VAIL — Sylvan Ellefson said he has no idea what his chances are of going to the Olympics this year.
But a win at nationals is certainly helping the Vail native’s goal of making it to Sochi.
“I knew going into today it was going to probably be tough for me to make it if I didn’t win,” Ellefson said on Wednesday.
And win he did, taking down the competition in the 30K freestyle event at the U.S. Cross Country Championships in the former Olympic venue of Soldier Hollow in Utah.
Whether Ellefson makes it to the Olympics or not will be determined by the coaches on the U.S. team, who have several discretionary spots available for athletes such as Ellefson who are not competing in the World Cup circuit this season.
Ellefson’s coach, Dan Weiland, Ski & Snowboard Club Vail’s Nordic program director likes his chances.
“We don’t know what the team is going to look like, but Sylvan did what he had to do today for sure,” said Weiland. “A good part of the team will be chosen on discretion, hopefully we’ll find out soon.”
Amid a cheering fan club of 30 to 40 Vail residents and Sylvan supporters, Ellefson crossed the finish line at Soldier Hollow far enough ahead that he had time to celebrate coming down the home stretch.
“On the final lap, I actually had around 22 seconds on the pack coming into the last climb,” said Ellefson. “But I was starting to fall apart. I was feeling pretty tired, and I knew if I could just hold on for a little bit longer, I’d have the win, so that kind of helped me get up the last hill.”
The course consisted of six laps — 5 kilometers each — with a pair of tough hills and a pair of more gradual hills on each lap. The venue was the site of the men’s 30K freestyle at the 2002 Olympics.
“There is a really cool energy about this event,” Ellefson said. “With it being held on a former Olympic course, it’s cool to know that Olympic gold medalists were skiing the same course that we were today. ... Also it’s very spectator friendly, I was lucky to have all the spectators I had out there today.”
Cheering on Ellefson were his wife, mother and grandparents, along with dozens of other friends and family members who traveled to Utah to watch him compete.
“It’s really great to get a win with everyone there cheering you on, it’s such an amazing feeling, that’s probably why I still do it,” said Ellefson, 26. “Everyone there has supported me along the way, through moral support or financial support.”
STRONG SEASON SO FAR
Wednesday’s result continues a trend for Ellefson. In December, he notched a pair of podiums and a fourth-place finish at North America Cup races at Black Jack Ski Club in Rossland, British Columbia. He’s also had a couple podiums and several top-10 finishes at US Super Tour events in Yellowstone and Tahoe.
“He’s been pretty good at sprinting, pretty good at skate skiing, good at distance, all the disciplines he’s been quite good at,” said Weiland. “Today was a culmination of his best results so far.
On Friday, Ellefson will compete in the classic sprint at nationals, which very well could be the final determinant in selecting the Olympic team, Weiland said.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” Weiland said.