Wow! A lot has gone down since I last posted. I promise to explain how all the athletes ended up on the evening news and made FIS finally listen to us, but first I’d better wrap up the last two races.
Racing the 30km at Holmenkollen was a ton of fun. It was a hard course, with a really tough field of athletes, but with thousands of fans lining the course and cheering loud the entire way it was an incredible experience. There were fan clubs for individual athletes, camps running tv’s on generator power out in the woods, and many junior athlete clubs hiking in to spectate for the weekend.
For me, the worst part of the race was from 5km to 13.5km. I picked the wrong pair of skis to start on, and wasn’t able to hang with a group as I got dropped on the long decent from Frognerseteren (the high point of the course) to the stadium area. I would have most likely fallen off the pace sooner or later regardless, but it was a bummer to lose them so early. But once I switched to my other pair of skis, I was gliding much better and had also settled into a better pace, and skied in a pack of 3 with a Swede and Norwegian. We traded leads and worked really well together, and I ended up getting the last World Cup point with a 30th place finish, which I’m happy with!
Then we moved to Stockholm, Sweden, for the start of World Cup Finals. The mini-tour is made up of a classic city sprint around the palace, then one day off as we move to Falun for a 2.5km skate prologue, a 10km classic mass start, and a 10km skate pursuit start. The city sprint is always a ton of fun because you’re racing around a palace! I didn’t qualify but came closer than I usually do on classic sprints with a 34th place. The highlight of the day was seeing the Sprint Cup Overall awards given out – Kikkan won the Crystal Globe again! And Andy got 5th place, which is super awesome. Congrats guys!
So, now I can get to the drama. Yesterday all the athletes got to preview the course for finals here in Falun. There’s the famously steep climb called “Mordarbacken”, and usually the decent that follows is fast and scary but relatively safe. However, this year they changed the courses and built a new downhill, one that goes basically down the same hill the ski jump is built on (so imagine how steep that is) and it’s a bunch of s-turns. It’s pretty much a skiercross course, and with narrow fast turns through trees, it’s not only ridiculous and unlike a cross-country course but it’s totally unsafe. Especially in a mass start – if even one person falls it’s likely the entire field would get piled up, and when the Swedes had their Nationals races here a few months ago three racers were sent to the hospital.
Because none of the athletes approved of the course and pretty much everyone was concerned about safety in the mass start, we had an athlete meeting. Kikkan, as athlete rep for FIS, had to shoulder the responsibility of taking whatever the athletes agreed on to the FIS jury to lobby for the changes we’d requested. As a group, we decided on two potential course changes to make the race safer for everyone, and the third option was if FIS refused to take our safety seriously and make changes, then nobody would start. Everyone on board with taking a stand for our safety signed a paper – not everyone signed and the Russian coaches said their athletes would start no matter what – but the clear majority of the field (about 64 athletes) did.
And FIS proposed a slight change to Saturday’s mass start, but did nothing about the prologue course. So we had another athlete meeting. By then the media had started going crazy and we were all in the tabloids and on the evening news in Norway, Sweden, Germany, Finland, and Poland. Oh boy. Personally, I was really stressed out, because when faced with the chance that we might not race I found out how much I really DID want to start! But, I knew that if the group decision was to end the season and not start in favor of making a statement about athlete safety, there was no possible way I would start the race and still have a clear conscience! So I was ready to sit out the race. Below is a link to one of the articles with pictures of the boycott:
At the second meeting, the athletes decided that the slight changes FIS made were unacceptable…FIS has a history of never taking the athlete voice seriously and we needed to be listened to when it’s not just our job but health on the line! So again, the athletes demanded change or else would not start. In the morning, the FIS jury decided they’d modify the course more, and the athletes met 5 hours before the start time and said that we were satisfied, and we’d all race.
I was pretty pumped about resolving all that – it was kind of stressful and it would have been a major bummer to skip most of Finals! And the race went well – I did end up crashing on one of the corners during warmup, which I found ironic since safety was by default the theme of the day, and the bib sponsor said “rethink”. Hah! But in the race, I stayed on my feet and although I paced it on the conservative side (I wanted to ski out of the corners well and have legs for the final .5km), I was super happy with the result. I placed 8th, and Kik got 3rd, Holly 7th, Liz 20th, Ida 38th and Rosie 46th. Clearly, the coaches and techs gave us a boost to put 4 girls in the top-20!
Now that all the boycott talk is over, it’s going to seem pretty boring around here 🙂