MARQUETTE - The group of people that make up cross country skiing are a relatively small, but tight-knit crowd. And nearly every race pits parents against children, friends against friends, coaches against their teams and teammates against one another.
It was no different on Saturday, as the Marquette General Health Systems Noquemanon Ski Marathon came to a close with the men's and women's 51-kilometer marathons, the 25k half-marathons, the 12k and the 10k and 15-mile snowshoe races.
Even in the highly competitive 51k women's classic marathon, two friends - former Northern Michigan University skier Lindsey Dehlin and fellow United States Ski Team member Hilary Patzer - finished one-two, with Patzer's time of 2 hours, 59 minutes, 11.8 seconds edging out Dehlin's 2:59:53.9.
"We've always kind of raced with and against each other," Patzer said after the race.
"It's a small community, so you race with them (teammates) and against them all at the same time."
Patzer, who lived with Dehlin for one summer while the two trained with the U.S. Ski Team in Utah, wouldn't say she was happy to beat the former Olympic team member (2002 and 2006); instead, Patzer was just happy to have the opportunity to race against an old friend.
"I'll just say it's fun to see her," Patzer said. "Really, it's great to see her."
Dehlin wasn't even sure she was going to race in her first Noquemanon 51k until Friday night at 6 p.m. With her second-place finish and the opportunity to compete with an old teammate, Dehlin said she was glad she signed up.
"It was just kind of last minute, and I got here and said, 'it could be something fun to do,'" she said. "I've always been out of town, or there's always been other races. And this year, I was lucky enough to be here for it, and I'll definitely come back and do it again."
Paulette Niemi of Ironwood finished first in the women's 51k freestyle (2:34:07.4), ahead of Marquette's Vicki Asmus (2:39:15.7).
In the men's 51k classic, there was another first-timer atop the podium, as Andrew Johnson, an assistant cross country ski coach at the University of Utah and a two-time Olympic team member (2002 and 2006), skated to a first-place finish with a time of 2:27.13.
"It was the first time I skied it, and it was an amazing course," the Park City, Utah-resident said. "Really, I had a good time."
Johnson captured top honors in one of the most competitive fields the race has ever seen, including Saturday's fifth-place finisher and three-time Olympian John Bauer (1992, 1998, 2002). With that many talented skiers racing together, Johnson said there was a big lead group to start.
But that tight group didn't last.
"There were a lot of people in the lead pack up till the 25k (mark) and that's the hardest part of the course," he said, "and I was able to put in a pretty good effort there and then just skied by myself for a while.
"And that was hard," Johnson added. "With no idea of how big the lead is, you've just got to push it as hard as you can and hope that no one is skiing faster."
Johnson finished nearly a minute ahead of second-place finisher Bjorn Batdorf (2:28:04.2). Andy Liebner was third (2:28:26.9), Marquette's Matt Weier fourth (2:28:26.9) and Bauer fifth, with a time of 2:33:18.3.
Chad Tolbert (Mukwonago, Wis.) won the 51k freestyle, crossing the line at 2:15:07.8.
Negaunee's Tyler Jenema placed first in the 25k freestyle (1:00:58.0) and was followed by Marquette's Jamieson Cihak (1:03:06.9) in second. Cihak's father, Jim Cihak finished in 48th place (1:19:50.3).
Traverse city's Barb Beauregard was first in the women's 25k freestyle, finishing in 1:16:08.5.
Marquette's Mike McFadden won the 12k classic, and after crossing the finish line, the Marquette Senior High School nordic ski team member greeted his teammates as they came by.
"Here comes the rest of my team," McFadden said after his race, as he watched a group of teammates sprint to the end.
McFadden, who finished in 35:59.3 to outdistance Negaunee's Tony Barrette (37:42.4), said his team's performance in the Noquemanon Saturday only proves how good the MSHS cross country ski team is this season.
"We've got a fast team," McFadden said.
Marquette's Cindy Anderson was first in the women's 12k (50:20.7) while McFadden's teammate Christina Nezich was third (54:57.9).
Larry Buerger of Ironwood won the 10k snowshoe race (48:15.1), with Brad Kerst of Munising coming in second (51:36.3).