Murphy Kimball

It was a big weekend for the West Eagles ski team.

For the second year in a row, Anchorage’s oldest high school captured the boys and girls team titles at the Region IV cross-country ski championships.

The Eagles ruled the Kincaid Park trails by getting a victory in the girls individual race from Merridy Littell on Friday and sweeping the relay races on Saturday. In the individual races, they landed four boys in the top 6 and four girls in the top 10.

And, oh yeah. One of their skiers — 17-year-old senior Murphy Kimball — became what is believed to be the youngest American man to compete in a World Cup race.

Kimball raced in Saturday’s qualifying round of a World Cup freestyle sprint race in Canmore, Alberta. He was the youngest skier by a couple of years in a field of 57 that included winner Johannes Klaebo of Norway, a five-time Olympic gold medalist. Kimball placed 41st and was eighth among 12 Americans in the race.

Just a year ago, he collected a pair of fifth-place individual finishes at the Alaska state high school championships.

Anchorage’s Murphy Kimball. Photo courtesy West High Ski Team

Kimball ascended to the World Cup — his sport’s biggest stage — thanks to two huge results at the Super Tour races in Anchorage in December and another at the U.S. championships in Utah in January. Kimball, who trains with the Alaska Winter Stars, was the top qualifier in the classic sprint and the fourth-fastest qualifier in the freestyle sprint at the Super Tour races, and the No. 5 qualifier in the classic sprint at the national championships.

In Canmore, Kimball was part of a U.S. team that had one of its best days in World Cup sprint racing.

The Americans advanced 11 skiers — six men and five women — to the heats, the most in team history, according to the U.S Ski Team. Among those making it to the quarterfinals were Alaska Pacific University skiers Gus Schumacher and JC Schoonmaker, who placed 19th and 22nd respectively in the men’s race, and Rosie Brennan, who was 26th in the women’s race.

The Canmore races mark the first time the World Cup has come to North America since 2019. The four-race series ends Tuesday with a classic sprint, and then skiers head to Minneapolis for two races on Feb. 17-18.

A large contingent of U.S. skiers, including several Alaskans, is competing in what amount to two weeks worth of home games. Through three races in Canmore, the Alaskans have enjoyed a number of highlights:
 

  • Michael Earnhart, a 21-year-old APU skier from Eagle River, made his World Cup debut in Friday’s 15-kilometer mass-start freestyle race. He placed 47th that day, and returned to action Saturday for the sprint (43rd in qualifying) and on Sunday for the 20K classic (44th). “It was humbling, I guess,” Earnhart said in a statement from the U.S. Ski Team. “It’s crazy watching people just ski away from me, easily.”
  • Scott Patterson, a 32-year-old APU skier, posted a team-best 8th-place finish in the 15K. It was the fifth top-10 individual result of his career (including Olympic and World Championship starts) and his best since placing seventh in a 15K race in Sweden in 2022. “It’s been awhile since I’ve been in the top 10, and I’m psyched to do it in front of almost a home crowd,” he said. “My parents are here, and my friends from Alaska. It’s just amazing to be here.”
  • Schumacher, Zanden McMullen and David Norris cracked the top 30 in the 15K, with Schumacher finishing 22nd, one-tenth of a second ahead of 23rd-place McMullen. Norris wasn’t far behind 27th. The result was a career-best for McMullen, a 22-year-old whose first season on the World Cup has reaped six top-30 results.
  • Schumacher placed 20th in Sunday’s 20K classic for his 13th top-30 result of the season. He ranks 24th in the men’s World Cup overall standings and 18th in the distance standings. Although he didn’t advance past the quarterfinals, Schoonmaker recorded the fifth-fastest qualifying time in Saturday’s freestyle sprint, best among the Americans. He goes into Tuesday’s classic sprint as the No. 15 sprinter in the men’s World Cup rankings.
  • Rosie Brennan, the star of the APU team, ranks fourth in the women’s World Cup overall standings after pocketing a pair of top-15 finishes in Canmore. She ranks third in the distance standings after placing 13th in Sunday’s 20K and 15th in Friday’s 15K. After Tuesday’s classic sprint in Canmore, the spotlight moves to Minnesota, which will host the first World Cup races in the United States since 2001. The two-race series will be a homecoming for women’s World Cup leader and three-time Olympic medalist Jessie Diggins, who is from nearby Afton. Big crowds are expected to show up to cheer for her and the rest of the Americans.
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