U of U gets top 5’s, Soldier Hollow star on podium for XC in Slovenia at Jr. Worlds

KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia — The cross country ski races were held  at the FIS Nordic Junior World Ski Championships at Planica in Slovenia from Feb. 5-11 where the President of Slovenia appeared and made a welcome speech to the 420 athletes from 46 countries at the Opening Ceremony.

U.S. Ski and Snowboard’s Samantha Smith, from Boise, Idaho skis for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Team. She placed 2nd in the 1.2 km Sprint Free, behind by 1.07 seconds, first place was won by Gina Del Rio of Andora with a winning time of 2 minutes 40.84 seconds, and third was Milla Grosberhaugen Andreassen of Norway finishing 2.78 back from the leader.

Smith told TownLift, “The course was fast, it was one of the shorter sprints I’ve skied, and not super hilly either so it made the race interesting, a lot of us were pretty tight because there wasn’t a ton of opportunity to distance yourself. The heats were really tight with everyone rolling together because there wasn’t a big opportunity to make gaps, but it was really fun, skis were great and conditions were fast.”

Smith also had a 6th place in Planica in the 10 km Interval Start Classic, behind the leader by 50.3 seconds. First was Evelina Crussell of Sweden with a time of 26:40.1, second place was Gina Del Rio of Andora back 8.5 seconds, and third was Norway’s Anniken Sand 23.4 seconds back.

Continuing with the women, Haley Brewster  from Aspen, Colo. placed 2nd in the 20 km Mass Start Free 2nd place by 1.3 seconds, first was Marina Kaelin of Switzerland and third, by a time off the leader of 4.5 seconds, was Maelle Veyre of France. 2022 Olympian Novie McCabe, a student of the University of Utah placed 4th inn the race, off the podium by just .3 seconds.

For the men, the 1.2 km Sprint Free bronze medal was earned by John Steel Hagenbuch of Sun Valley Idaho and the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Team. In Planica, he got the bronze by 0.71 seconds out, second place went to William Matz Jenssen of Norway by 0.14 seconds, and first was won by Aleksander Elde Holmboe with a winning time of 2:15.78.

Hagenbuch won the gold medal at the National Championships for the 20 km mass start in January at Soldier Hollow Nordic Center (SOHO) as well as a bronze at the same competition for the sprint. He appreciated the decades-long, and ongoing opportunity to train and compete at SOHO.

The drive down from Hagenbuch’s hometown of Ketchum, Idaho is well worth the time seeing that he can utilize the world class gym equipment at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard’s Center of Excellence (COE)  Headquarters in Park City and its close proximity to Midway’s high altitude cross country summer and winter trails at SOHO, he explained. The COE boasts a treadmill large enough for cross country skiers to simulate racing while wearing skis and holding poles at full extension outward from the body. He thinks there would be no better place than SOHO to host the potentiality of the 2034 Winter Olympic cross country events.

John Steel Hagenbuch (R) in 3rd on the Planica podium. Photo: Kim Hagenbuch.

Hagenbuch, after the Planica podium, told TownLift, “Considering that I was relieved to even make the heats, it was a really incredible day to go all the way to the final. It was not possible without a great support team, cracked skis, and a whole lot of luck. This sis definitely my best sprint ever, so I’m grateful for such good timing. There were a lot of really strong competitors out there and I was happy with how I executed my race plan of attacking the second part of the course. It was easy to get nervous lining up with some really strong sprinters, but AI was confident in my climbing and finishing speed after a solid qualifier.” 

In that qualification race for the 1.2 km Sprint Free, Brian Bushy a student at the University of Utah, finished in 3rd place, Hagenbuch was 6th, and U of U’s Walker Hall from Salt Lake City was 23rd (out of 79). Then in Hagenbuch’s podiumed final, Hall got 18th, and Bushy got 21st. 

Hagenbuch. Photo: Kim Hagenbuch

Kim and Jay Hagenbuch, John Steel’s parents below in interview.

Finishing in 4th place in Planica in the Mixed Relay 4x5km Classic Free, was the team of the U of U’s Zackary Jayne, Samantha Smith, Jack Lange from Dartmouth, and Ava Thurston of Vermont. They were 59.8 seconds back , the winners were Sweden at 50:35.2, then Norway at 13.9 back in 2nd, followed in 3rd by Italy at 45.1 back.

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