OhMyGosh I LOVE my job! This past weekend I got to ski in my second and third World Cup races ever, and be Kikkan’s partner in the team sprint where we made history with Canada in getting the first two North American teams on the podium! So cool!
The weekend started off with the skate sprints on Saturday, in which Kikkan placed second. The course was almost totally flat which made it extremely hard; with two loops of 620 meters, you got no rest but there were also very limited windows of opportunity for passing. I was absolutely thrilled to make it into the rounds, qualifying in 21st. Kikkan, Chandra, Perianne, Dasha, Andy, Simi, Lenny and I went into the rounds for North America. I was in quarterfinal one with bib #1 and Kikkan…so of course I was nervous, but ready to do my best and see if I could just stick behind Kikk as long as possible.
Except I really goofed up the start! I’d been told to keep my poles behind the starting wand so that they didn’t get broken, and for some reason I thought that the gates were going to open automatically at the gun. So when the gun went off, and my gate didn’t open, I hesitated just long enough to be solidly at the back of the pack. Oops. Well, live and learn…to tell the truth, I was just to psyched to be starting the heats that although I finished 4th in my heat and didn’t make lucky loser, I was totally ok with it and super pumped to watch and cheer on my teammates. That’s one of the cool things about the World Cup – there’s such an awesome vibe going that it’s hard to be disappointed for any length of time. I did take away a lot from the experience though – how to handle the start, learning how aggressive the heats can be (these girls play for keeps!) and how to stay relaxed in-between races even when there’s a crazy crowd and you want to just start going faster and faster in the warm up. I can’t wait till the day I can make it though to the semifinals!
The next day was the team sprint, and I was super, SUPER excited to be Kikkan’s partner. I was also terrified. I’d never done a team sprint before and 12 times around the loop seemed like a lot when you’re going at full speed. But I asked around the team and everyone was super helpful and gave me an idea of how the pacing works. Kikkan and I also practiced some tag-offs during the warm up, but in practice there aren’t 9 other teams going crazy around you.
In the semifinal, the laps were going well, until the last tag-off. A French girl cut straight across me and I hit the deck. Hard. And by hard I mean I had fully formed bruises within 10 minutes of the crash. But the worst was the feeling of panic as I scrambled to my feet and tagged Kikkan, knowing she’d have to do some serious catch up. But since she’s amazing, we still made the final with a little room to spare since our heat was a fast one. Still, I felt absolutely horrible about the fall and wanted to stay on my feet for the final.
However, in the second tag-off in the final I crashed again, this time right after a Swedish girl cut across me to get to her partner. I’d been reaching out to tag too, which made it worse, since I was SO CLOSE to making it! Kikk had to grind to a halt and backtrack to get the contact before zipping off to play catch up again. Crashing a second time effectively shattered my already shaky self confidence in the sprint, and when I made it to the service box I didn’t know whether I was about to puke or burst into tears. What actually came out of my mouth was “I can’t do this”.
But there was one last lap in the game, and for me, one last shot at actually doing it right. I skied my heart out and with a couple hundred meters to go gave it everything I had, and finally got a good tag-off! I tagged off around 3rd place and watched as Kikkan worked her magic around the course, and lunged us into 2nd place. And to make the day perfect? Chandra and Perianne from Canada got 3rd, so it was the first time two North American teams hit the podium. What an awesome feeling! It was such a sweet way to open up my World Cup experience for the year, battle-scars and all.
However, it was kinda hard not to beat myself up for falling twice. I kept feeling like if I’d only held it together and not bounced off the other girls, Kikkan wouldn’t have had to use up so much energy catching the pack and we might have won. But I’m learning to let go of the “what-ifs” and enjoy the “what is”. I’m also learning not to read comments in the ski articles, because as nice as people can be, they also have the capacity to be horribly mean and judgemental, especially when they can do it anonymously. What I DO know is that all I can ever do is give 100%, and anyone who askes for more doesn’t understand math very well.
So after getting back to our hotel in Milano, we packed up shop and drove to Seiser Alm, Italy, which is AMAZING! We’re staying in an incredible hotel halfway up a mountain, and we arrived via a CAT. It’s been sunny and warm and if I was told I had to stay on this mountain the rest of my life…I’d probably be okay with that.
We went sledding down the mountain today on these old-school wooden sleds with metal on the runners, and we went SO FAST! I thought someone was going to get hurt. I wasn’t super good at the stopping part, and when I saw everyone stopped at the top of the steepest part of the alpine run, I thought I’d better hit the brakes. It didn’t work. So I decided to bail, but didn’t want to lose my sled, so I hooked my leg around one of the runners and rolled off. I spun out for about 20 meters and somehow got snow everywhere. It was AWESOME! And I didn’t lose my sled, though in hindsight it was pretty dumb to not just let the sled go since it could have possibly twisted my leg around. Kikkan took some pretty sweet videos and Simi had a headcam on; if I can figure out how to effectively post videos here I’ll definitely do it!
Some fun notes from Italy and the World Cup:
-There were all sorts of noise-makers and air horns out along the course, but my favorite was definitely the chainsaw (sans blade) that some dude was holding above the crowd. Very motivating.
-Italian sports fans are super enthusiastic, and will actually grab you and haul you over to their friends for a picture. One of these days I think someone’s going to get pulled right over the fence.
-I finally got to meet Oystein “the Sausage” Pettersen, and he’s hilarious. Our conversation went something like this:Me: “are you excited for the classic sprints in Estonia next weekend?” Oystein: “Yes. Classic sprinting is all about skating as much as possible without getting caught.” Me: ???? “But that’s cheating!” Oystein: (shrugs) “It’s the Norwegian way”.
Alrighty then! Good to know.
-The fans love it when you throw your flowers to the crowd, so after the awards ceremony Kikk and I hucked our bouquets over the fence. Too bad I throw like a girl…the people in the back didn’t have a chance!
-The food here is amazing. Dinner takes about 2 hours and it’s 5 courses…and it’s wonderful. Enough said.
Tomorrow we leave for Munich, where we’ll spend the night before flying to Otepaa, Estonia for next weekend’s classic sprint and 10km WC races. The most challenging part of all this? Not getting carsick on the extremely windy road down the mountain. It’s straight out of a James Bond car chase scene.
I’m having some serious battles with the internet here, so I’ll load up more pictures as soon as I can! (pictures from: Matt Whitcomb, Skitrax and Fasterskier, Salomon and myself)