Podiums Abound in Winter Games NZ Cross Country Races
Sophie Caldwell (front) leads the pack in the Winter Games NZ cross country races, taking home two podiums. (Winter Games NZ-Neil Kerr)
WANAKA, New Zealand (Sept. 8, 2017) – The U.S. Ski Team collected podium spot after podium spot through two solid days of cross country racing at New Zealand’s Snow Farm as a part of the Winter Games NZ.
Temperatures were cold on Thursday, with fresh snow dusting the 2.5k track. Ben Lustgarten (Burlington, VT) raced to the win in the men’s 10k skate interval race—the first event of the Australia-New Zealand Cup series—with Brian Gregg (Minneapolis, MN), Adam Martin (Marquette, MI), Matt Gelso (Ketchum, ID) going third, fourth and fifth.
Ben Lustgarten takes first and Brian Gregg third in the 10k freestyle. (Winter Games NZ)
“The course was great with the fresh snow, but it was really challenging,” said Lustgarten. “The steep short hills really got to me in the last few kilometers and I had to push really hard on the last lap.”
Jessie Diggins (Afton, MN) took the win in the women’s 5k with Sophie Caldwell (Peru, VT) just behind in third. Caitlin Patterson (Craftsbury Common, VT) was fourth and Caitlin Gregg (Minneapolis, MN) fifth.
Jessie Diggins and Sophie Caldwell stand on the podium in first and third. (Winter Games NZ)
“It was phenomenal!” said Diggins. “They did so well to find all those hills—I like hills—and it was impressively hard.”
With weather rolling in on Friday, start intervals for the classic sprint were shortened to beat the threatening snowstorm. But it didn’t phase the Americans, as Caldwell traded in her third place on Thursday for a first place, leading a podium sweep with Ida Sargent (Barton, VT) second and Patterson third.
“It's only September and we still have two months before we head to Europe, but it's always nice to have some encouraging races that confirm the training is paying off,” said Caldwell. “I've had a really productive camp and was happy to end it with a win in the sprint and a third in the 5k, which was probably one of my best-ever distance skate results!”
Diggins skates to the finish in the 5k. (Winter Games NZ-Neil Kerr)
The men also had a successful day in the sprint. Ben Saxton (Lakeville, MN) finished first and Lustgarten podiumed again in second place. Lustgarten almost fell to third, but dug deep to pole past Japan’s Kaichi Naruse at the line.
“I didn’t know if I was going to make it,” said Lustgarten. “But I was wearing skate skis and just got myself in front.”
After missing the 10k, Saxton appreciated the shortened format of the sprint, saying, “I might have been a bit more rested, but everyone certainly brought their A-game today. Luckily I tend to do a little better in the shorter races.”
The Winter Games NZ wraps up Saturday with a classic mass start 10/15k.