LAKE PLACID - Give Gabby Armstrong a good starting position, and watch her go.
On Sunday, Feb. 23, which just happened to be the final day of the Sochi Winter Olympics, the 15-year-old Lake Placid High School freshman earned a gold medal of her own. Competing at the 2014 Junior National Championships in Anchorage, Alaska, Armstrong claimed the women's under-17 title in the 5-kilometer nordic combined individual event.
After finishing fourth in the jumping competition, Armstrong started the race 1 minute, 13 seconds after Cara Larson, who represented the central region and was the top jumper of the day. Armstrong, however, chewed up her deficit in a hurry on the cross-country course and cruised to an easy win. She turned in the fastest 5k time, a 14:05, which gave her a 15:18 finish time that was more than a minute ahead of Larson, the silver medalist.
Lake Placid’s Gabby Armstrong skis in front of teammate Karl Schulz going into a climb during the individual nordic combined Junior National Championships Feb. 23 in Anchorage, Alaska.
Armstrong headed to the event as part of a five-athlete contingent representing the eastern region of the United States, as well as the New York Ski Education Foundation. She was joined by fellow Lake Placid High School students Miles Lussi, Karl Schulz and Landon Livreri. Their coach at the competition was Lake Placid resident Evan Bliss.
"Just qualifying for nationals was my goal, but once I got out there, I thought I could at least place," Armstrong said. "I was shocked when I crossed that finish line first.
"I knew that I would do pretty well with my cross country skiing. That's what I trained for," Armstrong added. "But my jumping was really good. It was the best I've ever jumped. I got really comfortable with the hill. I had two good days of training where I was jumping farther and farther and farther, and that was exciting. In the competition, I finished fourth in the jumping, and I would have liked to have jumped a little better, but that still set me up pretty well for the ski race."
In addition to claiming an individual national title, Armstrong also won a mixed relay title the following day competing with Melissa Requist of the Rocky Mountain Division.
"Gabby was really quick on her cross country skis," Bliss said. "And her jumping was extraordinary. She seemed to get better on every jump, and when it came to the cross country, she went out and skied an unbelievable race. She was ecstatic at the finish line. She couldn't believe she won it."
Schulz, Lussi and Livreri also competed on Feb. 23 in the men's under-17 5k nordic combined event. Schulz had the top finish among NYSEF racers, placing sixth. He was 15th after the jumping and used the fastest ski time in the field (12:25) to move up into sixth.
Lussi placed 11th and Livreri finished 17th.
Schulz and Lussi also teamed up the next day to finish second in the men's under-19 relay. They finished just six seconds behind the winning intermountain division team of Stephen Schumann and Jared Shumate. Livreri teamed up with Elijah Vargas of the Rocky Mountain region to place 11th in the relay.
The event ended on Tuesday, Feb. 25 with a jump competition, and Lussi, a Lake Placid High School junior, had a shining conclusion to his trip. Competing in the A group of 26 athletes, Lussi finished runner-up in a format that had the top four finishers jump in four rounds.
Lussi claimed second on his final jump of 67 meters on the venue's 70-meter hill. Ben Loomis of the Central region claimed the victory. He also won the nordic combined race on Feb. 23. Schulz and Livreri finished in a tie for 17th place in the jumping event.
Two other athletes, Trent White and Luke Daniels were originally going to join the NYSEF athletes at the junior national championships but didn't make the trip. White was mending from a broken collar bone suffered in a jumping mishap in Salisbury, Conn. and Daniels was recovering from shoulder surgery.
"I knew that the younger kids like Karl and Landon have been improving by leaps and bounds, so I figured we'd do pretty well at nationals," Bliss said. "But the results were better than I expected. We weren't the biggest team out there but we had some strong skiers."