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.
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!
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!
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!
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