It seems like the last week has flown by…the closer I get to coming back to the States, the faster the clock moves! Only one week left in Europe to wrap up a solid 5 months of travel through all these amazing, different but fun places!
Last week in Lahti was really fun. I had a little mental vacation from racing the first part of the week, and besides when I was actually clipped into my bindings on the snow, I wasn’t thinking about skiing at all! It took me some time to really process World Champs and get back to a normal energy level after the emotional highs left me totally exhausted….in the best way of course! But by the time the race weekend rolled around, I was rested mentally and physically and ready to go again, and for the first time maybe ever in Lahti I was healthy and fired up to race, instead of just wanting to be BACK HOME ALREADY!
The sprint day, we were trying out a new format suggested by the Norwegian Federation (fun fact!) and adopted by FIS to try out. Because in sprinting, to make it to the final you have to first qualify in the top-30 in the qualifier, then pass through the quarterfinal heat and the semifinal. Athletes are distributed throughout the quarterfinals based on qualifier times to keep the fastest people from being all stuck in one heat, which so far has been the fairest way to do it. However, if you are in the last few quarters, then you are in the second semifinal, and you get less rest time than the people in the first semi before the final begins. This is amplified in the men’s race where they have even less rest time than the women (because women go first and have time to rest during the men’s heats), and there have been statistics showing that nearly all the men’s sprint winners come from the first semifinal.
To try and make it more fair for all the athletes, FIS is trying a system where after the qualifier, the top 30 athletes that made it to the heats all gather in the stadium. Starting with bib #11 and going down to bib #1, then picking back up at bib #12 and working up to bib #30, athletes get to pick which quarterfinal heat they want to go in. There is a lot of strategy in this. If you qualify a lot of athletes, like the Norwegians, you may want to spread your athletes out through all the heats to move on as many people as possible. If you’re like me and Kikkan, the only girls to move on from the US last Saturday, you may want to pick quarters 1 and 2 (like we did) to maximize your rest time.
So, after a qualifier that was quite tricky since the course was salted then closed to all athletes and techs before the race, Kikkan, Andy and I were the US athletes that met down in the stadium. I picked heat #1, and Kikkan was in heat #2, and Andy picked heat #3. I was lucky in that I had a great qualifier, coming in 5th, so I had a great chance to see where people were starting to put themselves in heats before I picked. The course in Lahti was quite narrow in spots like over the bridge, with a couple tight corners, so it became very tactical and the slingshot from the draft was huge! It was also very scrappy out there and I found myself trying to ski like a much bigger person than I am, to take up more room and keep some SPACE for myself! I was able to use the draft well through both my quarterfinal and semifinal, finishing 2nd in my quarter and winning my semi. I also want to mention that our skis were once again totally rocking and I was having a blast seeing the techs so happy! They were out hammering around the test loop, actually whooping and cheering and racing each other in glide-outs and I couldn’t help but smile and get excited when I saw what a good time they were having while working so hard!
And, finally, it was time…for the final! I got out to a poor start and I was actually feeling quite tired the first half of the course, but over the top of the first big hill I put in some big pushes, got into my tiniest tuck, and started passing people. I couldn’t quite get around enough people to be able to make my move where I needed to on the last climb, but I was able to get into fourth over the top of the last hill and by the time we rounded the stadium corner, I was thrilled and filled with adrenaline realizing that I was right there, right in the sprint to the line with Marit, Ingvild and Kikkan! I did my best “monkey skate” without poles to the line but didn’t quite have it. However, I was just so excited to be in the fight for the medals…I’m not even the tiniest bit mad that I didn’t get one! And especially because Kikkan was back on the podium in her best race of the year – it was just so great to see her racing like her usual self. Andy made it to the semis and was close but just out of the final, but it was an exciting day for US sprinting!
The late and long sprint day left me quite tired but I still wanted to race the 10km individual classic race on Sunday because it’s a great chance for me to practice my classic racing! And by now, we all know that’s something I’m working on 🙂 I was so happy to have great kick, and although the second lap of the race as I got tired my technique started to fall apart and I was more prone to slipping, I had to keep reminding myself that if I could just stand up and kick already then I can get up those steep hills, no problem! (ok, ok, some problems….like burning lungs and tired legs, but let’s not be picky). I had one of my better classic races of the year finishing 17th, and Sadie came in a strong 14th, so it was a great way to end my classic World Cup racing for the year! Which means that nope, I’m not doing the Drammen sprint as I want to rest up for the 30km skate in Holmenkollen this coming Sunday and classic sprinting isn’t really in my wheelhouse.
After the classic race in Lahti, I got into a car with Liz and Maurice Manificat of the French team and we drove 5:15 hours to a tiny town in Finland called Runni. We had been talked into doing a show race by our Polar rep, and it seemed like an opportunity for a little adventure and to see a more remote part of Finland. We stayed in this old hotel/spa with extremely nice people working there, and aside from a few press conferences, we had the day to enjoy walks in the sunshine. Yes, you DID read that right..SUNSHINE, I SAY! It was something close to a miracle after going about 5 weeks without a single proper bluebird day.
The show race was 4 laps around an icy double pole track that was 1.2 km long, and looped around the hotel that hosted the event. There were so many people that came to the village to watch and cheer and get autographs, and with the announcers, music and lights during the night race…it was so exciting! I also confess that I was too lazy to scrape the travel wax off my skis that I had brought, so when Maurice offered to let me use his second pair that were already waxed, I took him up on it! Turns out double poling on stiff men’s skate skis is crazy fun. I may have forgotten to fully shut the binding though, and after my first lap I stepped around the corner and shot my (his) ski off into the crowd! It was hilarious! I was hopping on my one ski and laughing, and the people were laughing and cheering and slid the ski back along the track to me, I snapped the binding fully shut this time, and off I went. I ended up winning the race by .07 I think, and Liz was third even though she missed her start (we weren’t super duper professional, I’m afraid).
The other great part about the weekend was that we got to meet Finnish skiing legend Juha Mieto, and even got hugs from him as he presented oversize trophies at the awards ceremony that evening!
Now we are on our way to Oslo, Norway for our last week of World Cups. Wish us luck!