March 11, 2010

By Lynn DeBruin
Special to

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. - At this time four months ago, Charlie Smith was riding the waves in Indonesia, worried more about sharks than his skiing career.

Re-motivated and rejuvenated by six months away from the snow, the University of Nevada Nordic racer turned in a performance at Thursday's NCAA championships that surprised even himself.

"Last year I didn't have a good season and was really unmotivated, so I decided to sell as many pairs of skis as I could. I thought I was done skiing for good," Smith said. "I went over there for 6 months, decided I kind of missed (skiing) and that there was something special about it, so I came back and here I am - super-motivated and ready to go."

While favorite Matt Gelso of the University of Colorado won gold in the 10K classic by capturing his fifth straight race, that Smith was also on the podium earning bronze had the American-born racers jazzed. Gelso became only the second male U.S.-born skier to win an NCAA Nordic Classic race.

Germany's Franz Bernstein (University of Vermont) was the silver medalist.

"I wanted to come in here prepared and really stick it to those Europeans," Gelso said with a smile.

Added Smith: "He's been fighting for a win the last four years, so I'm pretty stoked that he won."

On the women's side, defending champ Antje Maempel won easily, capturing the 5K by nearly 47 seconds with a time of 16 minutes, 3.4 seconds.

But it was Dartmouth's Rosie Brennan's second-place finish that was shocking to everyone else.

"I had kind of a bummer of a season, so I didn't really have any expectations," said Brennan, who finished in 16:50.1.

She's battled some health issues and had raced all year with a torn posterior cruciate ligament in her left knee - an injury that will require surgery March 18.

"The whole season has been kind of rough. I'm actually really shocked. I didn't think I had it in me," said Brennan, who earned her first NCAA podium in the classic category.

After skiing in Saturday's 15k freestyle, Brennan will have surgery to repair the torn ligament March 18, and will hope to be ready to compete again next fall.

Men's winner, Smith, just a sophomore, hopes to be back for three more seasons - now that he got the surfing bug out of him.

"I think it was a good break for me to get away," said Smith, who took a semester off from school before returning in January.

Though he spent his time away hanging out at the beach, and catching big waves, in a way he was still helping himself ski-wise.

"The paddling really helps me with double pole," Smith said of the upper-body technique used to propel skiers in the flats and slight inclines.

"As far as I'm concerned it's one of the best things for double-pole."

It certainly showed Thursday.

And he didn't have to worry about any sharks.