Steamboat Springs In his final year at the Junior Olympics, Mark Iverson found the podium finish he had been chasing after for six years.
And in last Wednesday's 15K classical race at McCall, Idaho, Iverson didn't just break into the top three, he soared to first place in the older junior division.
After a disappointing season that had Iverson battling stomach problems and narrowly missing a spot on the World Junior team, he ended on a strong note by holding off the Far West's Zach Violett to capture the win on March 7.
"I was telling people the season would probably be disappointing, except for the classic race. It made all the hard work worthwhile," he said.
With his splits coming in as the fastest time for the entire race, Iverson maintained the lead from the start. But he said in his final lap he began to worry when coaches told him Violett was gaining ground and Iverson began slowing down.
"At the last hill, I hit the wall. It was all I could do to get over it," Iverson said.
But on the other side, a nice downhill and the finish line greeted Iverson as he came in 10 seconds ahead of Violett, one of the top classic skiers in the country. Iverson finished the race with a time of 48:24.10, the fastest time out of 47 competitors.
Iverson, who trained with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club until attending Alaska Pacific University two years ago, said he has taken fourth many times at the national Junior Olympic competition but was never able to break into the top three until the classic race.
The 19-year-old started the week out strong by taking a sixth place in the sprint race. That high finish early in the competition gave Iverson comfort heading into the classic race.
Throughout the season, Iverson had been facing stomach problems that had him cramping up during the middle of races. But on Wednesday, he said his stomach cooperated.
"I got really relaxed. I knew I had to ski relaxed in the first lap. I knew I was not going to make it if I got cramped up," he said.
After failing to make the World Juniors team last year, Iverson said he was determined to qualify with a top five spot in January. But he missed making the team by one point and was named as first alternate.
Iverson finished the Junior Olympics with a 42nd place in the skate race and captured third in the relay race with two Alaskan teammates, Mark Brady and Brent Lowen.
Iverson was among the six winter sports club athletes and alumni competing in the Junior Olympics, which draws from skiers from seven regions.
With top-place finishes in the sprint, classic, skate and relay races, Steamboat coach Brian Tate said it was one of the Rocky Mountain Division's best Junior Olympics competitions in years. The Rocky Mountain division took fifth place.
"We had the best results in a number of years," Tate sad. "We had good results from all age divisions and genders. I think the (Rocky Mountain) coaches on a whole were really happy.
The winter sports club top finisher was Korie Steitz, who took a seventh place in the 5K classic race and anchored the Rocky Mountain relay team to a sixth place in the J2 girls division.
In the last leg of the three by 3K relay, Steitz passed three racers to put her team in sixth place. In the freestyle portion of the mixed technique race, Steitz moved from the team's ninth-place spot when she flew by two skiers on a downhill and overtook an Alaskan racer in a sprint to the finish.
While Steitz's performance in the individual skate race put her in 12th place the day before, she said her time of 9:24 in the relay would have put her in better standing.
"If I skated that fast, I would have gotten fifth," Steitz said. "I'm so excited for next year for junior nationals. I'm really happy with the way I did."
In her first year at the Junior Olympics, Steitz pulled out a seventh place in the 5K classic race that had 67 competitors.
"I was really proud. It was my first time (at the Junior Olympics) and I didn't know what to expect. Seventh was so much better than what I thought I would do. I was hoping for a top 20," she said.
Winter sports club alumni Jessica Gray finished nine seconds ahead of Olympian Kikkan Randall to take fourth in the 5K freestyle race for the older junior division. She also helped the Rocky Mountain relay take fourth on Saturday.
Three Steamboat racers finished 17th at the Junior Olympics. Austin Ross's placed 17th in the male J2 division classic competition and MacCarthy took 17th in the 5K classic race for J2 females. Former winter sports club racer, Jessica Phillips finished 17th in the 5K freestyle race in the old junior division.