks’s Bart Dengel advanced all the way to the final four, surprising himself, his teammates, and his coach with a performance that far exceeded any of his previous sprints. The disappointment of the day was Zach Violett’s experience. Violett, who skied well in qualifying and moved through the quarterfinals with Chris Cook, tangled with another skier in the final climb of the semifinals, and was thus eliminated from the Championship finals. With a gritty B final performance, winning the heat and earning the 5th place spot, Zach did gain a measure of redemption.
The better known Zach in the sprints, FSx’s Zach Simons, last year’s SuperTour sprint champion, skied to a strong 3rd place in the qualifier. Only to choose an occupied lane in the finish zone of the quarterfinals and find himself boxed out and finished for the day. Given his ranking and performance in Madison, Simons had seemed one of few athletes with any hope of challenging Chris Cook.
The final four men remaining at the end of day were Chris Cook, Colin Rodgers, Bart Dengel, and Dave Chamberlain. Almost from the sound of the gun, newly named Torino Olympian and near-local (Rhinelander, Wisconsin) Cook assumed the lead and never looked back. Chamberlain and Rodgers stayed within meters of each other all the way until the final stretch when Chamberlain gained the advantage and with it second place. Dengel finished off the podium, but well ahead of expectations.
In the women’s semis, Natasha Naryshkina and Erin Hood found it relatively easy to escape from their challengers and opened a very large gap. With the qualifiers decided well before the line, all four athletes took their time finishing up the heat, Naryshkina and Hood even taking the time to grasp hands and cross the finish line in unison to the cheers and laughter of many. Shayla Swanson and Kate Whitcomb emerged the winners from the second semi, but were pushed harder and lacked the chance to take a restful coast across the line.
Naryshkina did to women’s finals what Cook did to the men’s: took the lead and never relinquished it. She emerged over the hill into the finishing straight with a comfortable and decisive lead. In the battle for second, Hood was the winner, although Swanson suddenly closed fast in the final meters of the race. Kate Whitcomb was fourth.
With the sprint race complete, a contingent of groomers headed out to the classic course to begin preparing in earnest for this weekend’s CXC Telemark NorAm SuperTour. The snow in Northern Wisconsin remains plentiful, and still completely dry (never having transformed at all) in the woods. Even with warmer temperatures predicted Thursday and Friday, conditions should remain excellent for the weekend’s races. A host of events are taking place over the weekend. Besides the premiere SuperTour event, there is a Central Collegiate Skiing Association NCAA Qualifier, Junior Olympic Qualifiers for the Midwest and Great Lakes regions, High School, Middle School, and J3J4 Youth competition and the CXC Skiing Master’s Cup. Starts look to be pushing 500 each day. Saturday is individual start classical with distances ranging from five to ten kilometers. Sunday is mass start skate with distances ranging from ten to fifteen kilometers. Telemark resort is definitely the place to be for this weekend.