I have been looking forward to trying to get a win all week. So it feels good to finally stand on the top. —Sadie Bjornsen
SOLDIER HOLLOW — Sadie Bjornsen earned a little something extra when she crossed the finish line of the 20-kilometer cross country ski race in first place at the U.S. Championships Sunday afternoon.
There was the standard stuff — a medal, a national title and the seemingly endless congratulations.
All of those are important milestones in a career the 23-year-old Washington native hopes will take her to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia next year.
But in her role as big sister to teammate Erik Bjornsen, her win gave her badly needed bragging rights.
"Erik and I, it's a constant competition," said a grinning Bjornsen, who earned her victory with a win over second-place Kate Fitzgerald, with a time of 1:05.39. Fitzgerald was 12.9 seconds back, while Sophie Caldwell was third crossing the finish two seconds after Fitzgerald. "He got first the other day; I got second. And he rubbed it in. So today, I get to rub it in because he got second and I got first."
The title was the second U.S. championship for Sadie Bjornsen, who finished second in the other two races at Soldier Hollow this week. She won a 10K race two years ago, but missed the U.S. Championships last year because of an illness.
"It feels so good," she said. "I have been looking forward to trying to get a win all week. So it feels good to finally stand on the top."
Cross country skiing was a family affair for the Bjornsens, but it wasn't until this year that the siblings were competing at the same level. Sadie and Erik are just 18 months apart in age, but it wasn't until Erik was 16 that he was able to beat his sister in a competition. That's when the sibling rivalry really began to get interesting.
"It's really fun," Sadie said of racing with her brother on the World Cup circuit. They both are U.S. Ski Team members and they train together at Alaska Pacific University's Nordic Club in Anchorage, Alaska. "I see Erik have a great day and a little something inside of me says, 'Yeah, you can do it too!' And I think it's the same for him. It's fun to be able to share it." She said it's been an added bonus that their parents have been able to cheer both of them on at some of the races. Sunday, they gave her a little extra push just when she needed it most.
"My final sprint up the hill, I can hear my dad, 'Yeah, Sadie, you can do it!' Nothing hits home like that."
Erik Bjornsen finished 3.1 seconds behind former University of Utah skier Torin Koos, who won his first 30K national title with a time of 1:26.04. Koos is a well-known sprinter, and in fact, has won more than a half dozen national titles in cross country sprints.
He said his strategy was to stay relaxed, stay in the pack and out-sprint anyone and everyone at the end.
"I have a little bit of a luxury in some races because I think I'm the fastest guy in the race," said the 32-year-old Washington native. "And I have good capacity. So I don't have to do extra work in the race. It's kind of like a soccer player who is a striker. You maybe don't see (Portuguese soccer player Cristiano) Ronaldo too often except for when it really counts. So during the race, I was, you know, in like 20th place. You didn't see me up front, but I was around."
He said he waited for someone else to make a move.
When Tad Elliott took off with 10K to go, Koos was in 10th place.
"I thought we'd go earlier," he said. "I had to chase him down."
About ten skiers caught the pair, but Koos knew the course well enough to know what he needed to do to win.
"I knew if I made it to the top of the course, on that last lap, I would be able to hang with everything," Koos said. "This is awesome. I feel like I’m an all-around skier." Koos was thrilled to be battling another Washington native in Erik Bjornsen as the two met years ago at a ski camp.
"He's just putting it all together," he said. "It's great to see. It's really cool to race him. Our careers are kind of crossing a bit."