Hannah punches his ticket to World Juniors in cross-country skiing | SteamboatToday.com

Hannah punches his ticket to World Juniors in cross-country skiing

Ben Ingersoll

Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Nordic skier Lars Hannah is heading to Val di Fiemme, Italy, at the end of the month to compete in the Junior World Ski Championships. Hannah's performance in the cross-country national championships in Park City, Utah, sealed him the spot.

— On the podium Wednesday in Park City, Utah, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Nordic skier Lars Hannah stood in disbelief.

He couldn't believe his momentous accomplishment during the three-day Junior National Championships at Soldier Hollow. His performance in the three races punched his ticket to the Nordic Junior World Ski Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, taking place from Jan. 27 through Feb. 2, a feat his coach Brian Tate said is unprecedented for Winter Sports Club boys.

"From my knowledge from our cross-country program, he's the first male to qualify for World Juniors in cross-country, which is 100 years of history," Tate said.

But even a day later in transit between Park City and Steamboat, Hannah was at a loss for words. He said he's been to Italy before, but only on a family vacation. He's competed internationally, but now he's older and the stage is bigger.

He's also following in the footsteps of his older sister, Emily, a Dartmouth College skier who was in the same position not that long ago.

"I was so shocked and so excited," Hannah said. "My sister made the same trip when she was my age for the U18 (World Championship). I don't know. I didn't expect to be as successful as she was. She reached the ultimate goal in my eyes."

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For Hannah, it took a late push in Park City to even qualify. Junior Worlds takes skiers' top two of three races from the Junior Nationals week. Hannah opened Saturday by winning the 15K classic in his age group but struggled through Sunday's classic sprint.

Skiers had a few days off before resuming competition Wednesday for the mass start 10K. Nearly 100 athletes started the junior race, and Hannah crossed the finish line in second place, vaulting him into second on the world points list and onto a plane to Italy at the end of the month.

For an athlete who turned 17 less than two weeks ago, Tate said Hannah is just starting to tap into his full potential. Hannah will be facing some of the world's top junior Nordic skiers, but he doesn't put too much pressure on himself. Not yet, at least.

"I'm not really expecting much at all," Hannah said. "I'm going there for the experience more than anything else. Any time you can log training hours with those athletes, it's very valuable than just going in and expecting to win it all and being disappointed."

Hannah said he and his teammates were too busy celebrating the girls’ finish Wednesday to pay much attention to what is ahead, anyway.

Abbey Habermehl had what her coach called a "career finish" in the U20 5K mass start race. The 16-year-old faced 60 athletes and held off a late surge down the stretch to grab third place in the junior women's National Championship in 14 minutes, 43.2 seconds.

"The two girls who beat her qualified for World Juniors, so she was amongst some very high-caliber athletes there at the finish," Tate said. "It's by far her most significant finish in any competition in her life."

Habermehl wasn't alone in the top 10 among SSWSC skiers in the race Wednesday. Gretchen Burkholder, 17, snagged eighth place, about 7 seconds behind Habermehl in what proved to be a tight finish at the top.

Even some alumni who have since moved on from Winter Sports Club and onto their respective collegiate squads took to Park City for the championship. On the boys side, University of Colorado skier Max Scrimgeour competed, and on the girls side Lucy Newman (CU), Madison Keeffe (Vermont), Emily Hannah (Dartmouth), Mary O'Connell (Dartmouth) and Haley Piske (Dartmouth) competed at Soldier Hollow.

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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