Sam Morse, Junior World Downhill Champion
ARE, Sweden — Wednesday, March 8, local Sugarloafer and CVA graduate, Sam Morse, won the biggest race of his career becoming the Junior World Downhill Champion with a convincing win on the famed Are Downhill piste.
Morse followed it up the next day with a fifth place in the Super G, only .08 seconds off of the top spot. The Downhill win earned him a coveted spot at the upcoming World Cup Finals March 15 at Aspen, Colo. The 20-year-old US Ski Team member was attending his fourth and final Jr. World’s Championship. He had steadily improved his Downhill result at each Championship, obtaining in previous years a 16th, 12th and last year a fourth, one step off the podium. Morse came into the event ranked the number one Junior Downhill skier in the world, so he had a bit of a target on his back.
After noticing in the training runs that skiers who began in the late 30th or so position were getting very good times due to the track speeding up from all the skis running over it, Morse’s coaches suggested a very unusual move in ski racing
— to pick a later starting bib. As the number one ranked skier Morse got to pick his starting bib first and could pick a position from one to 30.
Typically downhill racers will pick bib seven to 10 so they can get a course report from earlier skiers, but run while the track is still in good shape. Morse embraced the coaches’ suggestion and selected bib 30 during the bib draw. When Morse’s choice was announced, heads spun and confusion broke out as other countries became uncertain on what bib to draw. What were the Americans up to?
On the sunny but cold race day, the track was firm in a New England sort of way. The top 29 racers came down with great success to enthusiastic cheers from their fans, but everyone remained at the finish waiting to see if the American’s gamble was going to pay off.
Morse came out of the gate with everything he had despite fighting a bad cold for a week. As he made strong, bold turns down the track, he himself wondered if it had been a wise decision as he encountered ruts and chatter that threatened to throw him low in his turns. He threw caution to the wind and decided to ski inside the chatter and try to keep in control.
Down a mountain that greats like Stenmark, Stein and Miller had sought to conquer, Morse balanced between control and free fall. Over four jumps, unrelenting terrain and speed inducing steeps Morse challenged the mountain. In the finish area the tension built as the timing screen’s green light was on at each interval and Morse gained time on his competitors until he crossed the finish with a commanding .38 second lead. Morse skied to a stop, took a deep breath and then looked up at the scoreboard. He suddenly became a man radiant with joy as he thrust his arms in the air. He saw years of hard work come together for an intense 80 seconds. The crowd burst into cheers and fans yelled “Moose.”
Maine’s own “Moose on the Loose,” as the Swedes have taken to calling him, is off to storied Aspen for the World Cup’s final Downhill race of the season. Morse will be joining top ranked US veteran Downhiller Travis Gagnon on race day, along with the world’s 24 top downhillers. Lindsey Vonn will be leading the U.S. Women’s Squad which includes young, up-and-coming racers Breezy Johnson and New England’s own Alice Merryweather. The event will be shown on NBCSN at 1 p.m. March 15. Check local listings.
“The CVA community is incredibly proud, but not at all surprised, of Sam’s recent success at the World Juniors. He is an exceptionally hard-working, dedicated young athlete. We have watched him develop throughout the years, first as just a kid in the CVA Weekend Program, then as a student-athlete coming of age through his high school years at CVA, all the while he has maintained his work-ethic, his level-headed approach, and his genuine kindness. Sam is the type of person you really want to see do well in every aspect of his life, and we couldn’t ask for a better role-model for our current student-athletes,” CVA Head of School, Kate Webber Punderson said.