Notebook: Native of Germany wins his first Birkie classic

Last year American Birkebeiner fans received a treat when Nordic skiing legend Bjorn Daehlie competed in the 54-kilometer classic race to raise money for multiple sclerosis research.

Preserving the legend
Josie Nelson, toting her 13-month-old son Karl Nelson, skis at the beginning of the American Birkebeiner on Saturday in Cable, Wis. The Birkebeiner is modeled after the historic rescue of an infant who would become the king of Norway. (Paul Walsh / For the News Tribune)

Last year American Birkebeiner fans received a treat when Nordic skiing legend Bjorn Daehlie competed in the 54-kilometer classic race to raise money for multiple sclerosis research.

With no superstar appearance on Saturday to overshadow his performance, former University of Vermont standout Juergen Uhl of Germany stole the show in his first Birkie appearance, winning the men's classic race. The 24-year-old Uhl covered 54K in 2 hours, 28 minutes, 39.4 seconds beating Jesse Smith of Traverse City, Mich., by nearly 4 minutes. Shawn Miller, a Duluth ice climber turned Nordic skier, finished third.

Audrey Weber of St. Louis Park, Minn., won the women's classic in 2:51:34.0, easily outdistancing Hilary Patzer of St. Paul (2:53:07.4).

Uhl praised the efforts of Birkie workers in preparing the course. Officials sent out "runners" ahead of the field to make sure the classic tracks were clear.

"Everyone was always telling me all about the Birkie, so I had to come here and experience it for myself," Uhl said. "It was everything I expected and more. The people have been great, and the course was excellent. We had good conditions to begin, and the way it was prepared made it even better. Everything was perfect."



Jacque Lindskoog of Drummond, Wis., the only woman to race the first two Birkies, didn't get the time she wanted but completed her 34th Birkie on Saturday.

Lindskoog, 69, finished in 7:44:33.3, good for 244th among women in the 54K classic race and fourth in the 65-69 age group.

Lindskoog's story was highlighted in Saturday's News Tribune, and as a "Founder," the name given to those who skied the first 10 Birkies, she undoubtedly had a lot of conversations along the trail. Founders are distinguishable on race day by the special bibs they wear.


Each year the crowd lines Main Street in Hayward, eagerly wait to cheer on the first Birkie skiers as they cross the finish line.

In past years, announcers often have been a little too eager in predicting the oncoming finish. This year, however, much of the guesswork was taken out as a helicopter followed the leaders from high above. When the crowd saw and heard the chopper, everyone knew this was it.

The snowmobile that followed and filmed the leaders was also equipped with a GPS tracking device, meaning officials knew exactly where the leaders were at all times.



A record 8,000 skiers were registered for the Birkie and its support race, the 23K Kortelopet, with 7,413 competing on Saturday according to the Birkie Web site (3,643 in skate, 1,431 in classic, 1,253 in Korte skate and 986 in Korte classic).

Conditions were ideal, although some competitors complained of a slight head wind coming across Lake Hayward.

"It probably wasn't significant, but after 52 kilometers, it sure felt like it," said Tazlina Mannix, the women's Birkie freestyle runner-up.

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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