U.S. Olympic skier wins Owl Creek Chase
The Aspen Times
U.S. Olympic cross country ski racer Brian Gregg skated away from a fast field Sunday to win the annual Owl Creek Chase.
But Gregg didn’t set a single ski on the Owl Creek Trail.
Normally, the Snowmass-to-Aspen cross country race is a point-to-point tour along the Owl Creek Trail — thus the name of the race.
But with low snow totals and ultra-warm temperatures of late, the Owl Creek Chase this year became the Brian Gregg Chase along the meandering Nordic trails adjacent to Aspen High School.
Gregg, the Minneapolis racer who skied his way to Sochi, Russia, last year to represent the United States in the Olympic Games, started to pull away from an elite lead group on the second of three 5-kilometer laps on the Aspen Nordic trails.
By the time he glided across the finish line in the ski stadium by the AVSC Clubhouse, Gregg add his name to the prestigious list of winners of the longtime Aspen cross country race.
For the record, he finished in 33 minutes and change.
Steamboat Springs ski coach Josh Smullin, a multiple winner of the Owl Creek Chase, finished second.
Tyler Reinking, a former collegiate standout at Montana State University, finished third after dueling with Smullin for the final lap and a half.
Reinking was cheered wildly by a throng of Summit Nordic junior ski racers, who have been in Aspen all weekend for the Rocky Mountain Division Nordic Championships, hosted by AVSC. Reinking is a former Summit Nordic racer who now lives in Silverthorne.
The junior ski racers concluded their events Sunday morning just before the Owl Creek Chase.
Drawing equal cheers Sunday was the popular winner of the women’s 15-kilometer race — Caitlin Gregg.
Yes, Team Gregg swept the 2015 Owl Creek Chase.
And just in time for Caitlin Gregg to fly to Sweden today to prepare for the upcoming World Nordic Ski Championships in Falun.
“It’s so much fun (with the juniors watching the race),” Caitlin Gregg said as she accepted congratulations in the finish area. She finished the course in 44 minutes, 15 seconds.
“That was so awesome,” she said after many of the junior skiers cheered her by name all around the course.
“That’s a testament to the clinics and how much we try to make ourselves accessible (to junior skier),” she said, adding that she got her skiing start as a junior ski racer.
Gregg said she and her husband, who train and finance their careers independently of the U.S. Ski Team, have been training in Colorado to prepare for upcoming big events.
“I’ve been putting in a really great altitude training block (based in Summit County),” she said. “We’re happy with the results.”
She said that she and her husband gambled this winter and opted to reduce their race load and work in a high-altitude session in Colorado, with a stop at the Owl Creek Chase.
“We skipped a number of races back East. We’ve been keeping an eye on the World Cup, and a lot of those skiers are doing the same thing … not over-racing,” Caitlin Gregg said. “We couldn’t be happier. We love coming here.”
Natalie Trecker of Aspen finished second among the women in 51 minutes, 23 seconds.
While Caitlin Gregg flies to Sweden for the world championships, Brian Gregg will head back home to compete in the American Birkebeiner in nearby Wisconsin, the largest cross country ski race in North America. It’s 50 kilometers.
“The altitude training has gone really well,” said the 30-year-old Brian Gregg after winning the Owl Creek Chase in his third attempt. “This gets better every time.”
He said that he used a race strategy Saturday to help prepare for his big 50K race.
“That race is usually chill for the first 30K, and then it’s one blast of speed,” he said, adding that the Birkebeiner winner receives $10,000.
After chilling the first lap and a half Saturday, Gregg put on a blast of speed to win the race and practice for the Birkebeiner.
“I was really trying to practice that closing speed at the end,” Gregg said, adding that he is eager to follow his wife’s progress at the worlds in Sweden.
“I’m really excited for her in Falun,” said Gregg, who teams with his wife to work with at-risk youth in Minneapolis.
Team Gregg, two victories in hand, shared their triumphs with the many young cross country skiers in Aspen on Sunday.
“We are so grateful for the support we received when we were little, we’re excited to give back,” Caitlin Gregg said.
Results of the 2015 Owl Creek Chase will be posted on the owlcreekchase.com website.
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Basalt’s Hailey Swirbul was officially named to the U.S. cross-country ski team for the upcoming Winter Olympics in China. The 23-year-old will be a first-time Olympian and joins seven other women on the team that was announced Thursday by U.S. Ski and Snowboard. The Olympics begin Feb. 4 in Beijing.