Fast start helps Steamboat Springs skier make Junior World Championship lineup | SteamboatToday.com

Fast start helps Steamboat Springs skier make Junior World Championship lineup

Wyatt Gebhardt races at the Soldier Hollow Olympic complex near Park City, Utah, during last week's National Cross Country Ski Championships.

— Wyatt Gebhardt didn't give much thought to being in Park City, Utah, at the end of January, or being part of the team that would be representing the United States at the Junior World Skiing Championships, when the season started a few months ago.

"I didn't really think about it too much … it was kind a reach and a long-term type of goal," the Steamboat Springs High School junior said about making the team. "It wasn't the main goal this year."

Instead the young skier focused on his own improvement and placing well enough at early season races to be invited to Scandinavia for a U18 training camp he wanted to attend.

"His season goal was to qualify for the U18 Scandinavian trip, but his results far exceeded his goals," coach Brian Tate said. "He will now compete for the United States in the Nordic World Junior Championships."

The team has not officially been named, but the local skier is assured a place on the team after a top showing at the 2017 United States Ski & Snowboard Association Cross Country Nationals last weekend in Park City. He won the U18 class and was the second overall junior in a 15-kilometer race on Jan. 7. He was also fifth overall and fifth among juniors in a 10-kilometer mass start classic race held Jan. 10.

The finishes mean Gebhardt will be one of six male cross country skiers under the age 20 that will represent the United States at the Junior/U23 World Championships, which will be held Jan. 30 to Feb. 5 on the Olympic venue near Park City.

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He will join special jumpers Decker Dean and Logan Sankey, who were named to the team last week. The Nordic combined team is expected to be named before the end of the week and is expected to include more Steamboat Springs athletes.

For Gebhardt, the chance to represent his country is something he is looking forward to, but he said he isn't going into the event with any expectations.

Sure, he said, it would be nice to finish in the top-30 because it would qualify him for a training camp in Norway this summer, but his plan for the junior championships have little to do with collecting a specific result.

"I think my success this season comes from training hard and having fun at what I like doing," Gebhardt said.

He is the latest member of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club to earn an invitation to the Junior World Championships.

Tate gives credit for the team's most recent run of success to coach Josh Smullin, who has had four different skiers quality for the championships since he joined the program six years ago. Mary O'Connell and Emily Hannah made the cut in 2012 and 2013. Lars Hannah was named to the team in 2014, and now, Gebhardt carries on the tradition.

But Gebhardt wasn’t the only Steamboat Springs skier earning top finishes at the U.S. Nationals last weekend.

Steamboat's Noel Keeffe matched his accomplishments from last season by once again qualifying for the U.S. Ski Team’s U18 Scandinavian Cup Trip, which will take him Norway with five other males and six females.

He qualified for the trip with a seventh-place finish in the 15-kilometer freestyle race and a second in the classic sprint in the U18 results.

Other highlights for the Steamboat team included a seventh-place finish by Dasha Kuznetsova in the 10-kilometer freestyle event and a fourth place in the 7.5-kilometer mass start classic among junior skiers.

Nick Sweeney was ninth in the classic sprint for U18 skiers. Fifteen-year-old Waverly Gebhardt was second for U16 skiers and eighth in the older U18 class in the mass start classic results.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966