Aspen Sprints to showcase junior heavies
The biggest junior nordic races in the valley this winter get underway this morning with the Aspen Sprints, a Junior Olympic qualifier, on a track behind the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club (AVSC) clubhouse.About 200 junior racers, ages nine to 19, will be competing in the races, organized by AVSC. The event starts with qualifying at 9 a.m. and will run until about 2:30 with the head-to-head final heats in the afternoon.The sprint format calls for all the competitors to race the course – an 875 meter loop, starting and finishing behind the AVSC clubhouse – against the clock first. Then the top qualifiers, typically 10 to 14 racers depending on the division, advance to two semifinal heats, where the head-to-head racing begins and six racers advance to duel in the final. And for those who don’t make the initial cut, in a unique twist to the Aspen Sprints, a consolation round will send two more racers into the semifinals with wild-card berths.”The sprint race is the best spectator race in cross country skiing,” said AVSC nordic program director John Callahan.”And usually either you qualify or you don’t. In this case we’re giving kids a second chance with the wild-card berths. They’ll have to start in the back row and race an extra race, but it gives ’em a breath of life.”The fastest racers will complete the course in under two minutes, so don’t blink. “You can see two-thirds of the course from one spot,” said Callahan. “It should be pretty exciting.”Nearly the entire AVSC nordic team will be racing.Then on Saturday, the AVSC team heads to the Spring Gulch nordic area near Carbondale for the Alpine Bank Classic race, another Junior Olympic qualifying event, organized by the Colorado Rocky Mountain School (CRMS). The racing is scheduled to get under way at 10:30 a.m.The Classic also doubles as a high school race, so the combined Aspen High-AVSC squad will be in effect. Additionally, the AHS alpine team is scheduled to host a high school race today beginning at 9:30 a.m. on Aspen Highlands.At Spring Gulch, it’s also CRMS’ 34th annual Rat Race weekend. A wacky fund-raiser for the CRMS nordic team, racers and spectators of all ages are welcome to participate. Costumes have always been suggested, but this year costumes are required for all Rat Race contestants. The mass start of the Rat Race is 3 p.m. Saturday; racers should register at Spring Gulch.”This weekend will be the only Junior Olympic qualifier races we’ll have in the valley this winter,” said Callahan. “And the kids are definitely excited. It’s always nice to race at your home course, sleep in your own bed and eat your own food.””It’s a lot harder for the coaches, though. Typically, when we go on the road for a weekend, we load ’em in a van and then head to a hotel. It’s kind of a captive environment. At home, though, we’re also the race organizers, the kids are all over the place and it’s a bit crazy. So it should be interesting.”Callahan said Aspen J-1 racer Brandon Cooper “will be the kid to watch” in today’s sprints. Aspen’s other J-1 powerhouse, Simi Hamilton, will not be racing as he’s getting over a case of bronchitis.”In the J-2 class, Laura Hatanaka and Noah Hoffman will be two to look out for,” the coach said. “All three have a chance of winning.””We’ve only had two [Junior Olympic] qualifier races this year and there’s eight total. And you take your best four results from those races at the end of the year and take the points off that. But they’ve all had top three finishes in the first two races so if they finished top three here, it won’t be official until the end of the season, but realistically, if you go top three in the first three races, that pretty much wraps it up,” Callahan explained.
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