Sarah Bivens racks up top 10 results
by Than Acuff
It was a successful and strange finish to the 2020 Nordic race season for two Crested Butte Nordic Team (CBNT) members at the 2020 Junior National Championships in Truckee, Calif., March 6-12.
Both first-year u16 skier Oliver White and first-year u18 athlete Sarah Bivens made it into the prestigious event after a successful season on the Rocky Mountain Nordic circuit and followed a well-designed training regimen heading into the week of racing.
“Prep was great,” says head CBNT coach Molly Susla, who was picked to join the Rocky Mountain Division team at Junior Nationals as a coach. “We tapered in volume but kept intensity up and introduced running into the program. Running helps with tempo and with quick foot movement. Also, we thought we might have to do some running warm-ups there, given their snowpack, and we wanted the kids used to that.”
Bivens, White and Susla joined their RMD peers as a squad Friday, March 6 in Truckee and split into their appropriate age groups for training, focused on one aspect specific to the Junior Nationals race venue.
“We spent a lot of time getting used to the snow, which is totally different from what they’re used to racing in Colorado,” explains Susla. “The snow in Colorado is typically colder, softer and slower, but in California it’s basically like skiing on ice. It’s so fast and super fun but a little scary. You have to be confident and well-balanced with your feet underneath you.”
The racing started on Monday, March 9 with a five-kilometer classic and Bivens came into the start line in top form.
“She was feeling good and in the right headspace,” says Susla.
So much so that Bivens stepped on the throttle from the line and punched through the five kilometers of classic skiing to finish in sixth place out of the u18 and u20 skiers combined.
“She totally crushed it,” says Susla. “It’s not even her strongest event and it was awesome.”
White slid into the start line with a little different course ahead of him. As the course softened, skiers in the u16 age class were forced to put their skis prepped with kick wax away and go to skis prepped in a way new to White.
“He had to ski on skis that weren’t his because we had to go with ‘rub’ skis,” says Susla. “There’s no kick wax on them—you just have to rough up the kick zone with sandpaper.”
White came close to his goals for his first trip to Junior Nationals mashing his skis—or someone else’s skis, actually—to finish 34th overall.
“He was really close to his goal of top 30 and was stoked,” says Susla. “Just him being there was so cool.”
After a day off on Tuesday, skiers returned to the race venue on Wednesday, March 11 for the second of four races planned for Junior Nationals, the freestyle sprint. The freestyle sprint is a series of all-out sprint races starting with a time trial. The top 30 times then qualify racers for a series of heats with the top two in each heat advancing.
White did not end up making the cut from the time trial, ending up 62nd in the final standings. Bivens, though, was in the throes of the u18 sprints all the way to the end battling her competition as well as a deteriorating course.
“Conditions were mashed potatoes,” says Susla. “It was gnarly.”
Bivens finished the time trial in 16th place to advance into the quarterfinals. There Bivens was sitting in fourth place heading into the final climb but dug deep, both literally and figuratively, to pass one last person and finish in third.
While third place in a heat doesn’t initially get someone into the semifinal rounds, there are two “lucky loser” spots available based on times in the semis and Bivens’ last-ditch effort was enough to punch her ticket into the semis.
Bivens was then knocked out of the A finals in her semifinal race but reached the B final and finished the day 10th overall for her second top 10 result in as many races.
“She had two top 10s at Junior Nationals, which is super cool,” says Bivens.
On the following day as skiers rested and coaches prepped, some bad news circulated from race officials to coaches and teams as they were forced to cancel the rest of Junior Nationals due to the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak nationwide.
“We got the word at 10 a.m. and were out of there four hours later,” says Susla. “It ended so quickly and there was no awards ceremony. It was a bummer for sure.”
Being the intrepid skiers they are though, the CBNT continues to hit the local Nordic trails, albeit with COVID-19 protocols in place, with their sights set on next season already.
“Of course these training sessions are on their own,” says Susla. “But the act of staying on snow and continuing to ski will benefit these athletes greatly into the future.”