The University of Utah felt charitable Friday. Faced with running away with the NCAA crown, the Utes almost self-destructed in Day 2 of the national championships. Not only did Vermont catch up, but passed the Utes.
Of course, it wasn't planned that way, but it happened. After taking what appeared to be a commanding lead after only one-half of one event, the Utes did something they haven't done in eight years - they had a bad to-a-man race.Vermont, angered at what its racers and coaches considered a bad call, tore into Friday's events with a vengeance. Almost to a racer the Catamounts beat the Utes. As a result, going into today's slalom Vermont leads Utah 344 to 331. Colorado is third with 303.5, then Wyoming 292, New Mexico 286, Alaska-Anchorage 221.5, Dartmouth 208 and Middlebury 198.
The NCAA Championships started off on a controversial note. Because of fog and snow on Thurday, race officials canceled the men's giant slalom, but chose to hold the women's race. After one run of the women's race, however, they decided to call it quits and let the one run stand as a race. Utah skiers did great on the one run, Vermont's horribly. Vermont argued that the women's race, like the men's, should never have been held. Officials ruled the race would stand.
As a result, Utah gained a 56-point lead over Vermont, a school considered Utah's only true challenger this year. With that much of a lead and Utah's depth, it appeared Vermont's threat was over before it started.
Then came Friday. Utah gave up points in the men's and women's classic cross country, but not many, not enough to hurt. In the men's GS, however, Utah's power skiers turned in very weak performances. It was, as one Ute skier said, "A pretty bad day." All three of Vermont's scoring skiers skied the first run better than Utah's best.
On the second run things went from terrible to as-bad-as-they-can-get. Henrik Smith-Meyer finished seventh; Brent Nixon dropped from a poor 24th to an even worse 29th; Oivind Ragnhildstveit fell from 27th to 36th; and Greg Norton finished 37th of 39 skiers and hurt himself doing it.
Vermont finished second, third and eighth.
Over on the nordic course in Wilson, Utah had some bright moments. Hans Martin Sjulstad won the men's 10-kilometer race and Anne Kari Aas was third in the women's five-kilometer event. Still, Vermont skiers were better overall. In the men's race the Catamounts picked up 10 points on Utah and another 12 in the women's.
In fact, it was a Vermont skier that Sjulstad had to beat in a tie breaker to win the race. Both Sjulstad and Joe Galanes clocked times of 30 minutes, four seconds on hand clocks. Electronic timing, however, had Sjulstad with a 30:03.8 and Galanes with a 30:04.1 - three-tenths of a second.
The Ute skier said after that he felt good about his race, but was concerned.
"I got tired. I got very tired on an uphill, but lucky for me there was a downhill after and I could rest," he said. "It was a good course. I liked it. Maybe I should have waxed a little differently. I waxed blue and maybe should have used purple."
Coaches feel that Sjulstad won the race with a kick at the finish, while Galanes had none left. Utah's Thomas Lium was seventh and Erik Baumann was 19th. Vermont skiers were fifth and eighth.
In the women's race, Vermont skiers again rose up to the race. Sari Argillander won and teammate Laura Wilson was second. Times were 19:39.9 and 19:58.9. Aas' time was 20:03.6. Utah's Kris Ryan was sixth and Kim Csizmazia was 10th.
In the rescheduled men's GS, race conditions were not what Utes would have liked. They are known as power skiers and like to ski hard on the edges. Friday, the snow was soft and skiers who skied hard on the edges lost time. This was a course for smooth turns and gentle weight transfers.
Smith-Meyer said the second course was no help to Utah.
"It was more like a downhill," he said. "There were no turns. I've never seen a course like it. I would prefer some turn, one with better rhythm."
Besides the likelihood of losing Norton, there was other bad news for Utah on this disastrous Friday. It appears that Nixon and Ragnhildstveit were also hurt on their GS runs, and that Katja Lesjak, who finished fourth for Utah in the women's GS, is ill.
Vermont also had some bad news Friday. Sigrid Katzenberger, its No. 2 slalom skiers, was injured free skiing and will not ski today.
First runs in the slalom, considered the do-or-die event in skiing, will be at 10 a.m. The nationals will end Sunday with men's and women's freestyle cross country.