Steamboat Springs Some of the best junior cross-country skiers in Steamboat Springs traveled to Soldier Hollow in Midway, Utah, last weekend to compete in a meet they had been working toward all season.
“This was the biggest race I’ve been to so far,” local racer Kathleen O’Connell said. “It was really fun and really successful.”
The Soldier Hollow Junior National Qualifier drew 651 athletes who competed in a two-day event Friday and Saturday.
“The super junior national qualifier at the Olympic venue at Soldier Hollow is a focal point of the season,” coach Brian Tate said.
“It is far and away the largest junior cross-country event held in the West, with teams traveling from Oregon, Washington and California to compete. The field size was up to four times larger than our Colorado events,” he said.
On the first day of competition, the skiers competed in the classic sprint event with skiers going all out on a 1.3-kilometer course in a number of heats.
Jordi Floyd highlighted the local finishers by racing past 74 other competitors in her division to take first place in the U16 division. Teammate Kathleen O’Connell was third. Gretchen Burkholder was third in the U18/U20 division.
“There were a lot of people at the race,” Floyd said. “I was pretty nervous, but we just tried to treat it like a normal race.”
Floyd qualified and then made her way through a series of heats to the finals. She placed second in the semifinals, where she said she attempted to save something for the final race.
“I knew the top two from each heat moved on, so if you can, it’s important to conserve something for the next heat,” Floyd said.
The strategy paid off as she raced to the top position in the most important heat of the day — the final heat.
Other top finishers included Jordi’s sister, Katy Floyd, who was second in the U12 girls division; Avery Harrington, who was second in the U14 girls division; and Grey Barbier, who collected his first of two first-place finishes for the weekend in the U8 division.
On Saturday, the Steamboat skiers returned to the snow-covered courses of Soldier Hollow, where they raced to three more first-place finishes and captured a total of nine podium spots.
O’Connell jumped out early to get a solid position in the mass-start, freestyle 5-kilometer cross-country race. She passed the leader, took a commanding lead about 1 kilometer into the event and looked as if she would cruise to the win.
Unfortunately, a fall on the final downhill before the finish line allowed two skiers to close the gap, but the Steamboat skier was able to regain her form and race to victory. She was followed by her teammate Jordi Floyd in second, with Anna Burkholder placing 11th.
“We are pretty competitive when we are skiing, but we are really good friends,” Floyd said about O’Connell. “I’m really proud of the way she skied last week.”
Steamboat also got first-place showings from Harrington in the U14 girls division, and Barbier was first in the U8 boys division.
Other top finishes included Dimitri Grewal, who was third in the boys U8 division; Katy Floyd, who was third in the U12 girls division; and Sven Tate, who was third in the U14 boys division.
Burkholder was second in the U18/U20 girls race. Her teammates Cara Piske and Abbey Habermehl finished third and fourth, respectively.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966