Alaskan skiers dominate top of podiums at US Nationals

Tyler Kornfield (middle) shares the podium for the 30-kilometer classic race with teammate and fellow Alaskan Eric Packer (left). (Emily Russell/Alaska Public Media)

The 2018 U.S. National Cross Country Ski Championships wrapped up in Anchorage on Monday and Alaskans dominated the top spots on the podium.

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Kincaid Park’s ski trails were buzzing with people throughout the races. Skiers from across the country came to Anchorage because it’s one of the last chances to qualify for the upcoming Olympics.

“So we have people skiing small laps around the stadium vying for Olympic spots and it doesn’t get any better than that,” two-time Olympian Holly Brooks said.

Brooks skied at the Vancouver and Sochi Olympics and served as the Joint Chief of Awards at the races with her husband, Rob Whitney. She qualified for the Vancouver Olympics the last time these races were in Anchorage in 2010.

Now, another Alaskan seems to be following in her footsteps.

Caitlin Patterson finished first in all four of the US National races in Anchorage. (Emily Russell/Alaska Public Media)

Caitlin Patterson skis professionally out of Vermont.

“But I went to high school here in Anchorage, Alaska,” Patterson said.

On her home turf, Patterson swept every single one of the women’s podiums, finishing first in all four races.

“I set out with high expectations for myself this championship, but this has been above and beyond,” Patterson said.

The women’s team heading to the Olympics next month is incredibly competitive and even has the potential to medal for the first time ever. Unless she qualifies in World Cup races later this month, it will be up to the coaches’ discretion whether Patterson makes the Olympic team or not.

“And I’m crossing my fingers that they actually take someone from these domestic [Olympic] trials,” Patterson said.

Caitlin’s brother Scott likely has his fingers crossed as well. Scott won the men’s distance skate race by more than a minute at nationals, helping his chances of being chosen to go to South Korea in February.

Racers, including Scott Patterson climb up one of Kincaid’s many hills on the US Nationals racecourse. (Emily Russell/Alaska Public Media)

Another sibling duo from Alaska also inched closer to their Olympic dreams. Logan and Reese Hanneman are from Fairbanks and ski now for Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage. Reese won both the classic and skate sprint races and his younger brother Logan recorded the fastest time of the day during the skate sprint qualifiers, which helps his chances at becoming an Olympian.

And it was sprint to the finish that narrowly nabbed another national championship for Anchorage’s Tyler Kornfield on Sunday. Kornfield is more of a sprinter but won the 30-kilometer classic race.

“It’s all about being smart for us big sprinters and just trying to wait until the last moment and when we do, just hammer as hard as we can and hope no one comes around us.”

And no one did. Kornfield shared the podium with fellow Anchorage skier Eric Packer, who finished less than a second behind him.

The Olympic nominations are expected in late January and, after the Anchorage races, it’s almost certain that Alaska will be well represented in the upcoming winter games.

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Emily Russell is the voice of Alaska morning news as Alaska Public Media’s Morning News Host and Producer. Originally from the Adirondacks in upstate New York, Emily moved to Alaska in 2012. She skied her way through three winters in Fairbanks, earning her Master’s degree in Northern Studies from UAF. Emily’s career in radio started in Nome in 2015, reporting for KNOM on everything from subsistence whale harvests to housing shortages in Native villages. She then worked for KCAW in Sitka, finally seeing what all the fuss with Southeast, Alaska was all about. Back on the road system, Emily is looking forward to driving her Subaru around the region to hike, hunt, fish and pick as many berries as possible. When she’s not talking into the mic in the morning, Emily can be found reporting from the peaks above Anchorage to the rivers around Southcentral.