FAIRBANKS — Hometown favorite Logan Hanneman survived a war of attrition to capture a national championship in the men's 1.5 kilometer freestyle sprint Wednesday evening at the Birch Hill Recreation Area.
Minnesota's Jessie Diggins handily won the women's division, claiming her second win in two races this week by beating Anchorage veteran Kikkan Randall in the 1.4 kilometer finals.
But the night belonged to Hanneman, a 23-year-old who grew up in Fairbanks and graduated from UAF.
"That's the loudest I've ever heard a crowd cheer in the United States," Hanneman said. "I've been dreaming about this for almost a year … to have it come true is unbelievable."
Hanneman took advantage of the absence of Simi Hamilton, the pre-race favorite and top qualifier who withdrew before the heats with a stomach illness. In Wednesday's qualifying round, Hamilton bested the field by more than four seconds and was 6.63 seconds ahead of Hanneman.
Cole Morgan, the fifth-fastest place qualifier, also withdrew, and two other pre-race favorites, Vermont's Andrew Newell and Anchorage's Erik Bjornsen, did not start due to illness.
Hanneman, who had never before won a medal at the national championships, said he used the home course to his advantage.
"We always used to practice sprints down the stadium hill and through the stadium," he said. "It's something that I knew I'd be good at."
Hanneman, whose older brother Reese was eliminated in the quarterfinals, finished ahead of 22-year-old Evan Palmer-Charrette of Canada. Because the race was a U.S. national championship, Palmer-Charrette was ineligible for a medal, which allowed third-place finisher Tyler Kornfield of Anchorage to take the silver medal.
Kornfield, a UAF graduate with two national champonships in the spring, was leading in the finals coming through the stadium, but faltered on the final uphill as Hanneman accelerated.
"I didn't have enough in the tank to go with Logan on the V1 hill," Kornfield said, "but I'm really happy to be on the podium. It's good to have the last one (of the season) be a good one."
In fourth place was another foreigner, Haakon Hjelstuen of Norway. That allowed fifth-place Dakota Blackhorse-Von Jess of Bend, Oregon, to claim the bronze-medal spot on the podium.
Hanneman, who works part time at an aviation engineering firm in Anchorage while he trains with APU Nordic Ski Center, skied the first half of the six-man final in fifth place. As racers came through the stadium about halfway through the race, he tried to advance but was boxed out by the racers in front of him.
On the penultimate corner Hanneman took the outside lane, sling-shotting into a lead he didn't relinquish.
In the women's race, Diggins took another impressive win on the Birch Hill trails, besting Randall by two seconds in the final. Diggins won the qualification by 6.72 seconds over Randall and was a clear favorite when the two met in the final.
Midway through the final race Randall, 35, was right behind her 24-year-old U.S. Ski Team teammate.
Diggins, a two-time medalist at last month's World Championships in Lahti, Finland, kept up the pressure and created a sizable gap coming into the last 100 meters.
"It motivates me to see Diggins doing so well," Randall said.
Randall, who skipped last season to have a baby, said she has improved throughout this season and hopes to continue her trajectory during the summer.
"The really aggressive and powerful moves are coming back," said Randall, almost a year after giving birth to her son.
Third place went to Erika Flowers, who is teammates with Diggins at Vermont's Stratton Mountain School, surprised herself by beating a number of World Cup competitors to earn her first national championship medal.
"I've made the finals a couple of times before and always finished sixth," she said. "My goal was to not let that happen again."
Racing continues Friday at 6:30 p.m. with a mixed gender relay. APU Nordic Ski Center is the defending national champion but is currently missing one of its top classic skiers, Rosie Brennan. But APU's Erik Bjorsnsen and Sadie Bjornsen are both expected to compete after sitting out the first two races here due to illness.
Also in question is whether the Stratton Mountain team will have its top two men — Hamilton and Andrew Newell — back from illness.
Races can be streamed live at hhsstreamteam.com.
Women's final — 1) Jessie Diggins 3:30.3; 2) Kikkan Randall 3:32.7; 3) Erika Flowers 3:46.0; 4) Sophie Caldwell 3:49.4; 5) Kelsey Phinney 3:53.4; 6) Ida Sargent 3:58.1.
Men's final — 1) Logan Hanneman 3:16.7; 2) Evan Palmer-Charrette 3:17.8; 3) TylerKornfield 3:20.6; 4) Haakon Hjelstuen 3:20.7; 5) Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess 3:23.1; 6) Tad Elliott 3:23.9.
Junior girls final — 1) Hannah Rudd, 2) Dottie Anderson, 3) Jenna DiFolco, 4) Annika Hanestad, 5) Abigail Jarzin, 6) Luci Anderson.
Junior boys final — 1) Hunter Wonders, 2) Max Donaldson, 3) Logan Mowry, 4) Ari Endestad, 5) Andrew Hull, 6) Lars Soensterud.
Lex Treinen is an Anchorage skier who trains at the APU Nordic Ski Center. He isn't racing this season because of an injury....Read more