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Saxton: Wausau JNQ Report

by Ben Saxton
December 18, 2012

Friday

Getting to see the Wausau course for the first time was really exciting.  All its brightly colored course barriers, coupled with the perfectly white snow and crisp corduroy lines made it as idyllic as you could imagine a ski course could be. However, that Friday preview was pretty far off from what we would experience for the weekend.


Saturday

Nothing is ever direct or certain about the weather, but as zealous members of the snow cult, the wonderful start to winter we had enjoyed for the past week certainly seemed to bode well for the future weeks.  However, when we came to the race venue Saturday morning we were rudely awakened. A cold rain came down at an increasing pace, putting out the fiery excitement inside the competitors. We were experiencing the worst weather a skier can endure; only a few degrees colder, and we would have been rolling in the snow, instead we were trying to stay afloat.

In the skate qualifier, the weather had to be pushed aside for a little less than 2 minutes as we chased each other’s ghosts across the course and up the hill fighting for every second we could find. My goal was to stay as relaxed as I could and be efficient in my form, and after skiing behind teammate Zach Goldberg (who has incredible technique) all week, I felt very strong in my V2 sections of the course, and put the hammer when I could. I ended up winning the qualifier by about 5 seconds, and was super pumped to turn around and see both of my teammates Zach and Jan Ketterson, as well as our travel mate Ryan Davis, qualify very highly as well.

Due to all the other races going on during the day, the schedule was as busy as I-94 at 5 o’clock on a Friday evening and we OJ’s had to spend a long time in the locker room before our heats started. Adam Martin and I engaged in an intense game of chess that ended with one of the greatest looking boards ever.

There was an accidental mix-up with the timing chips and an initial delay of 15 minutes snowballed into an hour delay by the time Junior Men’s heats were up. The weather refused to leave us alone, and the gray downpour continued all day. It certainly didn’t stop through the high school heats, or J3/4 heats, or J2 heats, so it wasn’t going to stop for us either.  When we got out there to warm up it was just as wet as when we had left the first time. But we made it through heats with little complaining thanks to the incredibly positive attitude of the volunteers at the race this weekend. They worked their tails off all weekend prepping the course, timing, and starting us. Despite the cold rain they were always excited, and it was fun every time we got to talk to them, because at least for me there was some serious positive energy coming off of those guys.

From a results standpoint the skate heats went really well for my teammates and I. Zach and I made the A final where I won and he finished 6th after an unfortunate butt slide around the first corner took him out of the race (see video). Jan was blocked up the final hill in his semi-final and was unable to pass. Because of this Jan went to B final where he had a strong race finishing 11th overall.

Sunday

The next day, we headed out to the course, expecting the same conditions. Fortunately Mother Nature relented and gave us a day that was a lot drier. Unfortunately, the damage had been done to the course the day before by the relentless torrent of ski racers, rakes and water.

The qualifier in classic was much tighter and my close friend Chris Parr beat me by .2 seconds for first place. Again I turned around to see a really strong qualifier from all of my teammates, with both Jan and Zach in the top 10.

Sunday proceeded in pretty much the exact same manner as Saturday without the time delay, and after some more time spent in the locker room (this time watching Canmore World Cup live feed!) we warmed up for what felt like the umpteenth time that weekend.

In the heats everything went really well for my teammates and me. Zach and I made the A final again, where I won and he finished 6th. That was definitely the stressful moment of the weekend, because in the A final I did not get out as quickly as I needed to and really had to move well in the pack to get in a controlling position around the tenuous corner in the woods where the race order is generally solidified. I managed to get where I was comfortable right before the woods and held it to the finish. Jan again headed to the B final but this time did some serious sprinting and took the win for 7th place overall.

The weekend was so much fun. Normally it’s hard for me to choose a favorite part about weekends where everything goes so well. It could’ve been jawing about my Broncos with the starter, or Adam and I teasing each other relentlessly about our lack of chess skills and laughing the whole time, or when I was huddled with 7 other guys around a laptop watching our countrymen and women make history on the World Cup.

But this weekend it wasn’t hard for me to choose. It was in the A final, on the last descent before the big hill and finish. As we rocketed down on skis quicker than greased lightning, I looked over at Chris and he smiled at me. Right then, I knew why loved skiing -- I was intimately in the moment with one of my best friends, rocketing through space and time, sharing in this with spectators and volunteers and coaches all from my home, and all part of it together. I thought it was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever had. That’s what Wausau was about. 

About the author...

Minnesota State high school champion Ben Saxton, along with fellow Minnesotans Jan Ketterson, Zach Goldberg, and Jake Brown have delayed entry into college in order to chase their dreams of being the best Nordic Ski racers in the country. They are living in the northwoods near Hayward, training under the guidance of Bill Pierce, FAST Performance Training. Ben Saxton will be sharing his experiences this season as he trains and races across the country and hopefully the world.

Additional: Zach Goldberg's blog


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