BLUE MOUNTAIN NORDIC TEAM HEADS PACK
Members of the Blue Mountain Nordic Team are well on their way to qualifying for the U.S. Junior Nationals next month in Fairbanks, Alaska.
"This might be the largest team we have ever sent from La Grande to a national-level race," BMNT coach David Axelrod said of his young skiers. "So far, we are right on schedule in terms of our training and are showing improvement in our speed and endurance every week," he said.
The brother and sister duo of Dane and Kirsten Johnson have both turned in excellent results.
Kirsten Johnson finished fourth in her first freestyle sprint race series in January, and third in her first 5 km classic race in Winthrop, Wash.
Two weeks later, in the Bavarian Pursuit in Leavenworth, Wash., Kirsten took two first-place medals in the 5 km freestyle and 5 km classic. The La Grande middle schooler's time in the classic race (16:17) was not just the fastest time among the younger, J2 girls, but was the fastest overall female time of the day, eight seconds faster than the next fastest high school female skier. Her coach described her performance as "incredible."
After a slow start in Winthrop, Dane Johnson roared back into top form in Leavenworth, where his time of 27:19 in the 10 km classic put him securely in first place, a minute up on former La Grande resident Trent Lowe, who finished second. The following day, the places reversed, Lowe edging out Johnson by 30 seconds in the 10 km freestyle. Johnson finished second in a time of 25:31.
The Johnsons' teammates Travis Dixon and Ezra Axelrod have also enjoyed solid starts this season. After a difficult weekend in Winthrop, Dixon moved convincingly into the mix at Leavenworth, finishing sixth in the classic race in a time of 29:21, and ninth in the freestyle in 27:06. Ezra Axelrod began his season in style, placing third in the freestyle sprint series in Winthrop. He trailed throughout the final sprint, and in a strong effort passed the next skier on the last hill and began closing in on the two leaders at the finish. In Leavenworth, Axelrod finished in the middle of the pack, 10th in the classic in a time of 30:16, and 11th in the skate in a time of 27:39.
Axelrod is pleased with his team at this point in the season and singled out Dixon and Kirsten Johnson for their contributions.
"They have made us a major threat at races. We're taking some teams to school this season, and it's in no small part because of these two stepping it up to a more competitive level." He credited Middlebury College Ski Team member and former BMNT skier Josh Axelrod for working with both skiers over the long holiday break.
"Josh skied alone with Kirsten and Travis much of the holiday, and worked with them on technique and strategy," Axelrod said.
The BMNT will race this weekend in the Sunnyside Pursuit at Mount Bachelor.