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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.