Soldier Hollow • The first time Erik Bjornsen met Torin Koos he followed him inside a West Yellowstone bar to ask for his autograph.
At the time, Bjornsen was only 12.
On Sunday, at the U.S. Cross Country Championships, Bjornsen was again trailing Koos as the two finished first and second in the 30-kilometer mass start. But Koos said he expects his fellow Washington state native to surpass him soon enough.
"I think he'll do even better stuff than I have," Koos, the three-time Olympian and former University of Utah skier, said. "It's really cool to race with him. It's kind of like our careers are crossing a little bit."
The 32-year-old Koos grew up in Wenatchee, Wash. Bjornsen was raised about 90 minutes away in Winthrop, Wash.
"I've known him probably since he was 14-years-old," Koos said. "Sometimes he'd do little ski camps, and you [remember when] see a 14-year-old with talent. The ski world's a really small community, especially in Washington. There are only a couple places that skiers come from."
Coming into Sunday's 30km, each racer had earned a trip to the podium. Koos won the 1.3-kilometer sprint and Bjornsen finished first in the 15-kilometer individual start.
After starting in a massive pack, the skiers soon spread out across the course, and neither Koos nor Bjornsen were out in front.
"I have a little bit of luxury in these races, in that I think I'm the fastest guy in the race," Koos said. "You didn't see me up front. I just tried to ski as relaxed as possible, and when somebody makes a move, I'm going to follow them but I don't have to make the move."
Bjornsen followed suit.
"Any chances I got when I was out there and I could jump behind [Koos], I did," he said. "I feel pretty comfortbale and we ski pretty similar."
With about 10 kilometers to go, pack leader Tad Elliot made his move.
That's when Koos, the seven-time U.S. champion sprinter, sprang.
"I still felt like I had a kick at the end," Bjornsen said. "I couldn't quite match Torin's kick."
30km Classic Mass Start
1 • Torin Koos, Bridger Ski Foudnation
2 • Erik Bjornsen, APU Nordic
3 • David Norris, Montana State University
Women's 20k Classic Mass Start
1. Sadie Bjornsen, APU Nordic
2. Kate Fitzgerald, APU Nordic
3. Sophie Caldwell, Stratton