» Return to UAF News and Events

Korthauer claims Nanooks' first men's individual national championship

Submitted by Tom Myrick
Phone: 907-474-6805


Photo caption below.
Photo by Kelly Gorham
Marius Korthauer crosses the finish line at the 2008 NCAA Skiing Championships in Bozeman, Mont. on Friday.

Download image
On Friday, for the fifth time in his collegiate career, Marius Korthauer made the slow walk through the crowd and up to the podium at the NCAA Championships. For once, he did not stop at the third place step. Nor did he have to stay at the silver medal position, as he did on Wednesday after taking second in the 10K freestyle race. For once, he was on top; for once, all eyes were looking up at him.

At long last, in his final college race, Korthauer claimed the NCAA title he has richly deserved.

The German native bested second-place Kit Richmond by a comfortable 12.1 second margin, giving himself the perfect gift on his 24th birthday. Korthauer's win of the 20k classic race marked the first national championship for the Alaska men, and the third overall for the Nanooks ski program: Sigrid Aas brought home two NCAA trophies in 2004.

"As long as he had good skis, I don't think anyone was going to stand in his way today: he was ready to win," head coach Scott Jerome said. "He's been the most consistent NCAA skier the past three years: no one has been on podium more times than him. It couldn't have happened to a more deserving person: he is a very good representative of UAF and all the things you want in a student-athlete."

After being content to sit back and let others take control of the mass-start race for the first of four laps around the 5K course. Korthauer made his move on the second, taking his first lead around the 8K mark.

By the end of the second lap, it was down to a two-man race, as Korthauer and Richmond had separated themselves from the rest of the field. The two were side-by-side coming into the stadium, but just two-and-a-half kilometers later. Korthauer had opened up a 10-second lead.

By the end of the third lap, Korthauer was running on all cylinders, but Richmond would do his best to stay close, at one point trimming a 14-second deficit down to 12-seconds in the matter of 200 meters. But coming down from the starting line, Korthauer would stretch his lead back to 15 seconds, and then pulled away for good with an incredible climb up Telemark Hill: the steepest and longest uphill of the course. By the time Korthauer reached the peak and looked back at Richmond, his lead had doubled to a 30-second advantage.

From there, it was just a matter of staying upright and cruising into the finish line, Korthauer pumped his fists in the air triumphantly before running into a big bear hug from Jerome. Having seen four years of hard work culminate in the best possible way, it was an emotional moment for both coach and athlete.

"I am just so proud of him, and of what he has done for the program: Our skiing program has developed as he has developed," said Jerome, who earned his first national title as a coach as well. "I am pleased and lucky to have worked with him for four years, and happy to be just a little part of his career. It's been a big thrill."

Korthauer's win was not the only piece of good news for the Nanooks in Friday's race. After taking eighth place and second-team All-American honors in Wednesday's skate, Vahur Teppan improved upon that in the classic event, landing first-team All-American honors for the first time in his career with a fifth-place finish.

Teppan, who ran as high as third during the event, stayed with the pack just behind the front two, a group that included Vermont's Juergen Uhl and Northern Michigan's Martin Banerud. Though Uhl and Banerud would pull away in the final lap, two top-ten finishes this week for Teppan more than makes up for the frustration he felt at the 2007 event, when he missed the skate race and could only place 30th in the classic due to illness.

"Vahur raced so well this week," Jerome said. "To come in eighth on Wednesday and then to come in fifth in the classic is just huge for Vahur. He was extremely excited. He loves the University of Alaska Fairbanks: he loves the program and loves the opportunities has been presented and has taken full advantage of them. For him to take third in the sprint at U.S. Senior Nationals, 19th in the World Cup, and two top-tens at NCAA's shows speaks volumes about the seriousness of his training and his professionalism."

In the buildup to the classic race, much of the discussion among both coaches and student-athletes hinged on the weather conditions: warm temperatures and a bright sun beating down on the track made pre-race waxing particularly tricky. While the wax did not seem to play a major role in the men's race, the women's were not so lucky.

Banking on the temperatures continuing to rise, Jerome and assistant coach Ingrid Olson gambled on a stickier combination of wax, hoping to keep some kick on the skis by the final laps. Unfortunately, no sooner had the race started than the clouds rolled in, and the temperature actually began to drop. The result was frustrating skis and a considerably slower pace for many of the women, including the Nanooks.

Despite the difficult conditions, Aurelia Korthauer battled her way to a 14th-place finish, outsprinting Utah's Sara Schweiger in the final 200 meters to jump up a spot in the standings by just nine-tenths of a second.

"I am extremely proud of Aurelia," said Jerome. "She was knocking clumps of snow off of her skis by the first lap. But even though she had bad skis, she didn't pack it in. She kept fighting."

Anna Coulter, an All-American in the skate race, actually stopped midway through the race to scrape some of the wax off her skis. Her risky tactic ultimately paid off, as she was able to improve from 31st up to 25th. Coulter, who was side-by-side with NMU's Maria Stuber when she stopped, ended up beating the Wildcat skier by nearly three minutes, despite Stuber gaining a 30-second advantage when Coulter adjusted her wax.

Elisabeth Habermann and Ray Sabo rounded out the Nanooks" six finishers on the day, both placing 38th place in their respective races. Despite the difficult conditions, neither skier's contribution went unnoticed by their coaches.

"Ray has figured out what racing and training are all about this year," Jerome said. "It's really opened up his eyes to be at the national championships. It was a tough day for him, but he didn't drop out. That says a lot and I am proud of Ray. He is young, he's got three more years, and I know he's going to be back here.

"Elisabeth is the same way: she had slow skis but she gutted it out and didn't quit. Both of them knew that they were gaining points for the team. They knew they had to stay in it, and it really says a lot about them."

On the back of the success of the Korthauers" and Teppan, Alaska climbed to ninth place in the NCAA standings, finishing the competition with 253 total points: the school's third-highest ever total.

With that, the Nanooks bring their 2007-08 ski season to a satisfying close, as they finally get a second to relax, reflect on all they have accomplished, and consider their future.

"It's been a satisfying season in many regards: an individual national title, five All-American certificates and Academic All-Americans," Jerome said. "It's been a special season coming in with Marius: working with him for four years and having that culminate in a national title. It's all been very rewarding, but we still have things to accomplish. We have goals as a team, we have young skiers who are very promising and we want to continue to improve. We can't lose sight of important things: training, hard work, sacrifice. We certainly can't replace someone like Marius, but we will continue to do our best and strive for excellence in the future."