It took a drastic effort at the finish line in the semifinals of the sprint event, but after five trips to the Junior Olympic Championships, Sarah MacCarthy finally made it to the finals.
"I'll never forget what it was like to stand at the starting line of the A final. I was nervous and excited at the same time," MacCarthy said. "I've been in the B final (for fifth to eighth places) several times in the past, but this is the first time I've ever been in the A final, which decides the top-four finishers."
But with only one kilometer between her and a place on the podium, MacCarthy didn't have time to be nervous. Instead, she focused on getting to the finish line as quickly as possible, and she was rewarded with a third-place finish in the "older junior" division behind winner Morgan Smyth of Northern Michigan University and Audrey Weber of the Minneapolis Ski Cub.
It was MacCarthy's best finish at the Junior Olympic Championships, as the Steamboat Springs High School senior highlighted a strong week for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's Nordic team in Houghton, Mich.
"These were my best results by far," MacCarthy said. " I'm not sure why. But I worked for these races all year, and I was really determined to get into the top three."
MacCarthy thought her best chance to medal in Michigan would come in the sprint event.
That chance nearly slipped away in the semifinal round, when she found herself at the back of a three-skier sprint to the finish. But MacCarthy slid her foot in front of another competitor at the finish line to earn the second position and the right to race for a podium position.
In a photo finish, it was clear that MacCarthy's foot crossed the finish line in front of the other skier. MacCarthy went on to race for a medal, instead of falling into the B final, where the best she could finish was fifth.
"We practice it all the time," MacCarthy said of the move. "To tell you the truth, I don't remember doing it -- it was just natural."
The thrilling finish in the sprint, combined with an eighth in the 10-kilometer mass start event on March 8, a seventh in the five-kilometer freestyle race on March 10 and a second in the team relay helped MacCarthy lead to the way for the Steamboat Springs team.
Steamboat also had several top showings from its younger skiers.
Other top finishes in the sprint included Molly Newman's 26th, Katherine Ingalls' 30th, Mary Rose's 31st and Melissa Krause's 34th in the J2 girls division. Paul Rose placed 28th in the J1 boys division.
In the mass start classic, Newman was able to avoid much of the traffic that doomed her teammates en route to an eighth-place finish in the J2 girls division. Newman's teammates -- including Ingalls (22nd), Krause (24th) and Rose (25th) -- got caught in a pileup at the start of the five-kilometer race and were unable to make up the lost time.
Paul Rose raced to a 30th-place finish in the J1 boys division. That race featured 85 top skiers competing on a 15-kilometer course.
In the individual freestyle race, top Steamboat finishers in the J2 girls division included Rose in 17th, Ingalls in 20th, Krause in 24th and Newman in 36th in the five-kilometer race. Rose placed 48th in the J1 division of the boy's 10-kilometer race.
In Saturday's team event, Rose and Krause teamed up with Durango's Page Elliot to place 10th in the J2 girls relay. Ingalls was on the 11th-place team, and Newman was on the 14th-place team. Paul Rose teamed up with Aspen's Ryan Waldron and Durango's Evan Elliot to place 15th in the 26-team field.