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Working Toward Gold
Methow elite skier news

photoDefending champion Erik Bjornsen (APU/U.S. Ski Team) climbs Hermod’s Hill on his way to winning the men’s 15k race at the national championships Saturday. APU head coach Erik Flora is giving him information. Photo:

Challenging courses, fast conditions and pressure from competitors trying to get to next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, are the backdrop for the U.S. Cross Country Championship races being held this week in Soldier Hollow, Utah.

Here are the results for the Methow Valley’s elite skiers after the first two days of competition:

Men’s 15k Classic

Erik Bjornsen defended his 2013 national championship in the men’s 15k interval-start event by winning it again on Saturday (Jan. 4). He was more than 11 seconds ahead of the second place finisher.

“At times it felt good, and at times it was really hard,” the two-time champ told after the race. The hilly course consisted of three 5k laps at an altitude that reached 5,900 ft. Bjornsen skis for Alaska Pacific University and the U.S. Ski Team.

Brian Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus), who was randomly selected to be the first skier to start the race, finished in 5th place.

photoCaitlin Gregg, left, joins winner Jennie Bender and Rosie Brennan on the podium after taking second place in the women’s 1.5k freestyle sprint on Sunday. Photo: Tom Kelly/

Women’s 10k Classic

Caitlin Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus), kicked off the women’s competition Saturday after being selected for the first start in the 10k event. She took 2nd place—her best ever U.S. national’s classic result. Gregg’s goal is to compete in the 30k distance race in Sochi.

Women’s 1.5k Sprint

On Sunday (Jan. 5), Caitlin Gregg proved she is an all-around competitor by winning the freestyle sprint qualifier 4.34seconds ahead of the second-place qualifier. Close to 130 women were entered. After the heats, including a tangle andfall in her quarter-final and a photo finish in the final, Gregg stood on the podium in 2nd place.

Men’s 1.5k Sprint

Sam Naney (Methow Olympic Development/Madshus) placed 3rd in the qualifier for the men’s freestyle sprint heats. Erik Bjornsen was 9th and Brian Gregg 28th.

photoJennie Bender, left, lunges to beat Caitlin Gregg, right, in a photo finish to the women’s 1.5k sprint. Photo:Tom Scrimgeour/

But in the heats it was Naney and Gregg who battled it out. Gregg took 1st and Naney 2nd in their quarter-final, then Naney took 1st and Gregg 2nd in the semi-final heat. When it was all over, Naney was in 6th place and Gregg in 8th.

Erik Bjornsen was eliminated after crashing in his quarter-final sprint. Torin Koos, who once spent time training in the Methow Valley, won the event.

“Through the qualifier and early heats I was really confident and felt like I dominated the field as I wanted,” Naney said in an email to Methowgrist. “Going into the A final I knew I had to stay right on [Torin] Koos’ heels to be ready to outsprint him in the finishing lanes.”

That strategy worked until the men crested the top of the large hill on the course, Naney said. But as they started down, he said, he was thrown off by some “tactical wrangling.”

photoKris Freeman, left, who took 3rd place, and Brian Gregg, who took 5th, race their way uphill in the men’s 15k Saturday in Soldier Hollow, Utah. Photo:

Naney, who will race again Friday (Jan. 10) added, “It’s always a good day to get into the top six at National Championships. Now my plan is to do it again on Friday in the classic sprint.”

The U.S. National Championships continue through Friday, Jan. 10.

Biathlon Results

Casey Smith is competing in a set of four International Biathlon Union/Olympic Trial races in Ridnaun, Italy, that will determine the final members of the U.S. Olympic biathlon team.

In his first race, on Sunday (Jan.5), he faced 117 competitors in the men’s 10k sprint. Smith placed 45th with one penalty. Biathlon combines Nordic skiing and shooting. Biathletes ski an extra lap for every shot missed.


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