Alaska skiers fill up the podiums at national championships

U.S. National Championships cross country skiing David Norris

Alaskans won both the women’s and men’s races and dominated the podiums Sunday at the U.S. National Championships in Craftsbury, Vermont, as winners Caitlin Patterson and David Norris made another bid for a start spot at the upcoming World Championships.

Alaska women went 1-2-3-4 in the 20-kilometer mass-start freestyle race. Rosie Frankowski was second, Jessica Yeaton third and Hailey Swirbul fourth.

In the men’s 30K, Norris led a 1-3-4 Alaska finish. Scott Patterson placed third and 19-year-old Gus Schumacher was a minute off the podium in fourth place.

Caitlin Patterson, a 28-year-old from Anchorage, notched her second national title of the championships by taking a decisive win in the women’s 20-kilometer skate race with a cold and calculated strategy.

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“The combination of knowing the downhills, and skiing them well, and having really fast skis made it so I was able to pull my gap on the downhill and hold on for the climbs,” Patterson said about the courses at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, where she trains. “On the first lap I had pulled a little gap open on the first two big downhills and then let it close on the uphills just to feel people out and not burn up too quickly.”

Fast skis were not an advantage Patterson needed after proving her fitness earlier this week with a dominant win in the 10K classic race. The two victories give her an all-but-certain chance at qualifying for World Championships next month in Seefeld, Austria.

Frankowski kept up with Patterson for about seven kilometers, trying to make up for what she called a poor ski choice by hammering the uphills.

“I was ball-busting on the uphills, but I couldn’t stay with Caitlin on the downhills, even in her draft,” said Frankowski, a member of the APU Nordic Ski Center who is originally from Minneapolis.

Frankowski built up a gap of more than 30 seconds on her pursuers at one point before slowing due to muscle cramps.

Meanwhile, two more APU skiers began to reel in Frankowski near the end of the race.

Yeaton, who will compete for team Australia at the World Championships, finished third, six seconds back from Frankowski.

Swirbul, in her first season with APU, continued a strong showing in Vermont with a fourth-place finish. That put her on the podium because as a member of a foreign ski team, Yeaton is ineligible for medals at the U.S. championships.

On the men’s side, a poker-game drama unfolded between three skiers with Alaska ties, with Norris using a late push to finish six seconds ahead of Kyle Bratrud and 19 seconds ahead of Scott Patterson.

It was his first national championship and sixth career podium finish.

Norris said he was confident in his finishing abilities.

U.S. National Championships skiing

“Just seeing how Scott and Kyle were skiing, I thought my skis were running well and I wasn’t under any pressure,” he said. “I figured if I could put in a push I could get it at a line. At the base of the last major climb, I tuck-skated through and carried speed in the last hill. Halfway up I looked over my shoulder to see if I’d done any damage on Scott and Kyle and saw that I had put some time into them.”

The race was redemption for Norris, who said bad skis cost him a chance at a win in the 15K classic earlier in the week.

Bratrud, who trained with the APU team in the summer of 2014 and now skis for Vermont’s Stratton Mountain school, beat a pre-race favorite in Patterson. Patterson, Caitlin’s brother, has a 12th-place Olympic finish to his name but has been unable to find top form this season.

A minute behind the leaders, Schumacher of the Alaska Winter Stars showed his chops by skiing away from a crowded chase group of veterans to finish fourth, his best nationals showing to date.

Schumacher was eligible to compete in Sunday’s 10K junior race but opted to do the longer, more competitive 30K. He finished nine seconds ahead of 2014 Olympian Brian Gregg.

Kendall Kramer, a 16-year-old from Fairbanks, continued her streak of dominant performances in the junior category by winning the under-20 women’s 7.5K by a whopping 23 seconds. Earlier she finished 10th overall in the senior women’s race.

Taking silver in the junior boys 10K was APU’s Luke Jager.

Schumacher and Kramer will compete in the World Junior Championships in Lahti, Finland later this month. Last year, Schumacher led the U.S. relay team to a historic silver-medal finish.

Skiers will have to wait for another two weeks before the final World Championships team is announced, but Norris and Caitlin Patterson have shown that they are likely nominees.

“I don’t know anything about that and haven’t crunched numbers, but hopefully it’s enough,” said Norris.

The final race of the championships, a freestyle sprint, will take place on Tuesday.

Top 4 senior women — 1) Caitlin Patterson 59:23; 2) Rosie Frankowski 1:00:03; 3) Jessica Yeaton 1:00:09; 4) Hailey Swirbul 1:00:30. Other Alaskans — 16) Lydia Blanchet 1:02:46; 25) Emma Tarbath 1:04:12; 30) Taryn Hunt-Smith 1:05:03; 31) Anna Darnell 1:05:41; 36) Rebecca Rorabaugh 1:05:52; 58) Michaela Keller-Miller 1:08:42.

Top 4 senior men — 1) David Norris 1:18:02; 2) Kyle Bratrud 1:18:08; 3) Scott Patterson 1:18:21; 4) Gus Schumacher 1:19:33. Other Alaskans — 9) Eric Packer 1:20:03; 11) Thomas O’Harra 1:20:04; 13) Forrest Mahlen 1:20:26; 14) Hunter Wonders 1:20:27; 37) Seiji Takagi 1:24:02 42) Max Donaldson 1:24:28; 45) Dawson Knopp 1:24:52; 54) Logan Mowry 1:26:17.