Joins Rocky Mountain team to face best in the nation
Local J2 Nordic ski racer Hannah Smith joined the Rocky Mountain Division team at the 2008 Nordic Junior Olympics in Anchorage, Alaska, March 9-15.
The event brings in the best Nordic skiers in the country in three different age classes: J2 (ages 14-15), J1 (ages 16-17) and OJ (ages 18-19).
Smith is a first-year J2 age class (ages 14-15) racer and was one of nine J2 racers to qualify out of the Rocky Mountain Division.
In fact, Smith was third out of the nine qualifiers, capping a solid season in her first year in the age class.
"She definitely was skiing very well this year," says Crested Butte Gunnison Nordic team head coach Jenny Abraham. "She’s skiing at the same level and same pace as the J1 and OJ category."
It was Smith’s first trip to the event and she had one simple goal in mind heading in.
"I just wanted to go up there and enjoy it," says Smith.
The week of racing opened with a one-kilometer classic sprint event on Monday, March 10 that Smith found to be incredibly fast.
"Coming from such high altitude, the Rocky Mountain Division skiers didn’t do that well," says Smith. "It was super, super fast."
After a day off on Tuesday, the skiers returned to racing on Wednesday, March 12 with a five-kilometer freestyle (skate) race.
The event has a staggered start format, leaving skiers wondering where they finished until the times results came in from the last skiers.
Smith battled through the snowy weather to finish the course in 17 minutes and 48 seconds, good enough for 21st place overall and third place from the Rocky Mountain Division.
"I was really excited because it was an interval start and allowed for some suspense," says Smith.
After another rest day the Junior Olympics ended with two straight days of racing starting on Friday, March 14 with the five-kilometer classic race.
Again, Smith kept her race strategy fairly simple.
"My goal was to go as hard as I could as long as I could," says Smith.
The five-kilometer classic race is a mass start and a lead pack took off immediately, setting a furious pace.
Smith separated herself from the rest of the field as well with her sights set on catching the lead group.
Smith managed to catch the back of the lead back by the finish passing a couple skiers to take 14th place overall with a time of 16 minutes and 20 seconds exceeding her pre-race expectations.
"I was definitely not expecting to be that good," says Smith.
Smith then closed the week on Saturday, March 15 as part of a three-person Rocky Mountain Division team in a three-kilometer relay race.
Smith was the middle leg and held onto sixth place during her stint but the team lost a place on the final leg to finish seventh overall.
Smith was psyched with her finish to the season and hopes to return next year when the Junior Olympics are in Truckee, Calif.
"It went out with a bang, which was nice," says Smith. "I hope I will be in next year."
"I think they’re phenomenal," says coach Abraham of Smith’s results at Junior Olympics. "It’s a long season and a lot of racers lose momentum at the end. I think she was in good shape at the end of the season and skied well."
Smith will now make the transition from skiing to running and join the Crested Butte Community School high school track team as they prepare for the upcoming season.