Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Gold Team cross-country ski racer Chelsea Holmes captured her first-ever USSA Senior National podium Wednesday in Utah.
Holmes, 26, posted a silver medal finish in the 20-kilometer mass start freestyle race of the 2014 U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships at Soldier Hollow, Utah.
She led the chase group that couldn’t catch up with a monster effort by 33-year-old Caitlin Gregg of Minneapolis, Minn. Gregg (55:33) won her fourth national title by a huge 3:36 margin over Holmes (59:10). Bronze medalist was Rosie Brennan, 25, of Alaska Pacific Nordic Center (59:25).
SVSEF Gold Teamers filled the 2-9-11 positions in the four-leg, 63-racer women’s race. Ninth was Rose Kemp, 23, in 1.00:35 (5:01 back). In 11th place and the third U-23 finisher was Mary Rose, 22, in 1.01:02 (5:29 back).
Former SVSEF racer and Community School graduate Annie Pokorny, 21, of Vermont’s Stratton Mountain School placed 24th in 1.04:05 (8:32 back).
Holmes said, “It’s my first nationals’ podium, so I’m psyched. My strategy was always to stay with Caitlin Gregg, but she slayed it so then it was a suffer-fest. All of a sudden she wasn't there and then you just have to try to hold on.
“Somewhere along the fourth lap I decided I needed to make a little gap and then it was stars. My head was in the clouds for the last 3k. Head down and push.”
Caitlin Gregg said, “You couldn’t ask for a better day.
“My game plan was to go and see what kind of a gap I could create but I’ve raced so many of these mass start skate races where you never know and it’s so hard to predict your skis. I’ve learned to chill that first kilometer. It only took the first 2 downhills before I was like, ‘oh, my skis are awesome.’”
Two-time Boulder Mountain Ski Tour men’s champion Sylvan Ellefson, 26, of Vail, Co. earned his first national title winning Wednesday’s six-leg, 30k men’s race in 1.19:11, three seconds ahead of Brian Gregg, 28 (1.19:14).
Placing fourth in the field of 77 finishers was SVSEF Gold Teamer Mike Sinnott, 28, of Ketchum in 1.20:10 (0:59 back). 2011 and 2013 champ Ellefson and 2008 Boulder king Sinnott finished 1-4 in last February’s Boulder Mountain Ski Tour.
A crowd favorite along the course, Ellefson said, “It’s been 10 years in the making to win this one race. The only thing I’ve ever wanted to do is to win a national championship and I’m glad it happened finally.
“I can’t tell you what it means to have all the support out here from my family, friends and the people who have believed in me since I started this journey.
“My race went exactly how I wanted it to go. My plan was to see how the race was going to unfold through the first 15k and through 15k I still felt really good and like the race hadn’t quite begun yet.
“Coming into that last lap I felt totally rejuvenated and ready to go. I knew the guys behind me knew that I was going for it and they’d be trying to close down. My skis were amazingly fast and on a day like today with variable conditions that’s what makes the day.”
SVSEF’s Miles Havlick (1.20:31, 1:19), a two-time University of Utah All-American, was in the hunt before settling for eighth place. Another SVSEF Gold Teamer, 25-year-old Matt Gelso, placed 15th in 1.21:04 (1:52 back). Current Univ. of Utah ski teamer Kevin Bolger, 20, was 52nd in 1.27:18 (8:07 back).
Wednesday’s racing action at Soldier Hollow also featured 10k and 5k races for the junior men and women. Wood River Valley racers also fared well in those events.
Former SVSEF racer Maggie Williams, 18, of the University of Vermont finished fifth of 59 women in the 5k race with a time of 14:45 (0:34 back). Univ. of Utah sophomore
Sloan Storey, 19, was 21st in 15:27 (1:16 back). And SVSEF’s Katie Feldman, 17, placed 26th in 15:36 (1:25 back).
Univ. of Vermont’s Cole Morgan, 19, a former SVSEF racer, placed sixth in the junior men’s 10k race in 25:48 (0:35 back). Jacob Adicoff of the SVSEF placed 48th in 27:50 (2:37 back). Hailey standing skier Omar Bermejo, 31, was 93rd in 37:39.
Classic sprints wrap up the seven-day nationals Friday.