RUMFORD – Silas Eastman wasn’t about to let a cough or a computer glitch put a damper on his romp through the woods of western Maine.

Although the Fryeburg Academy sophomore hadn’t felt up to skiing since Wednesday, and couldn’t get anticipated splits from a coach in the final kilometer of the 21st annual Sassi Memorial 5K classical race Saturday at Black Mountain, he knew fast skiers were following.

How close they were, he knew not, because a coach’s computer had quit in the cold. Eastman took a deep breath, drew strength from a cacophony of cowbells and stabbed his poles into the snow.

“Just push hard and pretend they’re right behind you,” Eastman said. “It was more painful than I thought it would be.”

a margin of less than three seconds, Eastman’s effort paid off in victory against a field of 237 boys from all over the state.

He covered the rolling course in 15 minutes, 22.7 seconds to edge Tom Sullivan of Yarmouth, who finished in 15:25.3. Jackson Bloch of Falmouth took third, another 7 seconds behind.

In the girls’ race, Abby Mace of Maranacook won her first Sassi title, by more than 20 seconds in 17:30.9. Hannah Allen of Mt. Blue was second, Sadie James of Mt. Abram third and Becca Bell of Yarmouth fourth.

Mace finished fourth a year ago, when the Sassi was switched to freestyle because of sparse snow, and was hoping for a top-three finish this time. Upon arrival at the Chisholm Ski Club, Mace learned that four top skiers from Gould Academy and Sarah Abramson of Falmouth had scratched to focus on an Eastern Cup race today in Massachusetts.

“So it wasn’t quite as competitive as it could have been,” Mace said, “but it was still a big field with a lot of good competition.”

Indeed, 193 girls from 25 high schools followed her across the finish line, both literally and in terms of time, because she started second and soon passed the only girl ahead of her.

“There’s just so many people here and you get to race just about everybody, especially the schools from up north like Fort Kent and Caribou,” Mace said. “It’s really nice. It seems like it brings the state together.”

Mace also took part in the Sassi’s first adaptive ski race. Christina Kouros of Cape Elizabeth double-poled through Black Mountain’s homologated 3K sit-ski course in 22:34.5 (story, Page A1).

Cape Elizabeth Coach Deven Morrill invited Mace to join a contingent of Kouros’ teammates who were trying out the adaptive contraptions, basically a small chair buckled into a pair of skis.

The Sassi race also served as a qualifying test for the Eastern J2 championships March 11-13 in Gilford, N.H. Only skiers born in 1995 or 1996 are eligible. The top 20 boys and top 20 girls will represent Maine against other New England states, as well as New York, Idaho and perhaps other states.

In team competition, Yarmouth swept both races by large margins. Bell was the first of four Clipper girls in the top 10. Tara Humphries (sixth), Sarah Becker (seventh) and Alison Totta (10th) all had faster times than the top skier from runner-up Caribou, which finished 56 points behind Yarmouth’s total of 24.

The Yarmouth boys weren’t quite so dominant, but Sullivan (second), Chester Jacobs (11th), Jack Elder (12th) and Ben Woodbury (25th) still helped the Clippers enjoy a 21-point margin over North Yarmouth Academy, which nipped Falmouth by a point, 71-72.

Sullivan said he fell while climbing the last hill on the course, but was told by a Yarmouth coach that he led Eastman by 10 seconds through four kilometers.

“He’s a really big kid, really powerful,” said Sullivan, who started a minute behind Eastman and never caught sight of him. “I think where he beat me was at the end, in the sprint.”

Still, Sullivan met his goal of being the top J2 racer. He turns 16 today.

“This is one of my favorite races of the year,” he said. “There are so many kids here. It’s really fun to be able to compete against everyone.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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