Steamboat Springs Emily Hannah, 17, of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, established herself as one of the fastest cross-country skiers in the nation Tuesday, streaking to 10th place in the 1.4-kilometer freestyle sprint event at the 2012 National Championships at Black Mountain outside Rumford, Maine.
“I couldn’t be happier with my finish,” Hannah said. “I had really fast skis today.”
The race was won by 20-year-old U.S. Ski Team phenom Jessie Diggins. Masters skier Caitlin Gregg was second, and U.S. Ski Team member Ida Sargent was third on the course of manmade snow at Black Mountain.
Hannah’s eye-opening results came barely nine months after she achieved her career-best results in the Junior Olympics in Minneapolis in March, placing seventh in the 5-kilometer freestyle race and qualifying among the five fastest sprinters as a first-year JI athlete (she was 16 at the time).
Tuesday’s result signals she has the potential to be one of the top women skiers in the U.S. Her qualifying time of 3:09.11 for the sprint that is the equivalent of 0.87 of a mile was less than a second behind one of the top senior skiers in New England — Hanna Dreissigacker, of the Craftsbury Green Team, who placed eighth — but still more than 10 seconds behind Diggins. Another JI skier, Anika Miller, of Vermont’s Stratton Mountain Club, finished sixth in the sprint race.
Hannah, who is coached by Brian Tate and Josh Smullin, said she has been more focused on longer races early this winter.
“I’ve been getting a lot better at the distances, but I’m really proud of my qualifying time today,” she said.
Hannah’s race overshadowed a strong finish by teammate Mary O’Connell, who finished 56th in the field of 152 women. Another way to gauge O’Connell’s finish would be in the context of her JI age group, where she unofficially ranked eleventh. Teammate Haley Piske was 88th, Madison Keefe finished 107th, and Lucy Newman was right behind in 108th.
Among the men, Dakota Blackhorse-Von Jess was the winner against Mike Sinnott, of Sun Valley, with Sylvan Ellefson, of Vail, in third. Steamboat’s Max Scrimgeour was 101st in the field of 203 men, and Charlie Von Thaden finished 109th.
The freestyle sprint, where skiers use the skating technique, is like two races in one. The entire field goes out and skis the 1.4-kilometer course one at a time, and the top finishers advance to the quarterfinal heats.
The heats are more akin to a roller derby race than the solo time trial, and Hannah acknowledged she wasn’t quite prepared for the action.
The Winter Sports Club athletes will have Wednesday off before tackling longer freestyle and classical races Thursday and Friday and finishing up with a classical sprint Sunday.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com