Poland and back again

By January 22, 2014 No Comments
Dad, Kenzie and I on a family ski (with Mom behind the camera)! I feel so lucky to have grown up skiing and having fun outdoors!

Dad, Kenzie and I on a family ski (with Mom behind the camera)! I feel so lucky to have grown up skiing and having fun outdoors!

I was going to type this up earlier, but was too busy a.)choreographing a dance for our next music video…b.) struggling with the internet connection…c.) sledding down the alpine hill…or d.) all the above. Take your pick.

In very exciting news, the 2014 Olympic Cross Country team has officially been named! You may have seen it already, but in case you haven’t, here is the roster:

Andy Newell
Noah Hoffman
Simi Hamilton
Erik Bjornsen
Kris Freeman
Torin Koos
Brian Gregg
Jessie Diggins
Kikkan Randall
Liz Stephen
Sadie Bjornsen
Sophie Caldwell
Ida Sargent
Holly Brooks

I am so excited to be a part of such a strong team representing our country!

Last week we did a whole lot of driving (compared to what I’m used to, anyways) with the 9 hour trip to Sklarska Poreba, Poland for the World Cups there. It was worth it, though! As is quickly becoming the usual situation, the venue was struggling with a tough snow year, but with impressive shoveling by volunteers and creativity in trucking in snow, they managed to pull off the races! We had a 2.7km loop, which included the usual massive climb and one twisty, turny downhill for the 1okm classic race. The skate race was a much more gradual course, but without much rest because the downhill was one that was much faster when you worked it the whole way.

The skate sprint was, for me, the best World Cup sprint I’ve ever raced in my life! I wasn’t sure how my body would feel the day before, since I’d been sick with a cold the past week in Seiser Alm and hadn’t been able to train the way I’d hoped. But I was able to shake it just in time to have great energy, and through all the rounds I felt like I was able to ski the way I wanted. I qualified in 8th, which I was happy about, and had a blast skiing the rounds. My specialty is skating gradual downhills, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s because I’m am hyper mobile and can get into a ridiculously low tuck. Maybe it’s because I inherited my hocky-playing Dad’s skating pushes. One fun little theory the coaches have is that my super flexible ankles help my skis glide because they are dead flat on the snow. Whatever the reason, I moved up the field in my quarterfinal and won it, moving on to the semis, which made it an already good day for me. My day became even more exciting when I got a lucky loser spot (by time) in my semifinal, and made the finals.

Now, it’s been a while since I’d been in a skate sprint final. The last time was 2 years ago in Moscow, Russia! Since then I’ve qualified in (I think) every skate sprint I’ve started, but rarely made it out of the quarters. But experience helps a ton, and I feel much better these days about my chances of making it through. I was so excited for the final, and something new happened to me as I lined up at the start gate. It was a distinct shift in attitude, something I hadn’t experienced outside of team sprints (my absolute favorite event). It was the way I thought about the upcoming final. Usually, I’d just think “wow, I’m so excited just to make it here!” but that day I was thinking “I feel great…I have just as good a chance to win on this course as anyone!” It was a boost in confidence, and the attitude that it’s ok to try to win, not just “make it into the final” anymore. It was a really cool experience, and I need to remember to think that way more often! Having strong belief in yourself goes such a long way, and it’s an easy detail to forget, but it’s incredibly powerful when it happens.

The gun went off, and I tucked into 4th place up the gradual climb from the stadium to the slightly steeper pitch to the top of the course. It was a narrow course and in most places impossible to pass if the skier in front of you chose to ski in the middle of the track. But on the downhill I started moving up, and tucked into second right behind Kikk, before Denise moved in. With about 300 meters to go I was in third, feeling great, and the pack was moving wicked fast towards the final turn before the finishing lanes. I never got to find out what would have happened. The Swiss girl on my right either tapped skis with me or wobbled (I can’t remember and the video didn’t show) but she fell sideways right in front of me. I remember seeing her suddenly fall right in front of me and screaming, not because my race was de-railed but because we were moving fast, for goodness sake, and I didn’t want to run into her and hurt her! I pitched forward and landed on my left hip and knee before somehow rolling (James-Bond-style, my Dad informed me) back to my feet. I sprinted for the line but by then it was too late, although I must have rolled up pretty quick because I finished 6.5 seconds out. Was it a little heartbreaking to see the podium so close and within reach, and never get the chance to sprint it out? Of course! But I’m proud of how I skied, and now I know that someday even little ‘ol me could win a World Cup race, and having that belief is the most important thing I could have.

Still image from the race footage from Jeff Ellis...apparently I'm a fairly good break-dance on skis?

The next day was the 10km classic, and I’m so proud of my teammates for having great races! I, however, did not have a great race. I think I didn’t eat enough or drink enough after the sprint, because after only 6km I was thinking “wow, I sure would love a feed right now”. That’s not something you ever want to be thinking in a 10km, people! Oops. I also made a huge mistake with testing skis that morning – and I want to make sure the blame falls on me, not my techs. I should have asked for way more kick but I was starting to run out of time before the start and I got stressed, and as a result, I spent way more time out of the tracks herringboning than kicking and gliding up the hills. I tend to come unglued pretty quickly when I’m slipping a lot, which didn’t help my low-energy cause. Don’t worry, I found plenty of bright spots to the day, starting with my teammates having great races and ending with me getting in a killer workout that was better than doing intervals by myself!

The start of the classic race (photo from the Sklarska Poreba World Cup FB site)

I think one of the best moments of the day was right at the start line, before the gun went off. It was Justyna Kowalczyk’s birthday, and the crowd absolutely loves her in Poland, so they were super loud and cheering like crazy. But when the starter announced “One minute to start!” everyone got really quiet. Suddenly, one man in the crowd screamed hysterically “Justyyyyyynaaaaaaaaa Kowalllllllczykkkkkkk!!!!!” and everyone started laughing. I was laughing too, and I could hear Justyna’s quiet giggle, even though the gun would go off in only 20 seconds. It’s little moment’s like that the remind me of how the fun the whole process is, and what an exciting thing it is to be racing in front of thousands of fans on the World Cup!

So that brings us to the present paradise I’m currently in…Seiser Alm again! I’ll get more pictures up soon, but it’s been an amazing pre-Olympic camp so far. Sprits are high, life is good, the sunshine feels amazing and the training is going great!