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NORDIC SKIING

Nordic skiing: A historic season ends for American cross country skiing, and Alaskans were a big part of it

by | Mar 18, 2024 | Cover Story, Nordic Skiing

Anchorage’s Rosie Brennan. Photo courtesy US Ski Team

Call it a wrap for the U.S. Ski Team’s blockbuster cross-country season, one in which some of the marquee performers were Alaskans.

The World Cup season ended Sunday in Falun, Sweden, with a thrilling win by superstar Jessie Diggins of Minnesota. She eked out a victory by less than one second in a mass-start 20-kilometer freestyle race to put a giant exclamation point on the biggest season in history for the U.S. team.

And Alaskans were a big part of it:

  • Gus Schumacher, 23, emerged as the sport’s newest sensation by becoming the first American man since 1983 to win a World Cup distance race. Schumacher’s triumph came in front of a huge and adoring crowd in Minneapolis, the first city in the United States to host a World Cup race in more than two decades.
  • Rosie Brennan, 35, dazzled as an early-season darling with three medals in the season’s first eight individual races — including two medals in the first three races to briefly lead the World Cup standings. She finished with five individual podium finishes, getting her final medal last week when she took bronze in a classic sprint race in Drammen, Norway.
  • JC Schoonmaker, 23, made his first appearance on a World Cup podium in December by placing third in a classic sprint race in Ostersund, Sweden. He advanced to the semifinals five times and the finals twice while grabbing 10th place in the season-long sprint standings.
  • Zanden McMullen, 22, shined in his first full season on the World Cup circuit. He became a regular in the top-30 with steady improvement throughout the season; his best results were 17th in a classic sprint last week and 23rd in two distance races.

“This is exactly what I wanted,” McMullen told U.S. Skiing and Snowboarding during the three-race series in Falun. “I’ve just been slowly climbing up. I’m so happy with the whole season.”

Schoonmaker expressed similar thoughts Friday after advancing to the sprint semifinals for the second race in a row.

“This season has been pretty consistent with qualifying … I’m learning stuff every week,” he told the USSA. “I’m happy to make the semifinals again and be in the top 10, and I’m excited for next year already.”

In Sunday’s 20K, the women’s spotlight was on Diggins, 32, who needed a big performance to clinch the overall and distance titles.

She delivered.

She beat Norway’s Heidi Weng by .9 of a second to clinch both the overall and distance crystal globes and affirm her status as the best in the world.

Four other Americans skied into the top 15 Sunday — all of them members of Alaska Pacific University’s nordic ski program.

Anchorage’s JC Schoonmaker. Photo courtesy US Ski Team

In the women’s race, Brennan and Novie McCabe were part of a four-skier sprint for eighth place. The four were separated by .4 of a second, with Brennan claiming 10th place and McCabe placing 11th. They were about 29 seconds off Diggins’ winning pace of 51 minutes, 53 seconds.

It was a season-best result for McCabe, 22, whose career-best is seventh place in a freestyle distance race during the 2021-22 season.

Brennan finished the season with 15 top-10 individual finishes, plus a bronze medal in a relay race. The two-time Olympian wound up seventh in the season-ending overall rankings (seventh in the distance standings and 10th in the sprint standings).

Brennan’s season produced a pair of career milestones — her first medal in a classic distance race and her first medal in a classic sprint race.

In the men’s 20K, Schumacher and Scott Patterson placed 12th and 15th, respectively.

Norway’s Johannes Klaebo triumphed in 47:06.4 for his seventh straight victory, and the two Alaskans finished less than 10 seconds behind him.

Schumacher was 9.1 seconds back and Patterson was 9.7 seconds back in what he said on Instagram would be his final World Cup race. McMullen made it into the top 30 by placing 27th, nearly 45 seconds off the winning pace.

In all this season, U.S. skiers boasted 22 World Cup podium finishes in 38 races, with six athletes — Brennan, Schumacher and Schoonmaker among them — claiming medals in individual races.

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Alaska Airlines | Nicole Johnston | Richard Mize | Advanced Diagnostics, INC | Aktive Soles | Alaska Oil and Gas Association | Aspen Endodontics | Black-Smith, Bethard & Carlson, LLC. | BOSCO's | Coho Financial Group | Continental Auto Group | Don Clary & Judy Besh | Glen Bailey | Invisalign-Ben Ward | JL Properties | Joey Caterinichio & Ja Dorris| Kathleen Navarre | Midas Alaska | Moose's Tooth, Bear Tooth and Broken Tooth Brewing | Perkins Coie - Sarah & A.J. Schirack | R&M Consultants, Inc. | RE/MAX Dynamic Properties Kevin Taylor | Residential Mortgage | Seth Wickersham & Alison Overholt | Taylored Restoration | Korndrop Family Foundation | Arctic Slope Regional Corporation | Replacement Glass | Zareena and Allen Clendaniel | Foley & Pearson | UAA Seawolves | Tony and Carla Slaton Barker | Sportclips Haircuts | Alliance for Support of American Legion Baseball in Alaska | Alice & Gunnar Knapp | Amy and Jason Miller | Burgerfi | Charles Fedullo | Dan Rufner | Darren Lieb | Don Winchester | Donley Family | Dr. Justin Libby, DDS | Firetap | Harlow Robinson | Jason & Shannon Metrokin | Jim & Michelle Hajdukovich | Joe Alston | Kathie Bethard | Krispy Kreme | Kristopher Knauss | Loren Kroon | Mark and Jamie Johnson | Mark Silverman | On the Border | Pete Robinson | Rick Mystrom | Team Heat | Team Moriarty | The Conway Family | Todd Whited | Moria Smith | In memory of Drs. John & Elizabeth Tower | Peter Pounds | Multisport Training of Alaska/Lisa Keller | RSA Engineering

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