Skate sprinting, and views from the venue!

Liz, Kikkan and I playing on the rings!

Liz, Kikkan and I playing on the rings!

So wow, that was pretty cool. And noisy. And intimidating. And exciting. And adrenaline-filled. And terrifying. And thrilling. And filled with pressure and expectations and surprises.

The skate sprint was, for me, an ok race…not the best I’ve ever had and not what I was hoping for, but there were also a lot of things I’m happy about. I suppose if I was going to design a sprint course that played to my strengths, it would have looked very different; it would have been much longer with more opportunities to pass and without so many 180 degree corners. But I can’t design the course, only work with what we’re given, and I gave it my very best shot!

I qualified in 12th place and was in the 4th quarterfinal with Sophie, a Slovenian (Katja) and three Russian girls. I was pretty psyched because the crowd only got loud when Russians were racing, so our heat had a lot of stomping and clapping going on as we marched out to the start gates! And it was great to race in a heat with Sophie; I know that when we race together, we are of course both hoping to move on from the heat, but I never even think about trying to cut her off and I know she would never step on my skis, and it feels so good to know that I have a teammate by my side!

Right out of the start, heat 4 with me and Sophie (photo from Sadie)

Right out of the start, heat 4 with me and Sophie (photo from Sadie)

I have always struggled with the really fast-twitch things, and getting out of the start gates first was a crucial part of this sprint course since it had so many turns. I had one of my better starts, but it wasn’t quite good enough, as I settled into 3rd place and couldn’t find any windows to pass. The course was also a bit tricky as it was slushy in some places, but still hard and fast where they had salted and the track hadn’t broken down yet, and I struggled to adjust my technique during the rounds. When we hit the finishing lanes, I bobbled a bit in the suddenly hard and fast snow, and lost crucial time. You can probably tell from my writing that I’m pretty good at immediately knowing exactly what I need to improve on and where I made mistakes. But I’m also getting better at finding the things I did well! I am proud of how I skied, how I handled my nerves and expectations coming into the race, and I am proud of how I kept looking for windows to pass and didn’t give up.

In the finish lanes of heat 4 (photo by Unleashed Coaching)

In the finish lanes of heat 4 (photo by Unleashed Coaching)

I finished the day in 13th overall, but my own race wasn’t the one I had the highest hopes for that day! My heart broke a little when I saw the lucky loser times and realized Kikkan wasn’t going to make the semis. But you know what? Anyone can be smiling and happy and a good sport when they win; it’s in defeat that true character comes through, and in the sprint Kikkan showed the world why she such an incredible sportswoman and role model. She was so gracious and composed, even though immediately after the quarterfinal she had to go through a huge round of media asking questions and throwing cameras in her face to try and capture her reaction. Not many people could have done what she did, and I am so proud to be her teammate.

Sophie gave us something to really celebrate, though!! I was just so proud of her, how calm and smoothly she skied through the rounds, and I thought I was going to die of nerves watching the final! After a tangle, she came in 6th, but regardless of where she finished in the heat she is such a winner in my eyes for skiing so well and giving it everything she had!

Looking down into the stadium from the high point of the course

Looking down into the stadium from the high point of the course

As promised, here are some pictures of the venue (finally! geez!) As you can see, the stadium area is HUGE and so beautiful with the mountains as a backdrop!

Looking down the first hill of the course (after you turn the right hand corner out of the stadium)

Looking down the first hill of the course (after you turn the right hand corner out of the stadium)

There is easily enough room on the trails to have a couple classic tracks and two skate lanes….

A view up the first sprint hill (and the only hill for the ladies sprint)

A view up the first sprint hill (and the only hill for the ladies sprint)

And to further assure you of the extremely good security around here, during the races they have cameras up in the air! One of them is on this white blimp thing that flies on race day above the village, and before and during the race you can hear helicopters circling. Cool beans!

Cork by the blimp on the "red course"

Cork by the blimp on the “red course”

The day after the sprint, I did some light strength in the hotel gym, which is super nice and well-stocked! Michael Naperalsky, our strength coach, came up to lift with me. His words, not mine: “This gym needs more ”MURICA!!!” So, he dressed the part!

Seriously patriotic shorts on Michael, our strength coach!

Seriously patriotic shorts on Michael, our strength coach!

We had a really fun time! I think the other countries in the gym may have been laughing too :) I really enjoy lifting because it’s so different than the rest of our training, and it’s a great mental break from being out on the race trails with the announcer in your ears, reminding you how high stakes the races here are.

Lifting with attitude

Lifting with attitude

I got to see my family yesterday afternoon! It really made my day, to finally be able to spend some time with them off the race trails. I showed them around the Endurance Village, and then we just sat out on the deck in the sun and caught up.

Mackenzie and I in some bright, bright sunlight with beautiful views!

Mackenzie and I in some bright, bright sunlight with beautiful views!

I think what I missed most about seeing my family was being able to get hugs. I have kept in touch with them all winter over Skype, which has been great since I can see them, but I always sign off wishing that I could just get one good hug in. So now I’m finally able to!

My Grandma, Sister, Dad, me and my Mom together in the Endurance Village!

My Grandma, Sister, Dad, me and my Mom together in the Endurance Village!

They have been staying down on the cruise ship in Adler and from what I hear, having a ball! I got the reports from them about what the Olympic village, P&G house and USA houses were like, since it’s likely I won’t be able to go check them out because my races are all evenly spaced out over the games. They have also been making friends with people from other US teams, and other countries. The spirit of the games is a pretty fun thing to be involved in!

My sister and Dad having fun checking out the Olympic Village!

My sister and Dad having fun checking out the Olympic Village!

I also got to visit with Ken and Barb Larson, who have sponsored me and supported me for years, long before I had a chance at making the Olympic Team! It was so kind of them to come cheer, and it was great to see them after the race!

Getting to see Ken and Barb after the 15km skiathalon!

Getting to see Ken and Barb after the 15km skiathalon!

Today I was out on course cheering for the girls in their 10km classic race…and it was so SO hot and sunny and slushy out there! I was proud of our girls for pushing so hard and racing well in the heat!

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My first ever Olympic race, and Opening Ceremonies!!!

Walking in the Opening Ceremonies! (photo by NBC)

Walking in the Opening Ceremonies! (photo by NBC)

The Opening Ceremonies was such an incredible experience, and it’s something I’m never going to forget. Walking into that stadium with Team USA, with the enormous crowd and flashing lights and music blasting made me feel like I was in the middle of a race – my heart was pounding and I felt such an adrenaline rush! I kept looking around to see if I could find my family in the crowd, but they were on the opposite side of the circle (each team only walked halfway around the circle since we came out in the middle). I think I only blinked a couple of times, since I didn’t want to miss anything, and I had such a huge smile on the whole night.

Gotta work those outfits! (photo from Kikkan)

Gotta work those outfits! (photo from Kikkan)

Because not everyone went down to the ceremonies, we all got ready together and walked around the village, and took a team photo. It was so exciting getting the group together – I could feel the energy!

The crew (minus Simi, who was visiting his parents) (photo from Kikkan)

The crew: Brian, Andy, Erik, Noah, Holly, Sadie, Kikkan, Liz, Sophie, Jessie, Ida (minus Torin, Kris and Simi, who was visiting his parents) (photo from Kikkan)

We walked around the village together in our outfits since not everyone went down for the march-in (photo from Kikkan)

We walked around the village together in our outfits since not everyone went down for the march-in (photo from Kikkan)

We left the Endurance Village around 5pm, and took the gondola down before hopping on a bus to the staging area, in the arena next to the big stadium. We spent at least and hour chilling and hanging out with US athletes from all different sports, which was really neat since we are all in seperate villages!

Me, jump-up-and-down-excited for the walk in!

Me, jump-up-and-down-excited for the walk in!

 

Pairs figure skaters pulling some stunts before the ceremony started! (photo from Andy)

Pairs figure skaters pulling some stunts before the ceremony started! (photo from Andy)

Then we started moving towards the main stadium. We’d walk about 100 meters, and get so excited; especially me, Sophie and Ida. We were hugging each other and skipping around, barely able to contain our enthusiasm, especially when we got inside the stadium and heard the crowd and the music. The volunteers lining the path to the stadium were clapping and chanting for hours, which was incredible, and they kept chanting the Sochi slogan “hot. cool. yours!” which was pretty funny.

The three XC girls representing at the Ceremony! (photo from Sophie)

The three XC girls representing at the Ceremony! (photo from Sophie)

 

SMST2 athletes! Andy, me, Sophie and Simi (photo from Sophie)

SMST2 athletes! Andy, me, Sophie and Simi (photo from Sophie)

Once we got inside the stadium, we did a lap under the stands, and we could peek through gaps in the netting to see the crowd. I looked like a cartoon when I first saw a glimpse into the stadium – my jaw dropped and my eyes got huge! When we finally burst up into the stadium, I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath, and suddenly it hit home that I was at THE OLYMPICS, at the world’s biggest competiton stage!

US athletes filing into the stands after our march in!

US athletes filing into the stands after our march in!

After our walk, we were able to take our seats while the rest of the countries walked in. When the Russian team entered, the stadium noise level went from a 4 to a 10. The stomping and clapping and screaming of the crowd was such a shock after how tame it was for every other country! Then, as the show began, it was time for us to leave. I desperately wanted to stay and see the entire show, but I was pushing it enough just being there at all, so I got on the early bus home with most of the atheltes and booked it up to the village. We got home around 11:30, which was fine with me because with the time change I hadn’t been going to sleep till then anyways!

Brian, Sophie and me in the stands

Brian, Sophie and me in the stands

 

The Russian team entering the stadium

The Russian team entering the stadium

 

Walking back into the village at night

Walking back into the village at night

 

The mascots from the 3 villages coming out (we left right after this)

The mascots from the 3 villages coming out (we left right after this)

The next day, so many coaches and athletes from other countries came up to me and said “we saw you at the ceremonies!!??!” I think I might have been one of the only girls competing the next day to do the walk, but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. I know what I need to race fast; I need to be happy, excited and loving life, and the rush I got from the Ceremonies gave me the extra boost of energy I needed!

When I went to go test skis an hour and 15 minutes before the start of the skiathalon, I was buzzing with nervous energy. I had to take a deep breath every so often and pull the nervous butterflies back into formation. Nerves are a good thing for me – if I’m not nervous, it probably means I don’t care enough. But the trick is being able to harness that energy and adrenaline and make it work for me, not against me!

My crazy hair colors flying around (photo by Fasterskier)

My crazy hair colors flying around (photo by Fasterskier)

As we marched into the start lanes, I had to remind myself that this is just another race, and I already know how to ski…even though there were cameras all over, a crowd roaring and Olympic rings overlooking the stadium, I didn’t want to change anything! The gun went off, and I tried to stay as smooth and calm as I could. Mass starts are often a challenge for me because they are so aggressive! People are changing lanes right and left, and more than once I got stepped on, but luckily I stayed out of tangles and falls and nobody pulled my poles off my hands. :) My strategy for the race was to stay in contact as much as possible in the classic portion, and then start ramping it up in the skate half. I was so fortunate to have great skis all day, and being able to have good kick and glide in the classic half helped me a ton!

Hammering up the final hill in a pack with Liz (photo by Zach Caldwell)

Hammering up the final hill in a pack with Liz (photo by Zach Caldwell)

I came into the pits for the exchange in 25th place, comfortable with how I’d been pacing it so far. I started picking off people one by one, and got such a boost of energy when I heard my family alongside the course cheering me on! Going into the final half kilometer of the race, I pretended it was suddenly a new race; a sprint qualifier. I was in a pack of 5 or 6 girls, and I didn’t know what places we were in, but I knew that if I wanted to outsprint them to the line I needed to make a move on the final uphill, which is the men’s sprint hill. I put my head down and hammered, and was able to open a gap over the top. From there I just thought “don’t fall, don’t fall, don’t fall” and although my body was flooded with lactic acid, I made it through the finishing lanes and across the line! I just laid in the snow, trying not to puke my guts up, and thought “I’m officially an Olympian now!” It was so cool to be able to race with my teammates and have that experience with them!

So happy to have finished my first Olympic race! (photo by Paul Philips)

So happy to have finished my first Olympic race! (photo by Paul Philips)

I found out afterwards that I had gotten 8th place, and that it tied the best Women’s XC Olympic result ever and was the best distance result ever. But the highlight of my day was definitely when I found my family and friends on the side of the course after the race. I got hugs from everyone and was able to see them in person for the first time in months! It made my day, seeing them and knowing they are having a great experience over here.

After my cool down I got lucky with a shuttle ride back down from the venue. If you can’t catch a shuttle it’s about a 15 minute walk, but if you’re tired it sure feels a lot longer than that! I sat down on the bus and the bus driver turned to see who had come in. He saw my pink and blue hair and got really excited, breaking into a wide grin that showed off his gold teeth. He pulled me out of the bus for a picture, and was so happy with the picture that he drove me right to our cabin! That’s an example of how nice the volunteers here are…they are so anxious to help out and love getting pictures with athletes and coaches!

Before I forget, I need to share this awesome photo with you. The wax cabins are lined up in two rows, with the inside windows facing each other. Our guys are accross from the Italian cabins, and one morning the techs heard a knocking on the window and looked up to see this! The put up a sign wishing us good luck. The next morning, they offered our coaches espressos. How nice is that?!? I guess that’s part of what the Olympic spirit is all about – nations coming together and sharing the pursuit of common goals while getting to know each other better. I think it’s pretty awesome.

The Italian techs wishing us good luck! (photo from Zach Caldwell)

The Italian techs wishing us good luck! (photo from Zach Caldwell)

 

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Countdown to Opening Ceremonies

Andy and I with the mascot for the Endurance Village - a little snow bunny!

Andy and I with the mascot for the Endurance Village – a little snow bunny!

Today’s the day! Opening Ceremonies…probably the thing I’ve heard Olympians talk the most about. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long, long time, and it’s happening tonight! However, the question of “to walk or not to walk” has been a big debate over the last few weeks. The issue is that the first XC event of the Games is the very next day: the women’s 15km skiathalon. And I’m racing it. So the reason I was so stressed last week is because I desperately want to walk in the Opening Ceremonies, and be able to get the experience because I know that it will make me ridiculously happy, but all the other girls racing the skiathalon are skipping the walk because it’s the night before the race, and we will get back around 11:40pm. For a while I had some serious guilt over choosing to go, but then I decided to just commit to it and let myself be happy and feel the excitement of walking into the stadium with my country.

I’m in the group that isn’t staying for the entire ceremony – we are going to walk, and then immediately jump into a shuttle that will take us back to the Endurance Village. Now that I’ve decided to walk, I’m really happy with my choice because you only get to walk into your first Olympic games once, and if I make the Games in the future, there’s a huge probability that I’ll face the same issue again of a race the next day, and I might not be able to go. So I’m going to soak up as much of the experience as I possibly can, and use that energy the next day! I’ll be sure to post as many pictures as I can when I get back!

A lot of questions are being asked about the stadium and trails, and all I can say is that I love it! The skiing has been unbelievably nice in the time I’ve been here. There’s tons of snow, the tracks are rock solid and perfectly groomed, and the trails are wide. The trails are also really challenging, and I like that! I think it’s a good thing for our team that the skate half has such a large climb (it’s about a 5 minute climb) and I like how the classic half has such nice rolling hills with lots of transition spots. Technically there’s not really a “skate” and “classic” half, because both techniques will be raced on all the trails, but for the skiathalon that’s how my mind has split them up. I’ll be putting up stadium and course pictures later this week!

Running down the biggest snowbanks I've seen in a long time!

Running down the biggest snowbanks I’ve seen in a long time!

Now that we’ve gotten into the swing of things, we’ve developed a series of shortcuts to get to the dining hall. One of them involves climbing over the top part of a fence where the snow has been piled high enough, and another involves climbing over the “coca-cola deck” railing. Pretty fun, huh?

Holly and Sophie on our nightly shortcut to dinner

Holly and Sophie on our nightly shortcut to dinner

We also played a couple games of pool last night, which was especially fun when some Norwegian skiers joined us and we had a team game! I think I’ll be playing a lot of games and learning a lot of new songs on my little pink guitar by the end of the 2.5 weeks we’re up here, just to have fun and keep my mind off the racing.

Simi really getting his pool mojo on!

Simi really getting his pool mojo on!

 

Yes, there's a disco here, and yes, of course I already did some dancing!

Yes, there’s a disco here, and yes, of course I already did some dancing!

 

Sadie hanging out on the big living room couch

Sadie hanging out on the big living room couch

The house here is beginning to feel like home, especially since I’ve hung up good luck posters, pictures and cards from home above my bed! It’s nice because we all have rooms to go to if we want more quiet time, but we also have the common living space where we can hang out, spin bike, foam roll or watch TV. I feel so lucky that we have staff staying here with us as well! Margo, our communications guru helps us through the mix zone and manages media for us. Ana is our PT who helps take care of us and make sure we stay injury-free, and Steph is our amazing massage therapist who keeps us from getting all knotted up!

Holly on the phone with her husband while getting a tempur-pedic cover set up on the bed!

Holly on the phone with her husband while getting a tempur-pedic cover set up on the bed!

In other fun news, I got this picture from my Mom the other night from their travel day to Sochi. I am so happy to have family and friends here! It means a lot to me and I can’t wait till I can see them in person.

My Grandma, Dad and Sister at the JFK airport waiting to fly to Moscow!

My Grandma, Dad and Sister at the JFK airport waiting to fly to Moscow!

 

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Here we go! Travel to Sochi and first impressions of the Endurance Village

Credentials activated, ready to roll!

Credentials activated, ready to roll!

Whooo! We’re here! We made it to Sochi! I’m so happy and excited to be here!!!! Ok, whoa, slow down…too many exclamation points. Alright. My goal for this website during the Games is to update you with as many pictures and inside stories and information as possible, so look for a new post every couple days. I’ve been in the Endurance Athlete Village for exactly 24 hours now, so here’s the low-down on what it took to get here, and what it’s been like so far! *update – I wrote this all up the day after we got here, but the internet comes in and out a lot.

The girls team under the Olympic Rings at the Welcome Center - first day on the ground in Sochi!

The girls team under the Olympic Rings at the Welcome Center – first day on the ground in Sochi!

THE TRAVEL: Our alarm clocks went off in Munich at 4:50am. Sophie rolled over and said “hey…guess what? We’re GOING TO SOCHI TODAY!” And that was basically the tone for the whole day…long travel, lots of waiting, tired sleepy eyes at the start…but just so happy and excited the whole time. We drove to the Munich airport where we boarded a charter flight that went straight to Sochi in about 3 hours. It was pretty cool because we got to sit wherever we wanted, and the flight was really pretty empty. Which turned out to be a good thing since we all carried on Ralph Lauren bags full of Opening Ceremony outfits, just to make sure they arrived in time (our other village clothes were shipped from Munich and will take a couple days to get here).

Sadie on the charter flight from Munich to Sochi

Sadie on the charter flight from Munich to Sochi

As cheesy as this sounds, I was just so genuinely excited to be going to my first Olympics that my heart was pounding and every hour or so I’d grab that arm of whomever was nearest to me and squeal “we’re going to Sochi!” I just couldn’t get over my excitement!

That's a whole lot of Opening Ceremony outfits!

That’s a whole lot of Opening Ceremony outfits!

Don’t worry, I had some serious time to calm back down! Once we got to the Sochi airport, there were volunteers swarming all over, even taking our luggage off the belt for us. It took a while to get all our bags organized because we were carefully checking to make sure we had every last piece of luggage. It was so great to get all our bags smoothly!

Waiting for our bags at the Sochi airport

Waiting for our bags at the Sochi airport

Then, we started a series of checkpoints and screening stations. The first stop was your regular customs station, where they checked our passports and visas (which were also our games credentials that allow us access to the villages and venues). Then, we moved all our bags outside and got them on a bus that took us to the Costal Village, which is where all the ice-skating, hockey, curling and other indoor events are located.

It's not hard to find where to go at the Sochi airport...

It’s not hard to find where to go at the Sochi airport…

 

Liz on the bus to the Mountain village, so psyched to be here!

Liz on the bus to the Mountain village, so psyched to be here!

At the Welcome Center, we put each of our bags through a screening process and then got our credentials activated and laminated so we can wear them all the time. And I really do mean ALL THE TIME. I think I’m going to start brushing my teeth and going to sleep with that lanyard around my neck, because if I lose it I go nowhere. Not one step!

The Sochi airport

The Sochi airport

After getting our bags back onto the buses, we headed out for about an hour drive up to the Mountain cluster. At the Mountain Village, there’s all the sports on the slopes: ski jumping, alpine, slope-style, snowboarding, Nordic combined, aerials, moguls…all those athlete stay at the village at the base of the mountain there. But we kept going up, up, up!

Driving along the river on the way to the Mountain Athlete Village

Driving along the river on the way to the Mountain Athlete Village

We got off the bus at the base of the gondola, and had to scan our credentials once again before riding up the mountain (the mountain we’re at the top of is opposite the alpine mountain).

Arriving at the top of the gondola station for the Endurance Village

Arriving at the top of the gondola station for the Endurance Village

At the top, we got into small buses and took our last ride of the day (phew!) to our ski chalet! The boys are staying in apartments, and all the girls and female staff members are in one big house together. Of course, you probably already know that I LOVE it when we all get to live together. :)

Kikkan and I on the gondola

Kikkan and I on the gondola

Speaking of all that security, I feel so, so safe here. I want to make sure I make that clear, because I haven’t been reading newspapers lately, but I can guess that there’s been some speculation. But get this – the Chief Security Officer for the US Olympic team came from the Secret Service, and intercepted a Presidential assassination, so I think we’re in pretty good hands.

What a beautiful view out the window!

What a beautiful view out the window!

The house has a nice common living area for us to hang out in, and I feel so incredibly lucky to be part of such a great team! The team behind the team has already been here for a week, running around doing so much prep work to ensure that we have everything we need to have success at the competitions. Our house has three spin bikes in it, as well as strength equipment and medicine balls. We have two coffee makers (a race day essential…ok, essential for every day…) and a fridge stocked full of powerades, waters, coke products, milk, almond milk and yogurts. We have a cupboard full of cereals, instant oatmeal, a rice maker, tuna, and enough peanut butter and jelly to feed us for a year. This is especially great because although the dining hall is open 24-7, sometimes you just want a small snack and don’t want to get all dressed up and do the walk over.

Our walk to the dining hall along the snowmaking pond

Our walk to the dining hall along the snowmaking pond

When we do walk to the dining hall, however, it’s absolutely beautiful! Especially since the sun’s been out all day. We walk down the road in between the ski chalets with different countries flags flying, and then alongside the snowmaking pond with all the flagpoles. Some countries are staying in housing, and some are in apartments while others are living in the hotel.

A present on our beds when we arrived - the Sochi backpack!

A present on our beds when we arrived – the Sochi backpack!

The hotel is enormous, and the athlete dining hall is on the side of it. The food is good here with tons of options to try and cover needs from every nation and every possible food allergy. It’s also a fun atmosphere because it’s the best people watching out there, since we get to see all the uniforms from every country!

Many houses in the Village are decorated with their country's flags

Many houses in the Village are decorated with their country’s flags

In the main building there are also other places to check out, like a post office, laundry room, game room, a disco, fitness center, art gallery and internet center.

A panorama view of the room Holly and I are sharing

A panorama view of the room Holly and I are sharing

And although we try not to be materialists….lets talk about the clothes!

Our ski suits are so fun, with both stars and stripes. We look so patriotic (finally). I remember in years past, at World Junior trips, not many countries wanted to trade suits with us. But now, skiing around, we’ve already gotten so many people asking to trade after the games! Booyah.

Noah modeling his suit in front of our wax cabin while Soph demonstrates an excellent photo bomb

Noah modeling his suit in front of our wax cabin while Soph demonstrates an excellent photo bomb

 

Liz and I checking out each other's athlete bibs on our way out for a ski!

Liz and I checking out each other’s athlete bibs on our way out for a ski!

The Sochi volunteers all have these super bright, rainbow-ish jackets. Which makes them easy to find! The volunteers are all very helpful, and they went through an intense interview process in order to be selected to be here. They speak great english and I’ve had very positive experiences with them.

A "rainbow of colors" on the Sochi volunteer jackets

A “rainbow of colors” on the Sochi volunteer jackets

The warmup outfits we have are all white – white pants with white, red and blue jackets. I’m sad to say that I’ve already gotten mine muddy!

Andy rockin the white pants and socks look

Andy rockin the white pants and socks look

Time for me to go hit up the classic tracks!

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Olympic Processing in Munich!

Stars and stripes on our new race suits! The rookie Olympic crew models :)

Stars and stripes on our new race suits! The rookie Olympic crew models :)

It’s really happening!!! I’ve been excited for the upcoming Olympics for a long time, but today was the first day it felt real, not like this far-off dream. We drove to Munich right after the skate sprint in Toblach on Sunday, and stayed at this absolutely huge hotel where all the team USA processing is based out of. I’m actually writing this from a laundromat in downtown Munich, where Kikkan and I are cleaning our race clothes from last weekend. Since we’ll be getting all new race suits at the Games, we’ll be leaving a fair amount of things in Munich for the 2.5 weeks we’re gone…and it seemed a good idea to make sure our suitcases weren’t full of mold when we got back. :)

In the lobby we saw other athletes; alpine skiers, curlers, ice skaters, and snowboarders. Every team has to stop through processing in Munich but the window is over a few days, so not everyone’s here at once. Which is kind of a bummer – I was looking forward to meeting the entire team USA because we’ll be spread out over 3 different athlete villages during the games. But hopefully most of us will be there for Opening Ceremonies!

However, I did get to meet a pair of Ice Dancers, and it was so cool to learn more about their sport and how their competitions work. In turn, they had lots of questions for us as well! It’s like playing a big guessing game sometimes…you look at someone and try to guess what their sport could possibly be. I’m really looking forward to meeting new friends on team USA and then rooting for them during their competitions!

Sophie, me, Sadie and Ida - ready to begin processing for our first Olympics!

Sophie, me, Sadie and Ida – ready to begin processing for our first Olympics!

Let’s rewind a quick second to the skate sprint in Toblach. For a lot of us, it was an ok day – not great, not terrible, just, you know…an average day at the office. The sprint course was 2 laps running around the stadium. You went out straight then started making a lot of left hand turns, so if my right leg is much stronger next week, now you know why! There were 3 climbs during the sprint and the snow was super hard, wet, fast and tricky to balance on. I felt a whole lot like Bambi on ice skates!

I qualified in 21st, and we got 6 athletes to the rounds- Kikkan, Sophie, Holly, Me, Andy and Simi. Only Kikkan made it out of the quarterfinals, finishing 5th in the finals. I think we all struggled a bit with tactics, since the draft out of the last downhill before the finishing turn mattered a TON. For me, though, tactics didn’t play much of a part as I got off to a very bad start in my quarterfinal. Someone stepped on my ski tip and I bobbled, almost going down as my momentum stopped. Then, rattled, I planted a pole between my skis and almost fell again! Yeesh. I was settled into 6th place, and no windows were open to pass, although even if they were I don’t think I would have managed it very well – I had extrememly low energy, for whatever reason. I was just missing that spark, and I think it’s because I got really dehydrated after a hot day in the sun at the U23 sprint, and I needed more rest than I’d had time to get. I’m not worried about it, because not every race is going to be amazing and luckily for me, this race was more of a tune-up than anything. It was also a great chance to watch and learn tactics, and I definitely picked up a few good pointers that weekend.

Sadie opening her Nike duffel full of goodies, and me with the Nike crew!

Sadie opening her Nike duffel full of goodies, and me with the Nike crew!

Ok, back to the fun stuff! I’m not super into clothes or fashion, and my little sister can definitely tell you how bad my matching skills are. So it came as a suprise when I found myself getting so excited about all the Olympic gear! Proccessing was in the Munich Olympic stadium, in a huge gym with stations all around the outside of the room.

I instantly got a huge hug from Celeste, the PT from the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center who flew all the way out to Munich to help check in athletes! She was the one who helped check out my foot injury last fall and got me to the hospital for x-rays when I was scared and hurt. So getting a hug and a send-off from her felt pretty awesome, especially since my foot is very much better now and I was practically prancing around the room with excitement.

Sadie and Sophie (Sodie when they're together) showing off our warmups, and me in the Opening outfit!

Sadie and Sophie (Sodie when they’re together) showing off our warmups, and me in the Opening outfit!

I made friends with the people working the Nike station – they were so nice and enthusiastic and helpful! That’s basically been the theme of my Olympic experience so far…everyone has been psyched and ready to help point us in the right direction.

The Ralph Lauren station was a funny experience for me, becuase anyone who knows me also knows that I really can’t stand heavy, hot clothes and I especially freak out when things are touching my neck. I think this comes from having asthma – wearing a turtleneck or tight necklace makes me think I can’t get enough air. This is also why I always cut up the front of my race suits. So when they dressed us in the Lauren station (yes, they showed us exactly how the shoes were to be laced and how many buttons to fasten on the coats!) I was trying hard not to panic, wearing a turtleneck layer under a thick sweater! Don’t worry, I didn’t lose it. And the people there were super nice!

The eagle shirt! This one might be my favorite.

The eagle shirt! This one might be my favorite.

At the end of it all, we were able to ship a huge box back home. I thought this was great that they provided this service, since we just got so many things but definitely don’t have room for it all on the World Cup traveling circus! I had brought with me some extra clothes from my regular duffle bag, and so my box was packed, but on the plus side there’s a little more room now in the cargo van.

Tomorrow we fly out early on a charter flight, so the next update will be from the Endurance Athlete Village! My Parents, little sister, Grandma and headgear sponsor CEO Ken Larson and his wife Barb are all coming to the Games to watch, and I’m so excited for them, because I know this is going to be such a cool experience and fun trip. My Mom and Dad are keeping a facebook page updated with their journey, so check it out for updates!

https://www.facebook.com/DigginsinSochi

Also, here are links to two really nice articles written about how the community has been such an incredible support system and how I wouldn’t be where I am without them!

http://www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_25037985/not-so-lonely-quest-gold

http://www.startribune.com/sports/243113651.html?page=all&prepage=2&c=y#continue

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48 hours at U-23 World Championships!

After the U23 sprint awards ceremony!

After the U23 sprint awards ceremony!

Wow, was that ever fun! I got to drive down from a training camp in Seiser Alm with Cork the day before the Junior Worlds/U23 Championships skate sprint, and join the US team! It was so much fun to see my SMS teammates that I haven’t seen all winter, and get to catch up with all my buddies on the team and meet new skiers. That was the highlight for me, getting to hang out with the rest of the team. Having a good race and getting 2nd was the icing on the cake, but that didn’t make my week; the team did!

It was such a neat experience, being one of the oldest on the team instead of the perpetual youngest member. I felt like I was able to share tips on the sprint course, things I’d learned from racing it the year before. I got to loan out a fast pair of skis to another salomon skier, and I ran around giving and getting so many good luck hugs. I recieve so much help and guidance from my teammates on the US team that I wanted to pass it right along, even through I was only with the Junior/U23 team for less than 2 days!

It was also an interesting experience, racing girls my own age! Suddenly I knew I had just as much race experience as the rest of the field, and let’s be honest, I tend to get stepped on in races a lot. I’ve even been punched in the ribs during a mass start race. But here nobody stepped on my poles or elbowed me! The racing was still more aggressive then back home, but a lot less scrappy then on the World Cup.

Jumping for joy! The U23 sprint podium: Germany (1), USA (2), Italy (3)

Jumping for joy! The U23 sprint podium: Germany (1), USA (2), Italy (3)

For me, the goal of coming to race U23′s wasn’t in the results, but the process and experience. I was hoping to make the final so I can work on dialing in what I need to do between the heats – if I jog or ski, when I can eat or drink and when I shouldn’t. I also wanted the tactical practice, since every sprint is such a learning experience and I feel like I get better at making it through a round the more I ski.

And, maybe the most valuable thing of all; getting a chance to practice performing under pressure. In my head, there was much more pressure at U23′s than I think I will feel at the Olympics, in part because it’s the venue that Kikkan and I won on last year, and because I was coming into the races knowing that if everything went well, I had a chance to win it. Yes, I know that most of that was in my head and I put that pressure on myself, but that’s the way I am! I expect a lot from myself, and I figured if I could find a way to stay calm and focused at U23′s, then I’d be much better prepared for Sochi.

The day before the race I felt tired from the previous week’s training, and didn’t quite do my usual race prep. I had thought my boot bag made it into the car….(in a classic Jessie move, it didn’t) so our travel took all morning instead of the quick drive it was meant to be. I still feel bad for Cork! Anyways, the point is, I’m learning to straight up ignore whatever my body feels the day before a race, because sometimes I can’t do the routine I’m used to or I’ll feel tired, but it’s amazing how the body can turn it around.

It’s funny how I was able to logically talk myself out of being too nervous the day before and morning of the race, so in my head I was really calm…but my body knew better. I couldn’t sleep and when my alarm went off I was wide awake and my heart was pounding like I’d just woken up from a bad dream. But once I got on course, got into old warm up routines and habits, I felt right at home. My nerves melted away and I was focused for the day. The qualifier went really well, and I won it, which gave me a good confidence boost for the day. Annie Pokorny, Erik Bjornsen and Tyler Kornfield also made it into the heats, and finished 28th, 18th and 19th respectively on the day.

In my quarterfinal I took the lead and was able to win and move on to the semifinal, where I used the same tactic but made one big mistake. Thinking to save some energy for the final, I led up the big hill (I wanted to get up front so I’d avoid any tangles or crashes that could happen) but didn’t take it out hot enough to drop the group. So, over the flat section and downhill, I was being drafted, and a few girls used the slingshot to get around me as we came down the bridge into the finishing stretch. I wasn’t quick in the finishing lanes that day, and finished 3rd in my semi, which would have been a huge bummer to be done for the day when I had energy left! Luckily the time was fast and I was the first lucky loser into the final.

In the final, I didn’t want to repeat the same mistake I made in the semis. I knew my strength wasn’t in the finishing lanes, and that if I wanted to win my best bet was to tire everyone else out. So from the gun I took the lead and decided to leave everything out on the course. The pace was fast enough to string out the field, but the German girl stuck right behind me. This was where I probably should have stopped leading, going into the downhill, because she was able to draft off me, but I was in head-down-and-hammer-mode. When we pulled over the bridge after the final dowhill she passed me and I couldn’t keep up in the finishing lanes, and finished second. But I crossed the line with the biggest smile on my face! I was so happy for the other girls (and got to know them much better as we all sat in the anti-doping control room for hours after the race). Most of all, it was a great confidence booster for me going into Sochi because as I start tapering and peaking, I know my energy will only go up from here, and U23′s was a great chance to get experience going through the rounds. I already miss the Junior and U23 US team, but we’ve been cheering them on and watching the races!

It's been a while since I've seen this much snow come down at once!

It’s been a while since I’ve seen this much snow come down at once!

The day after the sprints, Cork and I drove over to join the US team in Toblach, Italy. We’ve been to this venue already for the Tour de Ski, but it’s neat to see the subtle changes in stadium layout for the World Cups. The biggest change was the amount of snow here – we arrived just before 48 hours of snow pouring down!

A few months ago Cork and I decided that my plan would be to sit out the 10km classic and only race the skate sprint here in Toblach, as I didn’t want to race 3 times in 5 days right before Olympic Processing and travel to Sochi. So, this morning I went and did race prep and then cheered on our ladies as they skied a rockin 10km!

Simi was really, really patient while driving me to the hair salon to get my colors on!

Simi was really, really patient while driving me to the hair salon to get my colors on!

Also, something pretty fun happened this week for me. I’d decided a while ago that for the Olympics I’d dye my hair red, white and blue. The red came out rather pink-looking, but I really like it! I ususally have some crazy long ponytail waving around when I race, but now the situation just got crazier!

Kikkan and I with our bright, bright hair!

Kikkan and I with our bright, bright hair!

 

The bleach stage. I admit, I was a little nervous right then.

The bleach stage. I admit, I was a little nervous right then.

 

Sporting the pink, white and blue!

Sporting the pink, white and blue!

During the Olympics, we have rule 40 and 50 going on, which basically mean that I can’t advertise my sponsors and they can’t promote me from January 30-February 26th. It’s pretty annoying to me that I can’t publicly thank people and companies who have done SO much for me, but that’s how it works I suppose. Anyways, you know who you are, and I am deeply appreciative of your help in getting me to these Games!!!

Also, I’m going to be doing a bit of a communications hold during the Games. I am hoping for a good internet connection up at the Village and I will be on twitter and posting blog updates as often as I can to keep you all in the loop! However, it’s already starting to get crazy with media and processing heading into the games (I had 10 interviews last week alone!) and it’s going to be crucial for me to keep my focus during the games. So as much as I love all the emails of support and encouragment I’m getting, please understand if I can’t reply during the games of if it’s a short and sweet email back! Thank you for understanding!

Before I go, I want to link to this adorable video the Minnesota Youth Ski League kids made as a send-off. It absolutely melted my heart, with their “I ski like Jessie” signs, because that’s the whole point of me writing the kids blog and reaching out to the community – so that young skiers know that if I can have fun skiing with my friends and family and then make the Olympics, they can too!!! Here’s a link to the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zu473Q8ioc8

And a link to the blog I write for the MYSL kids: http://www.mysl.org/blog/24187

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Pre-Olympic training camp

It's pretty hard NOT to get excited about being up here! Sophie and Sadie have fun on the downhills (photo from Sophie)

It’s pretty hard NOT to get excited about being up here! Sophie and Sadie have fun on the downhills (photo from Sophie)

The past week, the US team has been up in Seiser Alm for our pre-camp leading into the Olympics…along with many other National teams! It’s like one huge training camp. It’s a little tough because when the sun is out, the tracks are perfect and there’s so much snow everywhere you just want to ski forever, but this is the time of year to start tapering, not go big on volume. Darn it! But that’s the irony of being a professional skier…sometimes, that means you don’t actually get to ski that much. It’s still worth it. :)

If you want to see some sweet scenery and video of the skiing around here, this is the link to an awesome GoPro video Newell made! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_PDZHCvMv8

View of the lower stadium that we can ski down to.

View of the lower stadium that we can ski down to.

Matt taking full advantage of the double-tracked trails here.

Matt taking full advantage of the double-tracked trails here.

The coaches worked to align our training plans as much as possible, and I’ve gotten to do a lot of beautiful fun skis with the rest of the girls! We drive down for intensity sessions to Monte Pana, which is about 45 minutes away and significantly lower in altitude so we can get some harder efforts in. Yesterday we did a 5km time trial, which I’m happy about because it’s been a while since I’ve done a 5km skate and I needed the pacing practice!

Paradise! We found it again! (photo from Sophie)

Paradise! We found it again! (photo from Sophie)

To get down from our hotel to the vans, we strap on our backpacks with warm clothes and jet down the alpine run. It’s really fun, although tricky on cross country skis without the edges to get sharp turns!

Our morning ski down the alpine hill to the vans - pretty exciting on XC skis!

Our morning ski down the alpine hill to the vans – pretty exciting on XC skis!

Since our hotel is right at the top of an alpine lift, there’s a nice little mix zone where the snowboarders try and figure out just what cross country is.

The top of the lift...also, 10 feet out the front door!

The top of the lift…also, 10 feet out the front door!

The Italian team was in the same hotel as us for a while, and Debbie joined the US girls for a couple ski sessions as well as our time trial. It was so great to have her with us! I have been having so much fun making new friends from other countries. My first year on the World Cup I was too shy and intimidated to branch out, but now that we’ve done training camps with other nations and gotten to know other girls better, it’s easy to see how similar we all are. Everyone has a passion for skiing and has similar goals, and even when we don’t speak the same language a smile looks the same all over.

Debbie and Liz on our group ski!

Debbie and Liz on our group ski!

 

Cool light on a cloudy morning

Cool light on a cloudy morning

I’m rooming with Sophie for this camp, and by this time of year we both have a big collection of cards and pictures from friends and family. It’s fun to hang them up and be reminded of home!

Sophie with her photo album of the week up!

Sophie with her photo album of the week up!

If you’re looking for a fun video to watch, I highly recommend this one! Although I’m sponsored by Rudy Project, not Blitz, it’s a funny video made by the Swedish team’s Robin Bryntesson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lJuNPD-bOw

On Tuesday morning, Cork and I will head down to Val di Fiemme for the World Junior/U-23 Championships. As part of my tune-up plan going into the Olympics, I’m planning to race the skate sprint on Wednesday, then head to Toblach for the World Cup skate sprint race that weekend. Most of all, I’m looking forward to seeing the Junior and U-23 team – I haven’t seen those guys, especially my SMST2 teammates, in months! It’s going to be so nice to hang out with everyone!

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Poland and back again

Dad, Kenzie and I on a family ski (with Mom behind the camera)! I feel so lucky to have grown up skiing and having fun outdoors!

Dad, Kenzie and I on a family ski (with Mom behind the camera)! I feel so lucky to have grown up skiing and having fun outdoors!

I was going to type this up earlier, but was too busy a.)choreographing a dance for our next music video…b.) struggling with the internet connection…c.) sledding down the alpine hill…or d.) all the above. Take your pick.

In very exciting news, the 2014 Olympic Cross Country team has officially been named! You may have seen it already, but in case you haven’t, here is the roster:

Andy Newell
Noah Hoffman
Simi Hamilton
Erik Bjornsen
Kris Freeman
Torin Koos
Brian Gregg
Jessie Diggins
Kikkan Randall
Liz Stephen
Sadie Bjornsen
Sophie Caldwell
Ida Sargent
Holly Brooks

I am so excited to be a part of such a strong team representing our country!

Last week we did a whole lot of driving (compared to what I’m used to, anyways) with the 9 hour trip to Sklarska Poreba, Poland for the World Cups there. It was worth it, though! As is quickly becoming the usual situation, the venue was struggling with a tough snow year, but with impressive shoveling by volunteers and creativity in trucking in snow, they managed to pull off the races! We had a 2.7km loop, which included the usual massive climb and one twisty, turny downhill for the 1okm classic race. The skate race was a much more gradual course, but without much rest because the downhill was one that was much faster when you worked it the whole way.

The skate sprint was, for me, the best World Cup sprint I’ve ever raced in my life! I wasn’t sure how my body would feel the day before, since I’d been sick with a cold the past week in Seiser Alm and hadn’t been able to train the way I’d hoped. But I was able to shake it just in time to have great energy, and through all the rounds I felt like I was able to ski the way I wanted. I qualified in 8th, which I was happy about, and had a blast skiing the rounds. My specialty is skating gradual downhills, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s because I’m am hyper mobile and can get into a ridiculously low tuck. Maybe it’s because I inherited my hocky-playing Dad’s skating pushes. One fun little theory the coaches have is that my super flexible ankles help my skis glide because they are dead flat on the snow. Whatever the reason, I moved up the field in my quarterfinal and won it, moving on to the semis, which made it an already good day for me. My day became even more exciting when I got a lucky loser spot (by time) in my semifinal, and made the finals.

Now, it’s been a while since I’d been in a skate sprint final. The last time was 2 years ago in Moscow, Russia! Since then I’ve qualified in (I think) every skate sprint I’ve started, but rarely made it out of the quarters. But experience helps a ton, and I feel much better these days about my chances of making it through. I was so excited for the final, and something new happened to me as I lined up at the start gate. It was a distinct shift in attitude, something I hadn’t experienced outside of team sprints (my absolute favorite event). It was the way I thought about the upcoming final. Usually, I’d just think “wow, I’m so excited just to make it here!” but that day I was thinking “I feel great…I have just as good a chance to win on this course as anyone!” It was a boost in confidence, and the attitude that it’s ok to try to win, not just “make it into the final” anymore. It was a really cool experience, and I need to remember to think that way more often! Having strong belief in yourself goes such a long way, and it’s an easy detail to forget, but it’s incredibly powerful when it happens.

The gun went off, and I tucked into 4th place up the gradual climb from the stadium to the slightly steeper pitch to the top of the course. It was a narrow course and in most places impossible to pass if the skier in front of you chose to ski in the middle of the track. But on the downhill I started moving up, and tucked into second right behind Kikk, before Denise moved in. With about 300 meters to go I was in third, feeling great, and the pack was moving wicked fast towards the final turn before the finishing lanes. I never got to find out what would have happened. The Swiss girl on my right either tapped skis with me or wobbled (I can’t remember and the video didn’t show) but she fell sideways right in front of me. I remember seeing her suddenly fall right in front of me and screaming, not because my race was de-railed but because we were moving fast, for goodness sake, and I didn’t want to run into her and hurt her! I pitched forward and landed on my left hip and knee before somehow rolling (James-Bond-style, my Dad informed me) back to my feet. I sprinted for the line but by then it was too late, although I must have rolled up pretty quick because I finished 6.5 seconds out. Was it a little heartbreaking to see the podium so close and within reach, and never get the chance to sprint it out? Of course! But I’m proud of how I skied, and now I know that someday even little ‘ol me could win a World Cup race, and having that belief is the most important thing I could have.

Still image from the race footage from Jeff Ellis...apparently I'm a fairly good break-dance on skis?

The next day was the 10km classic, and I’m so proud of my teammates for having great races! I, however, did not have a great race. I think I didn’t eat enough or drink enough after the sprint, because after only 6km I was thinking “wow, I sure would love a feed right now”. That’s not something you ever want to be thinking in a 10km, people! Oops. I also made a huge mistake with testing skis that morning – and I want to make sure the blame falls on me, not my techs. I should have asked for way more kick but I was starting to run out of time before the start and I got stressed, and as a result, I spent way more time out of the tracks herringboning than kicking and gliding up the hills. I tend to come unglued pretty quickly when I’m slipping a lot, which didn’t help my low-energy cause. Don’t worry, I found plenty of bright spots to the day, starting with my teammates having great races and ending with me getting in a killer workout that was better than doing intervals by myself!

The start of the classic race (photo from the Sklarska Poreba World Cup FB site)

I think one of the best moments of the day was right at the start line, before the gun went off. It was Justyna Kowalczyk’s birthday, and the crowd absolutely loves her in Poland, so they were super loud and cheering like crazy. But when the starter announced “One minute to start!” everyone got really quiet. Suddenly, one man in the crowd screamed hysterically “Justyyyyyynaaaaaaaaa Kowalllllllczykkkkkkk!!!!!” and everyone started laughing. I was laughing too, and I could hear Justyna’s quiet giggle, even though the gun would go off in only 20 seconds. It’s little moment’s like that the remind me of how the fun the whole process is, and what an exciting thing it is to be racing in front of thousands of fans on the World Cup!

So that brings us to the present paradise I’m currently in…Seiser Alm again! I’ll get more pictures up soon, but it’s been an amazing pre-Olympic camp so far. Sprits are high, life is good, the sunshine feels amazing and the training is going great!

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Day trip to Venice and the most perfect skiing in the world!

In front of the realto bridge

In front of the realto bridge

Lately, it’s been extremely difficult to keep an ear-t0-ear grin off my face. I am having such a great week after the Tour de Ski; relaxing, getting to see new places and getting some easy smooth distance skiing in.

Looking down a canal

Looking down a canal

Matt and I were in Predazzo for a couple days while Liz and Noah were each with their parents in different parts of Italy, getting some family time. Since I was at “camp Matt”, and Matt was at “camp Jessie”, we each decided it’d be fun to see someplace new, someplace beautiful with a lot of culture. We decided on a day trip to Venice!

The scene in Venice

The scene in Venice

The drive was about 3 hours each way, and we spent about 7 hours in Venice, but the travel wasn’t stressful at all and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. The city was so cool and old…and apparently slowly sinking! The city is an archipelago of 117 tiny islands with stone buildings built over wooden piers, and 177 canals connecting everything. The fastest mode of transport is by water, or just walking. The canals are filled with greenish murky, silty lagoon water that smells of fresh salt and sea and sometimes fish. The city was grimy in a genuinely old kind of way…besides cigarette buts (nearly everyone smoked) there was no trash in the streets, only a faintly green slippery coating over the stones.

Matt and I about 5 miles into our wandering around town

Matt and I about 5 miles into our wandering around town

All the buildings were stone with wooden doors and iron railings or bars over the windows, and some had wrought-iron gates to the courtyards. The stone buildings were a variety of colors – some plastered over in pink! – but there wasn’t a speck of green till you peered into the courtyards where shrubs, trees (palm trees too) and lots if ivy grew. Laundry hung out windows and stretched out over canals on lines, though how it dried in the foggy humid air I don’t know.

The fisherman we got lunch from

The fisherman we got lunch from

There were small boats everywhere, some super-touristy gondolas with the traditional striped-shirt-and-cap-wearing gondolier punting through the water, but the grand canal was full of faster transport boats and ferries. The “bus route” with a floating dock system was all done efficiently on water.

Matt and I did the best thing you can ever do in Venice…get lost! We wandered down tiny narrow alleyways, through courtyards, and unintentionally turned circles in the heart of the city while only actually setting foot in the same places a handful of times. We saw the shopping, touristy areas, the plaza’s full of screaming children playing ball as soon as school let out, and the dogs running unchecked through the quiet streets where the citizens actually lived – the most modern and  least hectic, slow-paced part of town.

Parking lot space?

Parking lot space?

Of course, we saw St. Mark’s plaza, the basilica and click tower, and walked over the Realto bridge, but some amount of charm was lost upon discovering that the bridge was also a shopping mall – there were literally shops ON the bridge.

The food in Venice was such a cool experience. We stopped for lunch at a small café alongside the water (well, of course…everything is next to the water…) and ordered our meals. The waitress asked us exactly how many scallops we wanted, then 5 minutes later we saw a man walk in the door with 2 bags of fresh seafood that he’d probably picked up from the boat we saw 10 meters from the café. He strode back to the kitchen doors, and 10 minutes later we were eating the freshest and most delicious scallops I’ve ever tasted, served in the shell! I also tried the local special – cuttlefish served in their black ink sauce, a murky, jet-black dish that was delicious, and would probably really stain your teeth if you ate it often!

One of the many laundry lines over the water

One of the many laundry lines over the water

I’m so thankful that we went, and got to experience another amazing city that skiing probably won’t take me to! After getting back to Predazzo, we left for Seiser Alm, this absolutely gorgeous place up high in the Dolomite mountains in Italy. We are staying at the Panorama Hotel, which is at the top of one of the alpine runs. To get up to the hotel, you need to either take a snowcat (my favorite!), ride the chairlift or get driven up a steep and super snowy road. Once you’re at the top, you’re overlooking the town and have a 360 degree view of so many gorgeous peaks.

The edge of the upper loop

The edge of the upper loop

 

Enjoying some Vitamin D!

Enjoying some Vitamin D!

It’s hard for me to pick one favorite thing about Seiser Alm…there are so many amazing parts! The skiing is out of this world, with a couple feet of snow and perfect tracks. The classic skiing is outstanding, and one of the trails on the upper loop looks like you’re about to ski off the edge of the earth. You can also drop down to the stadium, but you have to plan your ski because there’s about a 40 minute climb back to the hotel!

Perfect tracks...every day!

Perfect tracks…every day!

 

"It's my Birthday!" Liz headed out on her b-day ski

“It’s my Birthday!” Liz headed out on her b-day ski

The food here is delicious, and mealtimes can take up to an hour and a half because of so many small courses being served. But maybe the best part is the sledding! There’s a sled run right out the hotel door that parallels the alpine hill, and it carves down the hill with some really steep drop offs and road crossings. It’s so fun that I’ve been looking forward to it ever since I heard we’d be going to Seiser Alm last spring!

One of my favorite parts of the trail

One of my favorite parts of the trail

 

A beautiful sunny training day - and a special thanks to my sponsors Slumberland Furniture and Fastenal for helping me get here!

A beautiful sunny training day – and a special thanks to my sponsors Slumberland Furniture and Fastenal for helping me get here!

 

An icy luge run that ends in town

An icy luge run that ends in town

 

Liz, Noah and I after our sled run (photo by Matt)

Liz, Noah and I after our sled run (photo by Matt)

Yesterday was Liz’s birthday, so we took a couple awesome runs together. Matt kept reminding us to take is easy (the Olympics are coming up, after all) so we toned it down but were still going wicked fast! :)

Liz, going for a birthday sled run in her special mask from Venice!

Liz, going for a birthday sled run in her special mask from Venice!

Top of the sled run - right out the hotel door!

Top of the sled run – right out the hotel door!

My second day here I picked up a slight head cold that’s been running around, so I’ve been taking it really easy and recovering quickly. It’s hard to be in the most beautiful ski area ever and not get to ski as much as I’d like, but it’s more important to be smart and recover well! On Thursday, we drive the 9-ish hours over to Poland for the skate sprint and 10km classic mass start World Cups there. I’m looking forward to it!

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Final stages of the Tour…making the Olympic Team…and time for recovery!

Rock on! Me, Steph and Liz in the VIP tent at the top (photo from Holly)

Rock on! Me, Steph and Liz in the VIP tent at the top (photo from Holly)

WE MADE IT! The 2013-14 Tour de Ski is over, and Liz, Noah and I all finished the final stage healthy and happy…the best I could ask for! Here’s a somewhat lengthy recap of the last two stages here in Val di Fiemme, and what comes next. But before I go any further, I’m so excited to officially announce that I have made the 2014 US Olympic Team! Based on the objective qualifying criteria (World Cup points), since I am 15th on the World Cup distance points list, I’m on the team. Huge thanks to my family, friends and awesome sponsors for helping me get here! There’s still a month of preparation left before Sochi, but all the hardest work has been done over the last 5 years. Time to start getting excited!

Holly and Steph were AWESOME cheerleaders, and got us our dry bags at the finish! (photo from Holly)

Holly and Steph were AWESOME cheerleaders, and got us our dry bags at the finish! (photo from Holly)

So, stage 6 of the Tour de Ski – at the course in Val di Fiemme (last year’s World Championship venue). The classic 5km individual race was far and away the best I’ve ever felt in a classic race on the World Cup! I came in 10th place, and it was such a great confidence booster for my classic skiing, since I’ve been working on technique so hard and now I feel like I’m maybe getting the hang of it. The course was one 5km loop, with some climbs and a lot more double pole than we’ve seen so far this year. Since it was raining, the field was somewhat split between klister skis and zeroes. I went for klister, and I’m psyched because I’ve been working with Cork as my tech for a couple years now and I feel like every time we test kick we get a little better at reaching that sweet spot of just enough kick to ski well and have great glide to boot. I asked the coaches not to give me splits during the race because I already had my pacing strategy and I wouldn’t be able to push any harder anyways! So instead they cheered and yelled out the technique pointers I’d asked for (like long glide, getting up over my poles, etc.) which helped a TON. After the finish line, it was time to get right on the recovery process for the next day and final stage, so we got food and water, cooled down, changed into whatever dry clothes we had left, got massages, foam rolled, got in the ice tub, talked to the media…it’s quite the process! But by now it’s just a routine.

Liz and I soaking wet, freezing, dead tired....and happy as can be! (photo from Holly)

Liz and I soaking wet, freezing, dead tired….and happy as can be! (photo from Holly)

How about that hill climb, you ask? The conditions were really interesting with pouring rain that turned to snow just before the start of the girls race! But the climb is hard and slow going no matter what, so the weather almost doesn’t matter; I know that when I reach the top I”ll be nearly blacked out anyways and in more pain than any other race.

My strengths are the rollling hills and especially the flat sections, so that’s where I tried to make up the most time. I caught the 4 girls in front of me, but with the exception of Aurore Jean (from France) nobody would take a turn pulling the pack. I didn’t want to hang around playing that game, so I just did most of the work for the section connecting to the base of the climb. Sometime during the flats near a feed zone, my glasses were fogging with the snow and I threw them off near a Swedish coach, and he got them back to me after the race! That sure was nice.

Then during the climb I just tried to get in a rhythm and keep moving. The course profile for this race is almost funny, it looks so ridiculous. The steepest part of the hill is 28%, but by the time you get there you can’t feel your legs or much of anything anyways! I am not a great climber, but I definitely gave it everything I had, and I proud of that. I didn’t get up the hill the fastest and slid back 2 spots in the overall, but I didn’t leave anything out there and it feels good to end the tour knowing I did the best I could! What also made such an impact on me was the fact that we had so many people out there cheering for us – Liz’s parents, Noah’s parents, and our awesome friends from Davos Markus and Karin, who drove all the way out here to cheer us on! And don’t even get me started on all the great emails of encouragement I’ve received from family and friends throughout the tour. We have such great support, and it makes a world of difference. Thanks you guys – you know who you are!

The back streets on my shortcut to the laundromat

The back streets on my shortcut to the laundromat

I am psyched to have made my goal of a top-15 finish with a 13th place. And I’m especially psyched for Liz with such an awesome tour – the best any US woman has ever had! Noah finished 25th in the overall, which is also the best men’s result to date, and I suppose I’m the youngest US woman to finish top-15 in the tour, so…huzzah for making history! :) And speaking of making history, I am so happy for the Norwegian team. It’s fun to see them win their first ever tour, and with a podium sweep for the girls! I love seeing people really excited and celebrating at the finish when they have achieved a new goal, so to see those girls all smiling ear to ear made me smile as well.

Once we decided that we weren’t in fact going to get hypothermia (Liz and I were soaked to the bone) and changed into dry clothes and trash bag raincoats, we stayed to cheer on the boys. It was a new perspective, watching the climb, and wow was it easy to cheer! Like Cory Wubbles said after cheering on us girls “It was almost a little awkward. I mean…I could have read you a chapter of a book on one of the steep sections, people were moving so slow”. He could have given us the full top-30 results update from Nationals back in Soldier Hollow while we trudged on by. He didn’t, but it would have been funny.

I have to laugh a little because so many people have said to me, with a smirk on their face like I should be embarrased about it; “gee, you sure looked TIRED on that final climb! haha” because I was nearly tipping over at the top. But, people, I’m proud of that! If I ever finish a race with enough energy to remain standing at the finish line, I’m dissapointed in myself. Because that means that I didn’t give everything I had, that I held back and was too scared to push myself into that place where I’m skiing just outside my limits. To me, that’s the worst feeling in the world… looking back at the finish line of anything – a race, a test, a project – and knowing I could have pushed harder and didn’t. Sure, it’s not pretty when I’m falling apart at the finish, but one day I’ll be strong enough to keep it together longer and longer. Technique, endurance, finesse…those are all things that I can train, and things I will get better at in time. But the ability and the will to go deep into the pain cave is my greatest asset, and something I’ll always have.

The church in town and your average clothes drying situation

The church in town and your average clothes drying situation

Our staff was amazing, working so hard through this whole Tour de Ski, and I’m really proud to be part of this crew. If you think racing 7 stages is hard, just imagine WAXING for 14 races (men’s and women’s combined) and being on your feet for at least 6 hours a day prepping and testing skis, and then packing up and moving the wax room to 4 venues! I don’t know how they do it, but somehow they gave us extremely competitive skis (I was psyched!) and stayed so positive and awesome the entire way. I can’t thank them enough!

A typical scene - stone driveway, bike and those tiny doors at the base

A typical scene – stone driveway, bike and those tiny doors at the base

Now that the tour is over, I definitely feel a little bit of a letdown, because all the fun and exciting races are over! But I also feel so relaxed, and am happy to get back into a more normal routine. My stomach is finally not tied up in knots, and I can wake up each morning without the nervous pre-race jitters. Liz and Noah are both with their families, out on some relaxing adventures; the Stephens went to the Tuscany area while the Hoffmans went to Cinque Terre. Meanwhile, Matt and I are chilling in Predazzo! We might do a day trip to Venice tomorrow, which I am quite excited about. One of the big reasons for me to do the tour was because it’s a sweet training tool to prepare for the upcoming Olympics. Last year I felt like it set me up well fitness-wise for World Champs, and I hope for even better results this year since I am learning how to be better at resting :) Super compensation time, here I come!

They have these teensy three-wheeled things everywhere on the narrow streets

They have these teensy three-wheeled things everywhere on the narrow streets

I always enjoy spending time here in Predazzo. I love the way the cobblestone streets wind their way around the city, how every time I go for a run I see at least one cat slinking it’s way across the street and under someone’s rickety old wooden fence. I love how nearly all the buildings here are stone, some polished and some crumbling with sketchy wooden decks listing crazily out over the narrow street. I love how the bakeries take pride in making everything to the highest quality. I’ve also noticed that every 5th shop here is either a hair salon, or a lingerie outfitter.

And, weird as it may sound, I thoroughly enjoy being able to walk to the laundromat and clean everything I own while I’m here. It’s the little things. And clean clothes are definitely one of those things! I remember one year in Lahti, Sadie, Noah and I went shopping, and we hadn’t been able to do laundry for a disgustingly long time. So we bought new outfits and stripped down in the bathroom, cutting off tags and putting on entirely new clothes. We then proceeded to wash literally everything we owned. That’s the glamorous life on the road, folks! Anyways, today I marched into town with upwards of 40 pounds of laundry (not all mine, don’t worry!) and then proceeded to sit on the deck in the sun, sipping an espresso and reading my book. I felt so happy and relaxed, and I think this is a perfect way to wind down after the tour!

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