Reese Hanneman capped a dream week at the U.S. Cross County Championships by capturing his first national championship Friday, ending a week in which the Fairbanks skier made a compelling case that he should be part of the U.S. team at the Winter Olympics.
Hanneman, 24, completed a full set of medals by earning gold in the classic sprint at Utah's Soldier Hollow. Earlier in the championships, he earned the silver medal in the 15-kilometer classic and bronze in the freestyle sprint.
"I made this week a focus of mine this spring," Hanneman said in a press release from the U.S. Ski Team, "so I've been working and training for this for a long time. It's really nice to put it together.
"Kicking it off with that second place in the 15-K was really inspiring, and I knew that I was in good shape. So the rest of the week was just about keep that going and seeing what I could do."
Hanneman dominated all day long Friday, setting the pace in qualifying and winning all three of his heats on the 1.5-kilometer course. He beat Erik Bjornsen, his Alaska Pacific University teammate, by 1.72 seconds in the six-man finals.
The 1-2 finish by Hanneman and Bjornsen was a reversal of their effort in the 15-K classic, in which Bjornsen beat Hanneman for the gold.
In the women's race, APU's Rosie Brennan took the gold despite placing second -- the win went to Russia's Natalja Naryshkina, but foreign athletes are not eligible for medals at the U.S. championships. So Brennan, who placed second, took the gold and APU's Becca Rorabaugh, who finished fourth, claimed the bronze.
Seven athletes have already been named to the U.S. team for the Sochi Olympics -- a group that includes APU's Kikkan Randall, Holly Brooks and Sadie Bjornsen, who weren't at the national championships because they're competing in World Cup races in Europe.
More skiers will be added to the team in the coming weeks, and Hanneman's results in Utah could get him on the team, either as a discretionary choice based on recent results or an objective choice based on rankings. Bjornsen and Brennan are also among those who could grab a spot on the team -- Bjornsen is a member of the U.S. Ski Team's B squad and Brennan was on the early-season World Cup team.
Hanneman was clearly the class of the field Friday. In qualifying, he was 2.6 seconds faster than Bjornsen, the second-fastest qualifier, and more than six seconds faster than everyone else. He won his semifinal heat by 1.31 seconds and his quarterfinal heat by 2.39 seconds.
He and Bjornsen turned the final into a two-man show, with Hanneman winning in 3 minutes, 36.54 seconds. Third-place Dakota Blackhorse von Jess of Bend, Ore., trailed Hanneman by 8.56 seconds, a huge margin in a sprint race.
Skiers contended with fresh snow and temperatures near freezing, making wax choices critical.
"The waxing today was pretty important," Brennan said in the ski team press release. "I felt like I had incredible skis the whole time, so I have to thank our techs for that. I was pretty nervous going into the heats with not having enough kick and when I got to that wall and I could just run, it was perfect. And then I had really fast skis in the downhill so I thought, 'Well, it's going to be a great day.' ''
It was great day for APU in general. APU grabbed six of the 12 spots in the men's and women's final, with Tyler Kornfield finishing sixth in the men's race and Lauren Fritz finishing sixth in the women's race.
"It was super fun to be here with my teammates," Hanneman said. "My team is what got me here, so it's fun to be in the final with Erik and Tyler. APU had half the men's A finals and Erik and I went 1-2 again in the classic race, so it was a really fun day."
In four days of racing at Soldier Hollow, Alaskans collected half of the medals awarded -- 12 of 24.
Hanneman and Brennan -- who is from Utah but trains in Anchorage -- won three apiece and Bjornsen and APU's Becca Rorabaugh won two apiece.
Two medals went to non-APU skiers -- Girdwood's Chelsea Holmes of the Sun valley Ski Education Foundation (20-K freestyle silver) and Anchorage's Caitlin Patterson of the Craftsbury (Vt.) Green Racing Project (10-K classic bronze).
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
Alaska’s medal haul
Alaska skiers collected 12 of the 24 medals at the U.S. Cross Country championships at Utah’s Soldier Hollow. The championships concluded Friday with a classic sprint, but more championship races — the relay and the distance events — will be held at Kincaid Park in late March.
Gold — Erik Bjornsen
Silver — Reese Hanneman
Bronze — Reese Hanneman
Gold — Reese Hanneman
Silver — Erik Bjornsen
Gold — Becca Rorabaugh
Bronze — Caitlin Patterson
Bronze — Rosie Brennan
Silver — Chelsea Holmes
Bronze — Rosie Brennan
Gold — Rosie Brennan
Bronze — Becca Rorabaugh
Note: The only race in which an Alaskan failed to earn a medal was the men’s 30-K freestyle race
By BETH BRAGG