Steamboat skiers finish in top 10 before XC nationals cut short
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — If Wally Magill learned one thing at the Cross Country Junior National Championships, it was don’t put 21 people in an elevator.
On Sunday, March 8, the night before the competition kicked off, the Rocky Mountain/Central skiers made their way to a team meeting at the hotel they were staying at near the venue at Donner Pass, California. On their way downstairs, 21 members of the team decided to cram into an elevator to make it on time. The mass of athletes set off sensors in the elevator, causing it to get stuck for one hour and 40 minutes.
“We didn’t have much room to move or turn around,” Magill said. “It got really hot because it was just a metal box.”
Griff Rillos, a U16 skier out of Steamboat Springs, said the inside walls of the elevator dripped with condensation as the skiers FaceTimed a coach to listen to the team meeting. The group tried watching Kung Fu Panda 2 on someone’s phone, but the situation took a serious turn.
“The last 10 minutes were the scariest,” Rillos said.
One of the young skiers passed out from the heat, thankfully, not long before the elevator moved and opened its doors. When the athletes were freed, the coaches insisted they all rehydrate as much as they could before going to bed.
Something about the stress and pre-sleep hydration helped Magill and Rillos, who was also in the overcrowded, overheating elevator. In the individual start classic race the next morning, Rillos finished ninth among U16 athletes while Magill earned fourth at the U18 level.
“I was able to focus on my racing through all the training I did leading up to those races,” Magill said. “I was able to perform when it mattered.”
With the mass start freestyle and the classic relay remaining, the cross country junior nationals were halted due to coronavirus, sending athletes home after two of the four scheduled events.
With 70 to 100 competitors in each race, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club cross country head coach Brian Tate said a top-20 spot is a great success, while a top-10 finish earns an athlete All-American honors.
Sidney Barbier became an All-American with her finish in the U18 girls 5K classic race.
“I’ve been working so hard, and I just had to treat it like any other race,” she said. “I went in with a positive mindset and pushed myself as hard as I could. I had all my coaches and teammates out there.”
With that in mind, Barbier earned 10th. She also said she was thinking about competing as a member of the Rocky Mountain team.
At nationals, each region competes as a team, earning points through performances to try to win the Alaska Cup. Barbier said the Rocky Mountain region hasn’t won it in a long time, and she thought they had a chance. After two races, Rocky Mountain was in fourth with 364 points.
Rillos had been to nationals before, but this year, he knew he could do well. With high expectations for himself, he said he was nervous ahead of his races. After taking ninth in the first event, he hoped to do well in the freestyle sprint, even if he wasn’t the greatest sprinter.
In the first heat, Rillos hesitated shortly after the gun, thinking he had heard the false start siren. That put him back in the field, but he was still able to move on to the next round. He started the semifinals behind the top qualifier.
“I just remember my legs flooded with lactic acid — it’s like your legs are heavy,” Rillos said. “I just had to keep going. My legs were so tired, and I lunged for third.”
Rillos didn’t make the top three to qualify for the finals, but he was the “lucky loser” meaning he earned the fastest time among the fourth-place finishers in the semifinals. That bumped him up to the finals.
By the time the finals came around, Rillos was exhausted, still he powered through and finished sixth.
“Mainly I was proud of myself because there was a lot going on in that one race, and I was able to keep going,” Rillos added. “It was one of the hardest races of my life.”
U18/20 male: 4. Wally Magill. 19. Cooper Jones. 23. Chase High.
U16 male: 9. Griff Rillos. 14. Grey Barbier. 22. Thomas Cooper.
U18/20 female: 10. Sidney Barbier.
U16 female: 22. Ellery Hodges. 38. Heidi Andre. 51. Grace Zanni.
Finals: 6. Rillos.
Quarterfinals: 13. Ellory Kearns. 14. Zanni. 15. Magill. 17. High. 23. Hodges.
Steamboat finishers: 31. Jones. 58. Cooper. 68. G. Barbier. 71. Andre. 91. S. Barbier.
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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