Luke Jager admits his ski season to this point hasn’t gone quite liked he’d planned.
But Jager, who grew up in Anchorage and competes for the University of Utah, may have found his stride this week at the U.S. National Cross-Country Championships.
Jager finished third in the finals of the classic sprint race Wednesday at the Michigan Tech trails in Houghton, Michigan. But as the top American he was the winner of the U.S. title in a time of 2:53.39.
Norwegians Kristoffer Alm Kasrud and Magnus Boee, both American collegiate skiers, finished ahead of Jager.
“It’s kind of a funny thing the way that all works,” he said about the championship. “You can’t be disappointed. Would’ve definitely liked to have crossed the line first as well, but that’s not the way it shook out. I went as hard as I can and those guys were super strong and better on the day. You can’t be bummed about it.”
Jager was in Europe for the beginning of the World Cup season but came home after struggling in the early going.
“My biggest goal was making sure my head was in a good place and having fun with it all,” he said. “It was really great to be back skiing at a U.S. Championship.”
Competing side-by-side with APU racers and being with other Alaska skiers over the week was refreshing.
“It’s like a nice little homecoming,” he said. “APU is here, that’s my home club really. To get to see those guys and get some advice from those teammates and those coaches is really sweet. It’s just a really positive environment.”
APU’s Zanden McMullen, another Anchorage native, finished fifth overall and third among Americans.
On the women’s side, Hailey Swirbul continued to dominate. After winning Monday’s 10K freestyle interval race, the APU Nordic Ski Center athlete added a second title.
She won the classic sprint race in a time of 3:22.56, with a pair of UAF skiers — Mariel Merlii Pulles and Kendall Kramer — finishing second and fifth, respectively.
In the junior races, APU racer Derek Richardson finished fourth in a time of 3:08.67. APU teammate Marley Ireland finished fifth in the women’s junior race with a time of 3:52.38.
The championships continue Friday with the 20K mass start classic race for the men’s and women’s and the 10K version for juniors.