Colorado has largest final day comeback in history to take championship
RIPTON, Vt. — On the last of four days of racing in the NCAA Skiing Championships, the Colorado Buffaloes collected three podium results, demonstrated the largest final day rally in the history of the sport, and celebrated the school’s 25th overall national title. Vermont, which led team scoring through all three of the previous days, suffered a number of disappointing performances in the races and dropped all the way to third place while the Utah men’s squad propelled the Utes past the Catamounts to ultimately claim second place.
It was Colorado’s seventh national championship under Richard Rokos, who tied Bill Marolt's mark. Marolt coached CU to seven consecutive titles from 1972-78 before leaving to coach the U.S. National Team. “That was my goal originally, to reach what Bill Marolt accomplished in seven years. It took 23 years, but you know, seven isn’t my lucky number, so I’ll keep going,” Rokos said.
“I don’t know if it’s totally hit me yet, I felt it was a pretty long shot entering the day,” CU Nordic coach Bruce Cranmer said. “I knew we’d need some help from Vermont, which we got, but what an awesome day. NCAA’s, anything can happen, and things happen quickly.
“Almost a 100-point swing for a day is pretty big,” he added. “Obviously Vermont had some bad luck and probably didn’t have guys skiing their best, but credit our guys, everybody skied their hearts out. The girls set the tempo, got us the lead, and once that happened, the guys knew they could maintain it. I was too nervous to think we could do it, even in the men’s race with the lead.”
Colorado won with balance: In seven of the eight races, it was the only school to score 70 or more, and with 59 in the other, the only one to score that many in all eight. Within the overall scoring, CU also won the Nordic point battle with 391 as well as scoring the most by its women’s team (387).
“We are looking forward to going home and start preparing for next year,” Rokos said. “As soon as this thing ends, you’re already thinking about how to do it next year.”
Warm temperatures and soft snow favored the Western skiers in the event, and earlier in the day Colorado’s Joanne Reid and Eliska Hajkova picked up critical podium results, finishing first and second. Alaska Anchorage’s Marine Dusser rounded out the podium in third.
By the start of the men’s race at high noon, the course had softened even more encouraging the technique of RMISA athletes who claimed the top-six spots. Utah’s Miles Havlick finished first, ahead of Colorado’s Rune Oedegaard while Utah teammates Einar Ulsund and Niklas Persson were third and fifth, respectively.
“It was a great way to finish my intercollegiate career,” Havlick said, who successfully defended his national title in the men’s 20k freestyle race at the Rikert Touring Center.
At last year’s race in Bozeman, Mont., Havlick overcame a crash and a broken pole to beat out Montana State University’s David Norris at the finish line. In this year’s race, he had to skate around Colorado’s Rune Oedegaard who held the lead rounding the final turn on the course.
“It was tight, and my skis, they weren’t faster than any of the others’, that’s for sure. There were definitely slow pockets where the sun was. It was tricky skiing, but I managed to stay on my feet this time,” said a most satisfied Havlick in the finish area.
Last year’s race also featured a sizeable breakaway by Havlick and Norris while in this year’s 20k, a large main pack stayed intact on each lap until the final sprint. Some competitors like Vermont’s Joergan Grav, experienced misfortune on the course. The Catamount’s binding broke and he had to wait for a new ski before chasing back on. Although he lost a considerable amount of time and was figured for last, Grav rallied under the cheers of the crowd to finish 33rd out of the 40 race starters.
“Everyone was real strong and it was a big pack for most of the race,” Havlick acknowledged. “It was awesome. Skiing with my other teammates, all three of us were right in there. It was unbelievable.”
The Utah Utes did their best in the middle of the race to try to distance themselves from the pack, but it was to no avail. After four laps on the 5k course, a fast and furious field sprint decided the top positions.
“On the second and third laps, we were trying to play some games, put some speeds in there to try to tire people out, but it stayed together,” Havlick remarked on his team’s tactics within the lead group.
After launching their team into an unexpected second place result overall, Havlick, Ulsund, and Persson skied a lap through the finish stadium waving their Utes flags with sheer pride.
Colorado Sports Information contributed to this story.