Before Sunday's Tour of Anchorage, James Southam's previous ski race came in front of about 35,000 frenzied fans at the World Nordic Championships in the Czech Republic, where he at times skied stride for stride with Olympic and world champions. Holly Brooks' came in a field of 7,500 skiers in the American Birkebeiner in Wisconsin, where spectators stood six-deep along the finish chute to witness a photo-finish that Brooks lost by inches.
So coming back home to race in a local event had to be a letdown, right?
"Not at all," said Brooks, who coaches youth and masters skiers for Alaska Pacific University. "It feels really good to ski well in my hometown. A lot of my kids were out cheering for me, and I passed a lot of my masters skiers and I cheered for them.
"There were even a few signs that said 'Go Holly!' "
And go she did, for 50 kilometers, from Service High to Kincaid Park, fast enough to claim her second straight title in the city's most popular ski race.
APU's Southam, a 2006 Olympic skier who was a member of the U.S. Ski Team at the recent world championships, also repeated, topping the men's 50-K field for the second straight year.
About 1,500 racers competed Anchorage's most popular race, held on well-prepared trails that traversed the city. Temperatures in the mid-teens left many with icicles hanging from mustaches or eyebrows.
Southam, 30, finished in 2 hours, 9 minutes, 5.2 seconds. It was his second 50-K race in eight days, the first of which happened in Europe last Sunday at the World Nordic Championships, a gathering of the world's best skiers.
His body was ready for another long race, he said, even though his body clock was still a bit off.
"It's somewhere in the Midwest right now," said Southam, who made the long trip from the Czech Republic to Alaska on Tuesday and spent the rest of the week dealing with jet lag. To be sure Saturday night's Daylight Savings Time changeover didn't further confuse him -- or make him late for Sunday's 8:30 a.m. start -- he set his clocks forward two days early.
The world championships -- the race series where Anchorage's Kikkan Randall made U.S. history by winning a silver medal -- were the third for Southam and his best so far.
"It was the first time I was in there (keeping up) with some of the best guys," he said. "It was the first time I got the results I hoped for. It was a much better experience."
Huge, cowbell-ringing crowds of 30,000 or more showed up for every race, he said. On Sunday, he heard a few cowbells from spectators scattered along the course and he crossed the finish line in front of a small crowd at Kincaid that got bigger later in the day, as more finishers arrived.
But like Brooks, he didn't feel a letdown skiing in a local race so soon after racing in his sport's biggest event.
"Getting to race in front of friends is fun," the Dimond High graduate said. "There were probably six American (fans) at the World Championships."
Southam skied the first 35 kilometers or so with Mark Iverson (second in 2:10:25.6) and Anders Haugen before breaking away and skiing the final 15 kilometers alone.
Brooks skied the first 43 kilometers with Kate Arduser -- the former Kate Pearson -- before realizing it was time to make a move and break away. Her photo finish at the 50-kilometer Birkebeiner -- where Brooks finished one-tenth of a second behind winner Rebecca Dussault of Colorado -- was still on her mind.
"I decided I didn't want it to come down to a sprint," she said. "Losing by a ski tip? I've already done that this year. I was on the flats and I decided it was now or never. I wanted to ski by myself for a while."
Brooks had no need for a sprint finish this time. She won in 2:28:59.9, comfortably ahead of Arduser, who was second in 2:30:03.5.
In the 40-kilometer freestyle race, titles went to 47-year-old Cheryl Dubois and 17-year-old Jacob Remington.
Dubois edged Kelli Jo Boonstra by four seconds, winning in 1:55:01.2 with Boonstra right behind in 1:55:05.1. Remington clocked a 1:46.32.5 to beat another teenager, 16-year-old Davis Dunlap, by a minute (1:47:32.3.).
Stian Stensland and Christina Matson set the pace in the 25-K classical race. Stensland won in 1:24:41.7, nipping Kjell Risung at the finish (1:24:46.2) and Matson prevailed in 1:53:39.5, almost a minute ahead of second-place Kate Hostetler (1:54:23.2).
In the 25-K skate race, James Zwiefel breezed to victory in 1:14:09.4, while Kyle Barnhart took second place in 1:17:20.2, two-tenths of a second ahead of Scott Wheeler. A pair of 16-year-olds topped the women's race, with Kimberly Del Frate winning in 1:27:16.6 and Amanda Del Frate close behind in 1:27:37.2.
Find Beth Bragg online at adn.com/contact/bbragg or call 257-4336