Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess came off the starting line fast, as he had done all day, but soon found himself in trouble. On a stretch of snow as flat as any he'd ever raced on, he fell to the ground and watched as the pack of cross-country skiers began to climb Soldier Hollow's first hill.
The man in the backward hat and sunglasses was not deterred.
With fans cheering him on, Blackhorse-von Jess crossed the finish line in third place last week. And by the end of a week of races, the Bend, Ore., skier earned a trio of top-three finishes at the U.S. nationals.
"I've got all the podium spots at championships, but now I've got the top one," he said after winning the freestyle sprint Tuesday at the U.S. Cross Country Championships.
Like Blackhorse-von Jess, a handful of skiers were regulars on the podium.
U.S. Ski Team members and siblings Erik and Sadie Bjornsen enjoyed plenty of success at the 2013 nationals.
Sadie Bjornsen took first in the freestyle sprint, and the 20-kilometer mass start. She finished second in the 1.3K classic sprint and the 10K.
"This is good confidence going into the World Cup," she said after winning her second gold. "When you're exhausted sometimes your head struggles a bit by thinking, 'How am I going to do this? I'm so tired.' And today was exactly a confidence-builder because it reminded me that even when you're tired, you can still go. And of course I was thinking about my teammates who just competed at the Tour de Ski and how exhausted they must have been. Now I'm back on the World Cup through the rest of the season."
Her brother Erik took second in the 30K, won the 15K and took second in the freestyle sprint.
Utah was well-represented in the competition, too.
Former University of Utah skier and three-time Olympian Torin Koos won the 1.3K sprint and the 30K mass start.
"I've been doing races here forever," Koos said after his win in the sprint. "I had my first college races here, my first World Cup here, my first Olympics here. … I was looking forward to coming back. It's kind of like coming full circle."
Park City native Rosie Brennan earned a third-place finish in the 1.3K sprint and a first-place finish in the 10K race.
"It's been really nice [being back in Utah]," she said. "Particularly now that I'm older, I sort of know what I need to do and what is best for. It's really great to be able to stay home and sleep in a bed that's comfortable and eat familiar food that's good and wholesome."
The 2013 championships concluded Wednesday, capped off by the adaptive biathlon sprint.
Adaptive biathlon sprint winners
• Omar Bergemo, Wood River Ability Program
• Justin Widhalm, U.S. Ski Team
• Andy Soule, U.S, Paralympic Nordic Team
• Daniel Cnossen
• Sean Halsted
Men Visually Impaired
• Kevin Burton, Boulder Nordic Club
• Beth Requist
• Kristy Vaughn, Paralympic Nordic Development Team
• Liz Ann Kudrna, USA Development Team
Women Visually Impaired
• Shawn Cheshire, Sitrin Paralympic Sport Club