Even in a normal year, you don’t have to look too far to find interesting stories at the American Birkebeiner. Inspirational tales of overcoming hurdles and incredible self-sacrifices are the norm when you are talking about your average Birkie. With a record 9400 participants in the 2012 races, there was a lot of inspiring material to work with.
Take, for example, the story of Tom Hernon.
Hernon took part in the Birkebeiner’s skijoring race–the Barkie Birkie.
Tom may be confined to a wheel chair, but with skis on the chair, and on his ski poles, and with a willing four-legged friend named Thor, Hernon competed with 54 other skijorers in the 5K race.
If someone like Tom, exhibiting that level of commitment and bravery, doesn’t get you off the couch, nothing will.
But just occasionally, the seedier side of competitive Nordic skiing rears it’s ugly head, and some controversy creeps into the mix. It did this year.
To the casual observer, the Birkie’s mens classic 54 kilometer race ended with a young Minnesota athlete, 20 year old Joe Dubay, skiing the race of his life and beating not only World Cup racer, David Chamberlain, of Caribou, Maine, but also 3-time Olympic Gold Medalist Vegard Ulvang of Oslo, Norway.
Granted, at the age of 48, it may seem Ulvang’s glory days of competitive skiing are behind him, but he is hardly an old-timer once you put him on skis. The other elite racers in the field, including Dubay and Paar, were all thrilled just to be skiing on the same course with Ulvang–he’s that good.
The Birkebeiner finish line is never a dull place, and this year’s finale in downtown Hayward was no exception. When the top three competitors crossed the line, urged on by thousands of cheering, cowbell-ringing fans, the order was Dubay, Chamberlain, and Ulvang.
But wait a tick–there was no Joe Dubay registered in the race. Bib number 1221 belonged to a racer named Paar. Chris Paar, the skier registered to compete in the 39th annual American Birkebeiner, as it turns out, wasn’t in the race which ended on Mainstreet in Hayward, Wisconsin last Saturday. It also turns out that Paar and Dubay are teammates on the Nordic Ski Team at the College of St. Scholastica in nearby Duluth, Minnesota.
Seems Paar decided not to race in the Birkie to save himself for the upcoming USSA Junior Championships. So, Dubay donned the bib and won the race of his life–almost. The ruse lasted only briefly, because the Nordic ski coach at St. Scholastica, Chad Salmela, was there at the finish line. The instant Dubay saw Salmela, he knew the jig was up.
Even as reporters were trying to interview him, as race organizers and adoring fans were lauding him, Dubay knew he’d made a slight ethical error. By the time he left the finish area, the whole thing was already unraveling.
Race organizers caught wind of the deception just before the press conference and promptly disqualified Dubay/Paar. They just as promptly awarded the victory to Chamberlain, with a winning time of 2:51:15.2. Ulvang moved up to second with a time of 2:51:17.1, less than two seconds off the pace.
The amazing thing is, if Dubay hadn’t crossed the line first, it’s likely no one would have ever picked up on the deception. Hopefully the two young St. Scholastica studs learned a lessen in ethics on Saturday, and won’t repeat such indiscretions anytime soon.
At the very least, we can hope that Dubay will often be reminded of the year he won the Birkebeiner, but lost his credibility.
More images from the mens classic race at the 2012 American Birkebeiner can be found at Lodgetrail.com