About 6 miles worth of Nordic skiing came down to this: Eden Prairie's Benon Brattebo and fellow senior Ben Lewis of Blaine, gutting out the final few strides of the freestyle pursuit.
Friends and club skiing teammates with Loppet Nordic Racing during the club season, Brattebo and Lewis were two dogs in search of the same bone.
They both recorded a time of 26 minutes, 00.9 seconds. The photo finish at Giants Ridge in Biwabik, Minn., in mid-February revealed Brattebo won.
He is the Star Tribune's 2022-23 Boys Nordic Skier of the Year.
Brattebo and Lewis, along with third-place finisher Andrew DeFor, a junior from Edina, made a pact before the Nordic state championship race.
"We all said that we wanted to win, but if not ourselves, we hope it's one of the other two," said Brattebo, who said tension among racers lacks because in Nordic, "it's pretty much the skier against the course."
Brattebo hit his initial goal in the freestyle pursuit by reaching the top of "triple threat hill" first. The difficult hill is located within the race's first kilometer and challenges racers with its repeated steep runs to staggered plateaus.
Brattebo, Lewis and DeFor continued as a power trio, taking turns drafting behind one another and pushing one another to faster performances than they could achieve on their own. Each led a portion of the race until Brattebo and Lewis duked it out in the final moments.
The last minute has been critical to Brattebo's skiing career. As a seventh-grader, he finally gave in to the prodding of social studies teacher Andy Malone, who is also a Nordic skiing assistant coach, to hit the snow.
A year later, Brattebo practiced with the Eagles varsity and developed an appreciation for the example set by Erik Fagerstrom, the 2009 state champion.
The summer after his freshman year, Brattebo joined the Loppet Nordic Racing club and got serious about his skiing future. The work paid off. He joined Lewis and DeFor at the recent Junior Nationals race in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he placed sixth.
Brattebo said he plans to ski in college and has an offer from one Division I program.