Monday March 25, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Traveling across the country to the interior of Alaska, Koby Gordon of Saxtons River faced the strongest youth skiers in the United States at the Cross Country Ski Junior Nationals. Having qualified as the top skier in his age group from New England, Gordon, age 16, was part of the 50-member New England team that took on qualifiers from the other 10 regions of the country.

Organized in two-year age groups, Gordon finished second in the first day’s 5 km skate race, behind Alaska state champion Max Donaldson who was skiing on his home course. Gordon anchored New England’s relay team made up of three Vermonters to a third place finish in the Day 2 3x3.3 km relay.

After a day off when Gordon struggled with a stomach bug going through the New England team, Koby entered the sprint race and finished with the third fastest time in the morning 1 km qualifier. Along with fellow Vermonter Henry Harmeyer, Gordon led his quarterfinal heat, and then squeaked out the victory in his semi-final. In the final, Gordon passed race leader Jake Basset of Alaska on the last hill climb and led by a couple meters into the final stretch. The bigger and heavier Basset clung in Gordon’s draft but couldn’t overcome Koby’s finishing sprint, with Gordon lunging to the top of the podium by a boot length.

The J2 boys were scheduled for the final race of the championships, with a course lined by fans and older racers screaming the skiers along the hilly 5 km classical course. Under gorgeous blue skies and perfect tracks, a group of eight skiers pulled away on the long first 1 km climb. After an almost equal length downhill, Gordon looked comfortable in fifth among a tightly packed group of leaders. Coming up the second class A climb at the 4 km mark, Gordon was a couple yards behind the two leaders, but closed the gap by time the three headed down to the final climb. Making his move halfway up the hill, Gordon pulled away to gain a few meters that broke the spirit of his competitors. Double poling to the finish, Gordon won his second national championship gold by 1.2 seconds over the Midwest’s Zac Ketterson.

Gordon attended Compass School until this year, when he began at Stratton Mountain School. Brattleboro skier Halie Lange also was on the New England team that came in second overall to host Alaska. Next year’s Junior Nationals will be hosted by Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, giving New England the chance to recapture the Alaska Cup they had won the previous four years.