ANCHORAGE, Alaska --- University of New Mexico freshman Aku Nikander, who showed over the course of the 2013-14 collegiate season that he is at his best in the longer races, proved that point this weekend. Nikander won the U.S. National Championship, winning the 50K Classical Mass Start at the U.S. National Championships and Supertour Finals in Anchorage, Alaska.
Nikander won the U.S. National Championship by nine seconds over Olympian Noah Hoffman of the U.S. Ski Team in a race that took over two hours and 20 minutes. Nikander, who earned Second Team All-America status at the NCAA National Championships after finishing ninth in the 10K classical in Park City, Utah, is UNM’s first U.S. National Champion since Martina Stursova won the U.S. Nationals in the 15k Classical back in 2003.
Over the 50k race, which was actually five laps over the 10k course at Spencer Loops in Anchorage, Nikander moved up from 12th place early after the first lap and the race eventually turned into a three-man race at the halfway point with Nikander, Hoffman, and Reese Hanneman of the Anchorage Pacific University Nordic Ski Center. However, Nikander wasn’t just a wild card skiing in his first race ever in Alaska, or on the U.S. Spring Series. According to Alex Matthews, a national ski writer who was covering the championships, Hoffman and Hanneman has no clue who Aku was.
“I didn’t really know anything about Aku, I didn’t even know his name,” he said. “He’s a good skier.”
They would learn all too well who Aku is. Eventually by the end of the fourth lap, it turned into a two-man race of Nikander and Hoffman, with Hanneman falling behind by nearly a minute. The two stayed even and entered the finishing straightway in almost a dead heat, but Nikander used a double-pole technique, pulling away from Hoffman and eventually finishing the race in a time of 2:23:08.3, while Hoffman finished at 2:23:17.3.
“I just double poled faster than him,” Nikander said to Matthews for fasterskier.com. “I was actually leading a lot in the last lap. I had maybe better kick and better glide. I don’t know how much they are looking at the results from here. We’ll see,” he said. “I think it can help a little bit for [team selection] and next summer’s training camps. I hope so.”
Nikander wasn’t the only Lobo in the race, as Nikander’s All-American teammate Mats Resaland finished 12th overall. On the women’s side, NCAA National Champion Eva Severrus finished 14th in the 30k race, and was second among all collegians.
“This was a huge victory for Aku, and for the Lobos,” said Fredrik Landstedt, who coached the Lobos to a third place NCAA finish this past season. “Mats and Eva also had great races, so it was a great day overall for the Lobos.”
And now Landstedt and his Alpine coach Joe Downing will get a little star turn now that they are back in the continental 48. Landstedt and Downing will appear on KASA 2 This Morning at 7 a.m. with hosts Matt Mauro, Elizabeth Alvarez and Kristin Van Dyke to talk about the team and the season. Landstedt and Downing will be back on Tuesday with some of the members of the team as well.