A 20-year-old native of Cumberland, Tarling won the men's 10-kilometer Nordic freestyle race Wednesday on the opening day of the NCAA skiing championships at Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vt.
Less than two weeks ago, Tarling passed up the Eastern championships at Black Mountain in Rumford because of illness.
''He wasn't sure how he was going to come around from that,'' said Dartmouth Nordic ski coach Ruff Patterson. ''What he did (Wednesday) was, he just skied hard and then got excited as the race went on and he was getting feedback. He knew he was in the hunt. The last 4 or 5 (kilometers) he knew he was battling for first place.''
Tarling, a sophomore, led a 1-4-5 showing for Dartmouth among the field of 39. Each school is limited to three skiers. Teammate Nils Koons of Sidney placed fourth. Welly Ramsey of New Sharon and the University of Maine at Presque Isle was 24th.
Tarling's winning time of 26 minutes, 5.7 seconds gave him a 5-second cushion over Vegard Kjoelhamar of the University of Colorado. Koons, who recently skied for New Zealand at the world championships in Oslo, Norway, was 10 seconds behind Tarling.
''I was getting first- and second-place splits out there but I really didn't think much of it because I knew there were fast guys behind me,'' said Tarling, who started sixth from last. ''So I was just trying to ski my race and keep it smooth the whole time.''
Upon finishing, Tarling turned to look for Dartmouth teammate Eric Packer, who wound up fifth. Then came Kjoelhamar, the Norwegian.
''It was close but I ended up on the right side of it,'' Tarling said. ''I was obviously thrilled but I was exhausted. You can only do so much in those circumstances. I just tried to smile and wave and get some dry clothes on.''
Dartmouth also placed three skiers among the top 10 in the women's 5K freestyle race and stands second to Colorado after Alpine giant slalom scores were included, 408-362.
In the women's freestyle, Lucy Garrec of Freeport and the University of Vermont placed eighth, almost a minute behind the winning time (13:51.9) of Utah's Maria Graefnings. Clare Egan of Cape Elizabeth and the University of New Hampshire placed 19th in 15:15.4.
The site received 30 inches of snow two days before the event, held in conditions Patterson described as perfect.
''Sam seems to like this course, that's for sure,'' Patterson said. ''It's just a fantastic place to ski and train.''
It has been the site of three college carnivals over the past 15 months, two hosted by Vermont and one, because of a local lack of snow, by Dartmouth.
''I was confident with this course and I had good races here before,'' Tarling said. ''I knew if everything came together I could have a good day, but I didn't quite know where I would end up.''
At season's start, Tarling's goal was a top-15 finish at the NCAA championships.
In Junior Olympic competition, he had been part of a winning relay but never claimed an individual national title.
''This is the biggest win of my career, definitely,'' he said.
He celebrated with a sports drink, a change of clothes in a warm van, and an evening of writing a final paper for his environmental studies class. Final exams are next week.
A 20K classic mass start is scheduled for Friday, and the forecast includes rain and temperatures above 40.
''Hopefully it will be some crazy New England skiing,'' he said. ''It should be great.''
In Alpine competition Wednesday at Stowe, Bump Heldman of Auburn and Bates College placed 11th in giant slalom. Teammate Ben Manter of Vassalboro was 19th.
In team competition, Bates is 11th of 21 schools and Colby is 15th.
Competition continues with Friday's Nordic classic races and concludes with Saturday's slalom.