FAIRBANKS—Seiji Takagi fell to the ground after crossing the finish line of the 50-kilometer freestyle Sonot Kkaazoot on Saturday on the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks.
“That was the toughest race of the year for sure, including all my college races,” the Alaska Nanooks sophomore said after winning the race.
Takagi, an Anchorage native who was racing in his first Sonot Kkaazoot, crossed the finish line in 2 hours, 20 minutes, 30.2 seconds to claim the title over fellow Nanook Nick Lovett.
“I was hoping to try and come out with the win but I didn’t think I was going to make the move so early,” Takagi said. “I was pretty happy with myself.”
Former Nanooks skier Rebecca Konieczny won her third straight women’s title in 2:42:00.7, edging out current Nanooks sophomore Ann-Cathrin Uhl by 5.9 seconds.
“This is my favorite race,” Konieczny said. “I’m just glad the sun came out. I love it when its nice like this.”
Takagi said he started the race with a pretty fast pace.
“I know a lot of these guys will be mad at me for doing that but I kind of like doing that in mass starts, going out a little fast and then kind of settling,” Takagi said.
The South Anchorage High School grad made his move to the front of field on an uphill heading into the Birch Hill Recreation Area.
“I just worked on trying to open that gap after that and maintaining it,” Takagi said. “I think I was pretty good until I came back on to the river for the last 10K. That’s where I was just blowing up and trying to hang on. My technique started going wild.”
“I had about less than 10 percent left, negative 10 percent left,” Takagi said of the finish.
Lovett, a redshirt sophomore from Jackson, Wyoming, for the Nanooks, followed Takagi in 2:22:34.5. Fischer Gangemi took third in 2:22:45.0.
Saturday was the second 50K in two weeks for the five Nanooks that finished in the top-10. The group went to Talkeetna on March 19 to compete in the Oosik Classic, a 50K classic technique race.
“We decided to double pull it on skate skis,” Takagi said. “I’m pretty bad at double pull so I was pretty impressed with my performance there because I was able to hold on with those guys for a while.”
Takagi finished fifth at the Oosik as the Nanooks had the top six finishers in the race. Lovett took third at the Oosik while Conner Truskowski finished sixth in the Sonot Kkaazoot and the Oosik.
Saturday was also the second 50K-plus race for Konieczny, who competed in the American Birkebeiner in late February in Cable, Wisconsin.
Sarah Freistone took third in the women’s 50K on Saturday in 2:50:07.4.
Konieczny said the trails on Saturday were in good shape for most part despite the warm weather for the last week.
“My skis were fast when the conditions were right for it but then up at Birch Hill, especially, it got really really soft,” Konieczny said. “It made it actually more interesting too because you had to be more tactical and find spots to pass.”
Skiers also had to contend with water on trail on parts of the river.
“There were two or three major overflows out there,” Ti Donaldson said. “On the way out, there was one but coming back there were a few that had grown. You just had to double poll through them and hang in there.”
Donaldson, a West Valley High School sophomore, won the men’s 40K race in 1:52:29.3, the fastest winning time in the last four years of 40K.
Saturday’s race was also the longest Donaldson has ever done.
“I didn’t have any huge expectations for it. I just wanted to see how it would go,” Donaldson said. “Ended up being Ben Koenig and I out there just pushing each other. it was really fun. I was stoked about it.”
Koenig, a West Valley junior, took second in the 40K in 1:54:34.4.
Donaldson, whose brother Max is a former West Valley standout and a freshman for the Nanooks, finished second in the 20K race last year.
“Last year, 20K just didn’t seem long enough anymore,” Donaldson said. “It’s just all flat too. I wanted to do some hills and get some more distance in.”
Donaldson didn’t rule out moving up to the 50K race next year.
“Next year, its a possibility,” Donaldson said. “It didn’t feel too bad doing the 40K but coming back my arms started to get pretty dead. I’ll see how my training’s going next year and if I’ll have the fitness to do the 50K.”
Maria Bray won the women’s 40K race in 2:21:21.7, with West Valley junior Jenna Difolco taking second in 2:23:41.
Difolco had won the women’s 20K race the last two years.
Alyeska Daniels took third in in the women’s 40K in 2:26:49.7.
In the men’s 20K race, Mike Kramer out-sprinted Jonathan Burrell to the finish to take first by 0.4 seconds. Kramer crossed the finish line in 50:50.0 while Burrell compiled a time of 50:50.4.
Jacob Moos took third in 51:25.0.
Kaya Ratzlaff claimed the women’s 20K title in another finish between skiers less than a second apart. Ratzlaff won the race by 0.9 seconds over Emma Jerome.
Ratzlaff finished in 55:02.9 while Jerome crossed the finish line in 55:03.8.
Anna Rix took third in 55:29.7.
Nanooks sophomore Daniel Serventi won the men’s 50K classic race in 2:49:48.1. Bill Husby finished runner-up in 4:08:18.0 and Owen Hanley took third in 4:44:47.5.
Lynne Petersen was the lone women to complete the 50K classic race. Petersen finished in 4:53:19.9.
Contact sports reporter Tim O’Donnell at 459-7583. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMSportsGuy.