In three short days, life for Anchorage skier Rosie Brennan went from surreal to real fun.
In the same span, Anchorage’s Gus Schumacher signaled that at age 20, he’s ready for the next level in his career.
Brennan, 31, rocked the best individual race of her World Cup career and Schumacher scored World Cup points for the first time Sunday in Kuusamo, Finland.
Brennan, a 2018 Winter Olympian and Alaska Pacific University skier, capped three strong days of racing in the Ruka Triple by placing fifth in the women’s 10-kilometer freestyle pursuit race.
She posted the third-fastest time of the day to move up from eighth place, her position in Saturday’s 10K classic. Combined with a 16th-place showing in Friday’s classic sprint, the results lifted Brennan to fifth place overall in the Ruka Triple standings, another career-best.
After Friday’s season-opening race, Brennan said by email that it felt surreal to be racing again after a long, weird offseason filled with uncertainty because of the COVID-19 pandemic. After Sunday’s race, she felt sheer joy.
“I am beyond excited to close out this weekend on such a high note, not just for me, but for the whole team!!!” Brennan wrote. “... I’m thrilled to have had a great opening weekend and am really excited to see what else the winter can bring!”
The rest of the U.S. team, as Brennan noted, had a pretty big day too. A total of six Americans -- five of them from Alaska, including siblings Scott and Caitlin Patterson -- scored World Cup points with top-30 times.
In the women’s 10K freestyle, Jessie Diggins of Minnesota had the fifth fastest time and Anchorage’s Caitlin Patterson and Hailey Swirbul recorded the 27th and 28th best times, respectively. Diggins, who started the pursuit in 21st place, finished 15th; Patterson went from 49th to 46th and Swirbul moved from 37th to 32nd.
In the men’s 15K freestyle, Anchorage’s Scott Patterson and Schumacher collected World Cup points -- awarded to the top 30 finishers -- by posting the 23rd and 24th fastest times, respectively.
Patterson vaulted from 53rd at the start of the pursuit to 42nd at the finish; Schumacher jumped from 41st to 32nd.
“I was really happy with today,” Schumacher said by email. “I felt like I was able to fight hard and it was nice to be rewarded with a couple points. It was also a ton of fun to ski in a pack again, the tactics of mass start races are one of my favorite things about the sport.”
Schumacher was the fastest U23 skier Sunday, a day after registering the third-fastest U23 time in Saturday’s 15K classic. This is significant, because it’s Schumacher’s first season as a U23 skier, and already he’s positioning himself as a medal contender for the U23 World Championships scheduled for February.
Schumacher, an Alaska Winter Stars skier, wrapped up a brilliant junior career last season by claiming a historic gold medal in his final appearance at the World Junior Championships.
“It feels like I’m getting better with every race,” he said.
Patterson’s three races in Finland marked his first World Cup action in nearly a year and his first World Cup points since March of 2019. The APU skier started last season in Europe but came back to the United States at the end of December and spent the rest of the season racing domestically.
“I think there were good signs throughout the weekend,” Patterson told U.S. Skiing and Snowboarding. “I’m psyched to put out a good time of day and look forward to more opportunities. I need a few more classic races to build for, and my sprinting always needs work, but I felt there were good parts and good signs every day.”
Brennan enjoyed three straight good days of racing. She was the 11th skier to leave the start line Sunday and didn’t settle into a pack until the final half of the race. Once she did, things got interesting.
“There were quite a few sprinters in that pack so things quickly got tactical,” she said. “I tried to remain composed and make a plan, but found myself in the back of the pack heading down the last big downhill.”
Someone ahead crashed, she said, causing a pile-up of skiers on the high-speed downhill.
“I had to quickly adapt and slalom through them. Luckily, I made it through unscathed,” she said.
Brennan wasn’t able to catch up to the leaders -- she finished 52.5 seconds behind winner Therese Johaug of Norway, but just 5.5 seconds behind second-place Tatiana Sorina of Russia -- she was happy to finish with a career-best result.
“I am most proud of how I attacked from the start and kept my composure all the way to the end,” Brennan said. “I’m thrilled to have had a great opening weekend and am really excited to see what else the winter can bring.”