Birkebeiner winners take to the podium

Posted By: The Ski Channel on February 26, 2011 2:34 pm

Norwegian Tore Martin Gundersen won the 50K Birkie Skate with a time of 2:00:32.8 in the 38th annual American Birkebeiner held Saturday, February 26th. Caitlin Compton broke the Women’s 50K Skate course record today and took first place with a winning time of 2:15:26.0.

Benoit Chauvet, Saint Gervais, France, skied to a second-place finish in 2:00:35.5 followed by Andrey Tyuterev of St. Petersburg, Russia, with a third-place time of 2:00:52.6.

“Our team worked together, but we did not work with the other Norwegians,” indicated Gundersen. “They beat us in the Elite Sprints earlier in the week, so we really wanted to win today.”

A total of eight Norwegian elite athletes participated in today’s event. Gundersen, from Lillehammer, Norway, indicated that the eight skiers were from two separate teams.

Gundersen also said the course was fantastic and in great condition.

The second and third place women also skied a fast race with all three of the top women breaking the 50K Women’s Course Record set by Rebecca Dussault in 2010. Second place was captured by Morgan Smyth of Park City, Utah with a finish with a time of 2:15: 28.2 and former Birkie Champion, Evelyn Dong, of Bend, Oregon, took third place honors in a time of 2:15:34.3.

In its fourth year the Birkie Classic presented by Becker Law saw the return of the 2010 Classic Champion Juergen Uhl of Burlington, Vermont. Uhl maintained his championship status by skiing the 54K Classic event in a time of 2:28:47.8 just 8.4 seconds slower than his 2010 time. Jennie Bender of Minneapolis, Minnesota, captured the women’s title in a time of 2:50:09.3.

The second place time in the men’s classic of 2:29:50.6 was skied by Karl Nygren of Prior Lake, Minnesota. In third place was Eric Wolcott, Hayward, Wisconsin, finishing in 2:30:15.9.

No strangers to the Birkie Classic podium, Kerrie Fabius of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, and Hilary Patzer of St. Paul, Minnesota took second and third today in today’s 54K event. Fabius finished in 2:57:10.4 and Patzer finished in 2:58:58.3.

Ned Zuelsdorff, Executive Director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation, said skiers from 19 foreign nations, including Latvia, Israel and Denmark, and 47 U.S states, including Hawaii, North Carolina and Alaska, had great conditions for the 38th anniversary event.

Temps hovered around 10 degrees below zero at the start as 21 waves of skiers left the starting gates.

Honorary Starter, John Schmitt, the voice of Birkie for 19 years welcomed the largest field of skiers ever in the American Birkebeiner’s 38-year history. He sent over 8,850 skiers on their way beginning at 8:00 a.m. 

The American Birkebeiner is modeled after the Norwegian Birkebeiner Rennet, which in turn was inspired by the historic rescue of the infant who would become a celebrated king, Haakon Haakonsson IV. The race symbolically re-creates the flight of the prince, carried on skis by warriors called birkebeiners for their protective birch bark leggings.

Long time friends Gale Otterholt and Marv Franson  assumed the roles Torstein and Skervald, the Birkebeiner warriors who rescued the infant Prince Haakon (Hō-ken). Otterholt a retired pharmacist and college professor and has completed 33 Birkies and also from Eau Claire, Franson, a retired Dean and Electronics Instructor, has skied 34 Birkies.

photo: Brett Morgan

Long time Birkie skier and friend of the Warriors, Gretchen Lindgren, dressed as Inga from Varteig, mother of Prince Haakon, while her grandchild Finnley assumed the role of the cherished prince. 

The men dressed in full Birkebeiner regalia including helmets, shields and their wooden skis skied to the finish line to the clang of cowbells from the thousands of spectators who lined Hayward’s Main Street. Gretchen skied the full 54 kilometers dressed in a traditional Norwegian dress and cloak, on wooden skis and carried Prince Haakon on her back for the trip up Hayward’s Main Street. 

“The historic re-enactment, fast race course and the largest field ever made the Birkie’s 38th anniversary one for the books,” Zuelsdorff said. “We couldn’t be more pleased.”


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