by Than Acuff
Crested Butte Nordic u20 athlete Woody Martineau put the finishing touches on his high school Nordic racing career, posting three top-10 results out of four races at the Junior National Championships in Soldier Hollow, Utah, Tuesday through Saturday, March 6-10.
It was Martineau’s fourth trip to Junior Nationals, starting it all off as a u16 skier, then making his way through the u18 ranks and finishing in the u20 age class this year.
Prior to the championships, coach Molly Susla and Martineau discussed goals for the upcoming week of racing, looking to make his mark on the larger racing field.
“His goal was to have top-10 results and focus on the skate races because that is his strength,” explains Susla. “We even talked about the chance at a podium as well.”
Susla was picked as one of 14 coaches from the Rocky Mountain Nordic Division to join 48 racers headed to Junior Nationals. And when it got down to assigning roles, Susla was handed the job of coaching the u20 boys.
“It’s super fun because I got to work with athletes from all over Colorado,” says Susla.
Martineau opened the week on Tuesday, March 6 with the individual start 10-kilometer classic race. With his skate races on the near horizon, Susla and Martineau planned to use the first race as a tune-up for the rest of the week.
“We just discussed going out there to get the race jitters out and have fun,” says Susla. “We weren’t sure of the competition so we didn’t talk about results—just go out and do the best he could.”
In the end, Martineau exceeded the initial game plan as he pushed through the 10 kilometers at maximum pace to finish in eighth place overall.
“We were both really excited about the race and it was a very good start to the week,” says Susla.
Gunnison Nordic Team u18 athlete Garrett Butts placed 19th in his race, Bria Rickert finished 42nd among the u18 girls and Sarah Bivens cracked the top-20 to finish in 17th place in the u16 girls race.
Martineau then jumped into the freestyle sprint races on Wednesday, March 7. The sprint races are an intense day of racing as each athlete must ski a 1.3-kilomter course as fast as possible to make the cut for the top-30 and then race a series of heats before the winners are determined. Martineau made the cut for top-30 and was in the hunt for the semifinals during his quarterfinal race but finished third in his heat to put an end to his day. He still ended up in 14th place overall.
“He was leading his heat up and over the one major hill but the other skiers were drafting him and managed to pass him,” explains Susla. “That was more of a tactical thing and that’s what sprinting is all about. Sometimes you have to try something out and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. He finished 14th and that’s still pretty good.”
The rest of the local skiers didn’t make it out of the qualifier round and everyone took Thursday to rest, yet still remain on point for the next two days of racing.
“It’s a training and rest day,” says Susla. “We went out and skied for 45 minutes, looked at the course and tested our skis.”
Friday had skiers from around the country lining up for the mass-start freestyle, aka skate, race. The u20 skiers had 15 kilometers of skiing around a 3.3-kilometer loop to complete and Martineau was thinking one thing, while Susla had something else in mind for him.
“Woody wanted to go out with the lead group and try to hang on and I told him that other skiers had to try to ski with him and hang on,” says Susla.
Martineau took to the challenge and went out with a group of 12 skiers who left the rest of the field behind. As they circled around and around, Martineau had pushed up into ninth place and remained there through the final lap to crack the top-10 again.
“He had himself in a good position the whole time and I think he left it all out there,” says Susla.
Meanwhile, Butts finished his day with a 14th-place finish in the u18 class and Bivens placed 31st among the u16 racers.
The week of Junior Nationals racing came to a close with the classic team relays on Saturday, March 10 with each one of the three relay team members skiing a 3.3-kilometer loop. Martineau teamed up with a couple of skiers from Steamboat Springs to help lead the team to a fourth-place finish, giving him three top-10 results out of four total races.
“He skied a really good leg to open and get his team in third place after the first lap,” says Susla. “It was a great week of racing for Woody.”
Butts’ team ended up taking second place in their u18 age class and Bivens was on a Rocky Mountain Nordic team that finished in sixth overall. Once all of the points from the week were tallied up for the different regions, the Rocky Mountain Nordic division finished in second place in the overall in the Alaskan Cup team competition.
“It was one of the best years Rocky Mountain Nordic has ever had,” says Susla.
Martineau graduates this year and is headed off to Williams College, where he will continue his Nordic racing career.
As for the Crested Butte Nordic team, they still have one more weekend as six u14 age-class skiers are headed to Aspen this weekend for the u14 Rocky Mountain Nordic championships.