U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships: Ramsey leads large Maine contingent

RUMFORD — Maybe Welly Ramsey ought to start sprinting more often.

The former Mt. Blue nordic skiing star, who now races for the University of Maine at Presque Isle, toed the line Sunday on the first day of the U.S. Cross Country Championships in a familiar setting — at Black Mountain of Maine — but in an unfamiliar situation — in a sprint race.

"It's just not something I'm used to, I don't usually qualify for sprints," Ramsey said.

His smile widened, though, almost to the point of laughing. He doesn't normally try to qualify in sprint races, but if he continues to see results like he did Sunday, it may change his way of thinking.

Ramsey finished the first race — a 1.4-kilometer classical sprint — of the week-long event in 40th position overall, and third among Under-23 men who otherwise did not qualify for the open men's final.

He went on to win his semifinal race in the U-23 category, and completed his run by finishing third in the final and a place on the podium, in front of people he knew, on a course at which he grew up racing.

"I'll take that any day," Ransey said. "I'm stoked. It feels pretty awesome. I kind of forced myself to expect something like this, honestly. Now I'm looking forward to the next couple of races."

As for the dip from first in his semifinal to third overall?

"There weren't as many faster guys (in the semifinal)," Ramsey said with a smile. "I just didn't really have it in me for the final. In the semifinal, I felt a lot better. I'm just not used to qualifying for the sprints."

Ramsey wasn't the only Maine skier in the field — far from it. He wasn't even the only Mt. Blue graduate in Sunday's event.  Derek Rowe, now out of the Maine Winter Sports Center in Aroostook County, and Shelby Aseltine, now skiing for Gould Academy, also competed.

Former Leavitt Area High School skiers Justin Fereshetian (UMPI), Mike Lessard (MWSC) and Thomas Rabon (Burke Mountain Academy) also skied, all of them part of a Maine contingent of more than 50 skiers to take advantage of some semblance of a home-course advantage at the nation's most prestigious cross country skiing event.

"Half the races in my life have been right here," Aseltine said. "I know these trails really well. At first, when I heard Black Mountain was going to host nationals, I was really hoping they could pull everything together, and they did great. It's really nice. the venue they've set up is really good."

"We raced here so much here in high school," Lessard said. "It's been a while, and I remember we came here a couple of times in college (for the University of New Hampshire). But it's great to have something like this so close to home."

Freeport's Lucy Garrec was one of two Maine skiers — male or female — to advance to the quarterfinal round of the open sprint competition, finishing 24th overall. Hillary McNamee of Fort Failfield and MWSC also edged her way into the quarterfinal round.

The events continue Tuesday with a pair of longer races, the women's 10-kilometer classical race and the men's 15-kilometer classical race, as well as the 10-kilometer adaptive ski races.

Thursday features a mass-start freestyle race, and Saturday's finale features the freestyle sprint events.

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U.S. Cross Country Championships in Rumford, Maine.

Olympian Holly Brooks captured her first career national title Sunday, winning the women's classic sprint race at the U.S. Cross Country Championships in Rumford, Maine.

Brooks wasn't the only Alaska Pacific University skier making noise at the event, as the school captured four of the top five spots in the women's race: Morgan Smyth came in third, Sadie Bjornsen fourth, and Katie Ronsse fifth.

The University of Alaska Anchorage's Erik Bjornsen was the top male finisher with an Alaska connection. Lars Flora was expected to vie for the title but did not have his strongest performance in the finals, finishing fifth overall.

Elsewhere in the world, Kikkan Randal posted a 17th-place finish in stage three of the Tour de Ski in Oberstdorf, Germany.

Contact Charlie Sokaitis at csokaitis@ktuu.com

Copyright © 2010, KTUU-TV

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