Steamboat Springs' Mary O'Connell races Friday at the U.S. Cross Country Championships in Soldier Hollow. O'Connell was the top junior and seventh overall in an individual-start, 10-kilometer race.
Steamboat Springs Even Mary O’Connell was taken aback.
The 2012 Steamboat Springs High School graduate and freshman skier at Dartmouth went into Friday’s U.S. Cross Country Championships thinking a top-30 result was about where she would finish in an individual-start, 10-kilometer race.
O’Connell finished in 30 minutes, 3.3 seconds, a mere 51 seconds behind winner Rosie Brennan and 13 seconds off the overall podium. She lapped the junior field, winning by an impressive 90 seconds. She said her seventh-place overall finish was one of her career highlights at the Soldier Hollow event.
“I was surprised,” she said. “I wasn’t really sure how I’d do going into the week. But I think a lot of it was I didn’t have a whole lot of expectations.”
Should she have another good race Sunday in a mass-start, 5-kilometer race, O’Connell will find herself again on the World Junior Championship team.
“Mary’s result was phenomenal,” Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club coach Josh Smullin said. “She had been doing some time trials, but they hadn’t been that fast. She got used to the altitude or something clicked.”
Emily Hannah was the second overall junior and finished 20th overall. The two cross-country skiers graduated from Steamboat Springs High School in 2012, spurning offers to continue to ski with the U.S. Ski Team.
O’Connell now attends and skis for Dartmouth, and Hannah does the same at Harvard.
“I just tried to stay really relaxed,” O’Connell said. “I was feeling good and taking advantage of that. I was able to push the pace a little bit.”
Other top results included Madison Keeffe and Gretchen Burkholder finishing fourth and fifth, respectively, in the women's J1 field. Lars Hannah was sixth in the men's J1 field.
The event continues Sunday with a mass-start, 5-kilometer race for the women and a mass-start, 10-kilometer race for the men.
Sunday’s race is the last to qualify for the Junior World Championships.
The Steamboat racers also will be in town Jan. 12 and 13 for the University of Colorado Invitational at Howelsen Hill.
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com