Local Nordic Ski Club coach Merry Ellefson has one of her first pupils closing in on the Winter Olympics in 2014.
While not a member of Ellefson’s Juneau Nordic Development Team (the name is currently being revised), Sylvan Ellefson, Merry’s nephew, is becoming a fixture on the World Cup Ski circuit.
“I put him on his first pair of nordic skis,” Merry Ellefson said. “He must have been about 15 at the time. Not expecting anything but for him to have fun and stay active.”
Sylvan was already an accomplished runner and downhill skier, but was losing interest in mountain descents.
Born in Colorado in 1987, Sylvan Ellefson is the son of world-class mountain runner Lyndon Ellefson, Merry’s brother, who died at age 39 on a training run with friends in Italy while preparing to compete in the Skyrunning World Championships. Lyndon Ellefson fell into a crevasse, suffering severe head injuries and drowning in the water below. Sylvan was just 11-years-old.
Sylvan Ellefson would spend time in Juneau visiting Merry as he grew older. He did not begin crosscountry ski racing until 2003, roughly a year after Merry’s gentle push into the Nordic sport. He graduated from Bates College, and a successful collegiate career, in 2009 and set goals of skiing in the World Cup competitions and the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
“I thought they were imporssible goals,” Sylvan Ellefson said. “No, I thought they were near impossible goals.”
Sylvan Ellefson has currently just arrived in Finland for his second year of World Cup races, of this season. He currently has over 10 WC races last season under his bindings. This year he has raced twice in Sweden at the end of November and twice in Finnland this past week.
In Finnland, Ellefson’s scheudle continues: 12/2 Kuusamo, FIN, 15km; 12/7, Quebec, CAN, Team Sprint: 12/08 Quebec, Sprint; 12/13 Quebec, 15km Mass Start; 12/15 Canmore CAN, Sprint; 112/16 Canmore, 30k Skiathlon.
Sylvan Ellefson can be followed on his blog: www.in-the-arena. Donations to support Sylvan and other U.S. Nordic team members can be researched at www.rmnnordicangel.causevox.com. All U.S. team members from various sports depend on donations to them to practice and compete at an elite level.
Juneau’s Joe Tompkins is currently training in Vail, Colorado and will begin racing on Copper Mountain next week for the U.S. Disabled Alpine Ski Team. Tompkins stated the only snow in the area there has been man-made to date and no fresh snow is between the trees.
“Do not ask me how I know there is no snow between the trees on the mountain,” Tompkins said. “The coach is asking that I try some giant slalom and super G’s this season as well as the downhill events.”
KUUSAMO, Finland - Anchorage’s Kikkan Randall led another historic day for the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team, finishing second in a 5k freestyle race at the Ruka Triple mini-tour in Kuusamo, Finland, on Saturday. It was Randall’s second straight distance podium and a career best for a non-sprint. She led four American women into the top 18 while Noah Hoffman (Aspen, CO) set a career best with a breakthrough 19th in the men’s 10k. Norway’s Marit Bjoergen took the win while Alexander Legkov of Russia won the men’s.
“Today was a fantastic day,” Randall said. “To finish second was a bit of redemption from a disappointing sprint yesterday. Now I’m sitting second overall going into the race tomorrow.I skied a strong, steady race picking up places as I went through the course.”
Along with Randall’s second, it was another banner day for the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team with Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) 12th, Liz Stephen (E. Montpelier, VT) 13th and Holly Brooks (Anchorage) 18th.
“I had nothing but good thoughts headed into the 5k today,” Brooks said “This was my breakthrough race last year so it’s slightly nostalgic! I knew that I needed to ski hard from the start. I am psyched for tomorrow. It should be an action packed yo-yo out there. The course skis just like a set of intervals. A really hard climb followed by a restful downhill - then we’ll do it again three more times.”
Randall now stands second in the Ruka Triple and in the overall FIS World Cup. Brooks is 10th in the World Cup standings.
The Ruka Triple concludes Sunday with a skiathlon, or pursuit, where athletes ski both a classic and freestyle leg with the start seeded by current mini-tour position.
“It was definitely Alaska like conditions out here,” Randall said. “I wore some tape on my face but still froze my hands a bit. Another big day for the team with four girls in the top 20, it was a nice reward for the coaches and techs here who have worked so hard.”
LAKE LOUISE, Alberta (AP) — Lindsey Vonn raced to her 13th World Cup victory at Lake Louise on Saturday, leading another 1-2 U.S. sweep in the second downhill at the Canadian resort.
Vonn finished in 1 minute, 52.9 seconds to edge teammate Stacey Cook by 0.52 seconds. On Friday in the season-opening downhill, Vonn beat Cook by 1.73 seconds.
Vonn nearly skidded into safety nets rounding a corner halfway down the course.
“A lot of people make mistakes in a lot of races, but if you don’t think you’re going to win after a mistake then you’re not,” Vonn said. “I kept charging. I knew I could make up some time if I skied well on the bottom and thankfully my skis were fast and I had a good line and I was able to make it up.”
Switzerland’s Marianne Kaufmann-Abderhalden was third in 1:53.52.
The 28-year-old Vonn, from Burnsville, Minn., will race in the super-G on Sunday in a bid to sweep the three-race event for the second straight year.
“I did it last year and I’m going to do my best but super-G is a whole other ball game,” Vonn said. “I really hope I can get another sweep, but I would be extremely happy to be on the podium.”
Vonn tied Switzerland’s Vreni Schneider for second place on the World Cup victory list with 55. Austria’s Annamarie Moser-Proell is the leader with 62.
Vonn raced for the third time since returning from a stomach bug that landed her in the hospital. Last week in Aspen, Colo., she was 21st in the giant slalom, then skipped the slalom.
“I’m a little bit more tired today for sure, especially with that mistake,” Vonn said. “It was definitely interesting today and an adventure. I’ve made mistakes here before. I haven’t won with that big of a mistake before.”
She said she pressure to win the women’s races because she asked the world governing body of skiing to race the men’s World Cup at Lake Louise. Vonn was denied by FIS, but hasn’t given up on that dream. Her best argument to race the men at Lake Louise is to continue winning by large margins.
“I’ve been racing here for so many years that there’s definitely been a lot of interesting things that have gone in the races, but this weekend was very important for me to make sure I won at least one race and to come away with two wins is more than I hoped for being sick,” she said.
“I felt like I had a lot of pressure coming into these races because I, of course, wanted to race the men. You make that kind of statement, you kind of have to back it up. I’m confident in the way I ski here. I know what to do and I think I proved that this weekend.”
Cook watched Vonn’s run on television at the bottom of the course.
“I was like ‘I don’t have a chance’ and then I saw her make a mistake. My heart stopped beating for a second,” Cook said. “But she’s so good. She’s the only person who can stop and still win.”
The 28-year-old Cook, from Mammoth Mountain, Calif., celebrated her first two podium finishes.
“I really kind of lifted a monkey off my back yesterday getting that first podium out of the way,” she said. “I know I can compete with these girls. It’s just been a long time coming to actually believe it and I think I’m starting to.”
BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — For some of the skiers, the super-G course was so treacherous and tricky that it was a wipeout waiting to happen.
For Matteo Marsaglia, the hill was just risky enough that it presented an opportunity to finally break through.
The 27-year-old Italian took big gambles in places where few others would Saturday for his first World Cup victory. He finished in 1 minute, 14.68 seconds to edge Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway by 0.27 seconds. Hannes Reichelt of Austria was third, and Ted Ligety of the United States wound up fourth.
“If you want to win, you need to take some risks,” said Marsaglia, who had never finished better than fourth before this race. “On this slope, you need to take some risks, be lucky a little bit. I was lucky.”
The margin between a good run and going off course was slim on the tight Birds of Prey layout. There were 16 skiers who didn’t finish — along with one who didn’t even start — and several big wipeouts.
Germany’s Stephan Keppler, the first racer of the day, had a bad spill, when he lost his balance and crashed. He slid halfway down the mountain before winding up in the netting. But he walked away with only a cut above his left eye.
Max Franz of Austria wasn’t so fortunate. He smacked a gate on his run and fell hard to the snow, bumping his head. Franz was taken down the hill on a sled and to a hospital for observation.
The first mishap of the day certainly scared reigning World Cup overall champion Marcel Hirscher of Austria. He watched Keppler’s crash and decided he wasn’t going to take any chances. Not on this challenging course and especially not in just his fifth-ever super-G start.
“When I saw that, I was like, ‘Whoa, little Marcel, this might be a step too much for you. Do it pretty slow and comfortably. Do not risk everything,’” Hirscher said.
And when he saw his teammate go down, Hirscher just shook his head.
“You have to risk everything. It’s not worth it,” he said of the course. “It’s not fair.”
Unfair? Svindal didn’t quite see it that way.
“Too hard is not unfair,” said Svindal, who finished second in the downhill Friday. “Unfair is if fog is moving in in the middle of the race. That’s unfair. A difficult course, for sure.
“To be honest, the courses where you’re like, ‘This might work, but there’s a 50-50 chance it’s not going to work’ — they’re not my favorites. When Reichelt was leading, I was happy. I knew he was a solid skier and he doesn’t go out very often. That tells me, ‘Ski this well and you can win it.’ Then Marsaglia goes up and he took major risks. I knew that’s going to be tough to beat.”
Marsaglia simply turned in a flawless run. He found speed in sections of the hill where other skiers were hitting the brakes.
“Amazing run,” said Marsaglia, from Rome. “I really like this slope. I like this slope a lot. I tried to push everything. I had nothing to lose today.”
No, he definitely didn’t.
But Hirscher felt like he did, especially since his best event — the giant slalom — is Sunday.
“Those guys wanted to win. So, they risked everything,” said Hirscher, who finished 2.34 seconds behind Marsaglia in 32nd place. “I have to learn a lot.”
This particular course was set up by a member of the Austrian delegation and featured 37 turning gates. It required patience in some portions and all-out pushing in others.
“I went for it really hard in the places I could,” Ligety said. “I tried to ski smart in the places you had to be smart. Marsaglia took more risks than all the rest of us. It paid off.”
The oft-injured Marsaglia could hardly believe his fortune. Even after the top 30 or so racers went down the hill, when his podium spot was pretty much locked up, he still kept watching the race course, half expecting someone to turn in a good run from back in the pack to beat him.
“Slowly, slowly, I understand (what this means),” Marsaglia said.
It’s been a good weekend for the Italians as Christof Innerhofer won the downhill the day before. Not that Marsaglia’s surprised.
“We are a really good team. We know that,” he said. “This summer was really good training. This year, we can do some other races like yesterday and today.”
Innerhofer couldn’t agree more. He had another good run going before nearly missing a gate. He recovered in time to finish in 17th place.
“This is super steep, with a lot of bumps,” Innerhofer said. “It was interesting for everyone on television. Here, there was action.”
There may be plenty of action in the overall race this season, too, especially with the way Ligety’s skiing. Once considered an outside threat for the title, he’s now a bona fide contender. Svindal leads the current standings, but Ligety is just 140 points behind, which he could slice into Sunday in the giant slalom.
“That kid can come in and give us a fight for the overall,” Svindal said. “He’s starting to look more and more like one of those three or four guys who will be there all the way until the end.”
That is, if Svindal ever slows down. He won two straight races in Lake Louise last weekend and has now finished runner-up twice in Beaver Creek.
“We’re a long way off, with Aksel and the way he’s skiing. Hopefully, his streak doesn’t continue,” Ligety said. “Otherwise, we won’t have a chance.”