Never in my life have I ever been more excited or nervous! It was somewhat overwhelming to be racing in front of screaming crowds of thousands, in front of tv cameras, alongside the best in the world. But it was amazing!
I got to the stadium and during my warmup, the fans were filing into the stands and scrambling for a good viewing position along the course. They were singing, dancing, waving flags, and the Swedish fans were carrying extra large flags to try to balance out against the sea of red screaming for Norway. It was definitely hard to focus and concentrate on my upcoming race with so much noise and excitement in the air, but I managed to pull myself together and get in a strong warmup in preparation for the climbs on the hard sprint course.
I was lucky bib #7, and being one of the first starters was exciting because I got to have my name at the top of the board until, of course, the Red Group (the top ranked skiers) started finishing.
Getting out of the finish was such a maze, as the athetes followed a winding carpet through hoards of reporters shoving cameras and mikes into the aisle. But I finally made it out and was able to cool down and change clothes. I was pretty much over the moon when I found out I qualified 29th and would be in the 4th quarterfinal – with Kikkan! It was a dream come true for me, to be able to ski the rounds at World Championships with the skier I’ve always looked up to.
The quarters started at 3:00, and I was amazed that the crowds of people were all still in the stands, and if possible, more fired up than before! They must’ve stood out in the snow for 5 hours that day, but I guess Norwegian fans are hard core.
I was pretty nervous being the youngest skier to make the rounds, and I was definitely the skier with the least experience. I got my skis on and tried not to look like such an amature, but when the TV cameras came around to introduce each skier right before our heat started, I pretty much looked like a goofball. I waved like I’d never been on TV before (which I hadn’t…but the crowds didn’t know that) and blew a big kiss. Holly managed to snap a picture at the perfect moment (All pictures in this post are from Holly)!
Then…BANG! The gun went off and I settled right into…last place! I tried so hard to hang on to the girls, and man, were they fast. I managed to stay on the end of the group through the first hill, downhill turn, and up the long climb. I had my head down and was hammering, just trying not to get dropped, when I looked up and my heart dropped like a rock. Kikkan was facing backwards with both hands on the ground, having gotten tangled up and swung around. I can’t even explain how bad I felt that although yes, people fall in sprint racing, it had to happen in this particular race. I couldn’t do anything about it, however, so I put my head down and kept hammering, trying to stay with the pack.
On the last climb that wraps around the back of the stadium, another girl got tangled up! A Norwegian that I didn’t see until I was right behind her. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t get around her as I was unprepared and missed my chance. I stayed in 5th place all the way to the line, but was still totally excited with my result – just getting to start was a career best for me! And the noise as we dropped into the stadium was absolutely deafening. I’ve never been part of something as big as this before!
At the finish line, the Norwegian girl who got tangled was sobbing and swearing up a storm. I felt really bad for her, but was so impressed with how Kikkan handled the situation. She was professional and although disappointed, didn’t make a scene and remained gracious through all the reporters and crowds (the fans were rooting for her too). Anyone can put on a good face and be cool when they win, but it takes a real hero to remain composed when things go wrong. Kikkan is awesome. Enough said.
We stayed to watch Marit Bjorgen win the women’s final and Marcus Hellner dominate Northug in the men’s final. What a day! The crowds went wild for Bjorgen and she was seen wearing a gold puffy jacket afterwards. The races can be seen live at this link: fromsport.com . This link will work to view the rest of the World Champs races as well.
At the end of the day, the US was happy with our success; we qualified 5 out of 8 athletes to the rounds, and Newell led the charge with a 10th place finish. Sadie was next in 24th, Simi and I got 25th, and Kikkan finished 26th.
Now I’m looking forward to the next race – the 15km pursuit on Saturday. It should be fun!