The U.S. Cross Country Championships opened Tuesday with freestyle sprints for the men and women in Rumford, Maine, and Ski and Snowboard Club Vail’s Sylvan Ellefson charged the course in a tightly packed field to finish fourth in the men’s 1.6k sprint race.

The men’s quarterfinals began at 10 a.m. where Ellefson posted the third fastest time, less than a second out of first, and that garnered him a spot in the finals.

The trails were very firm and slick, and the tactics for skiing among other charging athletes while avoiding crashes through the qualifying rounds made for some exciting competition.

“The course was fast and hard,” said SSCV coach Eric Pepper.  “And this kind of skiing is geared towards more upper body and power oriented skiers.”

Ellefson, who is not as much of a sprint specialist as the final skiers he was up against, was right in the pack for the beginning of the course when he swung wide coming into the finish.

“For the last 50 meters into the finish, Ellefson picked a lane that hadn’t been skied much,” said Pepper.

Coming into the finish for the finals, there were six skiers, and while Nordic ski racing is not usually thought of as a contact sport, everyone was looking for a top finish, and the battle was on.

“Its pretty crazy with the fast conditions,” said Ellefson.  “Coming down the last hill into the finish everyone is pretty amped, and we’re all gunning for the top spot.  There was a lot of contact.”

“Ellefson made a couple of bobbles that might have cost him a place on the podium,” said Pepper.  “His best previous result in the sprints was a tenth, so for him to be just inches away from a podium finish is a great result.”

“This was a great way for me to start off these championships,” said Ellefson.  “This gives me confidence for the distance races coming up.”

Also having a strong result for the SSCV Nordic team was Tad Elliot.  Elliot, a member of the U.S. Team, and national champion in last years 30k skate race, qualified 16th in Tuesday’s sprint races.

“Tad was really pleased with his finish,” said Pepper.  “For him to do this well in a sprint is very good, and he was super excited.”

The U.S. Cross Country Championships continue Thursday, 1/5, with a 15k skate race for the men.