Jennie Bender screams in jubilation as she edges Sadie Bjornsen at the finish for her first U.S. title. (USSA-Tom Kelly)
SOLDIER HOLLOW, UT (Jan. 2) - Torin Koos (Wenatchee, WA) of Bridger Ski Foundation and Jennie Bender (Johnson, VT) of CXC Elite took classic sprint titles on opening day of the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships on the Olympic trails at Soldier Hollow. For Bender, it was her first U.S. title, winning an intense sprint to the finish over Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA) of APU Nordic and the U.S. Ski Team. For Koos, it was a much anticipated seventh U.S. title. Action continues Friday at Soldier Hollow with individual start freestyle distance racing.
Torin Koos (Wenatchee, WA/Bridger Ski Foundation) and Jennie Bender (Johnson, VT/CXC Elite) won classic sprint gold on opening day of the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships at Soldier Hollow.
It was the first career title for Bender, a Univ. of Vermont graduate now skiing for CXC Elite.
For Koos, it was a much awaited seventh U.S. title. A year ago at U.S. Championships Koos was first across the line in the classic sprint, but was later disqualified.
Bender's win brought her to tears in the finish, taking her first title following a summer and fall of illness. A Univ. of Vermont grad, Bender is a three-time Junior Worlds Team member and 2011 American Birkebeiner classic champion.
Koos won over Michael Sinnott (Sun Valley, ID/Sun Valley Ski Educational Foundation) who took silver and Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess (Bend, OR/PNSA Bend Endurance Academy).
Sadie Bjornsen (Winthrop, WA/APU Nordic-U.S. Ski Team) took silver with Rosie Brennan (Park City, UT/APU Nordic) bronze.
Over 430 athletes from around the country are in Soldier Hollow with four days of racing over an eight-day period through Jan. 8.
Soldier Hollow, near Midway, UT, was the cross country and biathlon venue for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.
Racing continues on Friday with men's 15k and women's 10k freestyle individual start.
QUOTES Jennie Bender I had no idea how today would go. I came into these last races thinking that I had to stay neutral and not beat myself up too much. I had a rough fall and summer being sick, so this is pretty mind blowing. Classic sprinting is really my strength so I was really happy to qualify sixth. I was right behind a really good group of ladies that I've always been battling with and who are really strong. To be able to be with them and racing with them and to stay in there felt really good. I've never been great with altitude, but I really like this course so that helped. I'm hoping that there's more like this to come. I wanted to be on the podium today and once I was neck and neck with Sadie I was thinking I wanted to dig deep here to get that extra inch.
Torin Koos I think the level of racing is getting better in the U.S. I felt good today even though I'm really low on racing. I've only done two sprints this season and my health was not good. Today is just a classic amazing day at Soldier Hollow. I have been skiing here since 1999. I have a lot of fond memories here – I've had my first World Cup here, my first Olympics here, my first U.S. Championship here, so I always looks forward to coming back. I kind of feel like I'm coming full circle. The organizers here do an awesome job. The course is always in very fair shape.
Sadie Bjornsen The qualifier was a little more challenging because I didn't do a double pole warm up so for the first time double polling, it just did not feel good. So I kind of was a little more prepared for the quarterfinal and played around with tactics a bit. Then in the semifinal I got really frustrated taking it sort of easy and I just decided if you want to learn to be a World Cup racer, you have to go hard all the time. So I went a bit hard there. Then in the finals I found myself in the lead and I thought I could break off on the downhill but there's always that draft and then coming into the finish line it was like double pole derby but it came quicker than I expected so I didn't get my lunge in. Jennie [Bender] has had so many challenges this year and I just feel like we're in the same boat in that way so I'm sure it means so much to her.
Bryan Fish, U.S. Ski Team Coach The trails today were just in absolutely perfect condition. It was a really fair course. U.S. Ski Team athletes looked strong, particularly through the rounds. Most of the national team athletes are over on World Cup, but the younger ones that we do have here look strong. It looks like conditions are going to be really consistent throughout the next three race days, so it will be fair. They'll definitely ski into this - they've got the fitness.