Last weekend’s racing in Lillehammer was pretty darn sweet. I realized that I meant to pass on these links earlier, so here they are! If you’d like to see the race, here’s a super awesome website that posts video of the races so you don’t always have to get up at 0-dark-hundred to see them! http://bookofvinnie.com/crosscountryski/ If you have insomnia or are just an amazing super fan, here’s a link so you can stream the races live (and many other sports as well): http://www.frombar.com/
Without further fluff or dawdling, here’s my “blood and guts” account of the relay race! During my warmup, I was keeping tabs on where we were in the race – who I’d be most likely to be tagged off with. Kikkan scrambled for us, leading much of the race and tagging Sadie into a great position, which she held, working with Finland to open a gap ahead of the next teams and tag Liz into 3rd. Our second relay team of Sophie, Ida, Holly and Rosie had a good one – Soph even came into the stadium in the lead pack, skiing like a boss! They all skied gutsy, awesome legs and it was so exciting to watch everyone race (I went and watched the video later to see the parts I had missed).
By this point Norway 1 was way ahead of the field and the exciting fighting was for silver and bronze. Liz skied a great leg and tagged me right where I wanted to be – just a little behind Finland’s Krista Lahtenmaaki in 3rd place, and a bit in front of Sweden and Norway 2, so that they would have to open hard to catch me.
I could feel that Norway and Sweden were right behind me, but I wanted to catch Finland, so I just kept going and figured I could maybe lose them in one of my favorite transitions spots – over the top of the big climb and into the downhill. I was able to open a small gap, and caught up with Finland around 2.5km.
Over the top of the last big climb, I put in a little surge and started to pull away from Finland. Thanks to our amazing service team and Salomon, my boards were running really well and I hopped in the track on the downhill, ready to blast up the last upcoming hill. That’s when I turned the corner on a downhill that hadn’t given me any trouble whatsoever all week, and the tracks turned to powder. I caught my left ski tip in the deep snow that had accumulated since I’d been on course last, and couldn’t save it in time. I crashed hard, breaking my left pole and losing all momentum. What really sucks about this is that I felt like I was skiing in control. Contrary to what people immediately assumed, I hadn’t pushed to the point of bleary exhaustion where I was stumbling around…for once. I had paced well and yes, the finish sprint was going to be a scorcher and I’d want to die at the finish, but I was ready for it. I was feeling great, and I knew that I could bring home the silver for our team. But I was also skiing right on the edge of control, which is what I tend to do a lot. I don’t like to play it super safe, and when I push myself hard I can sometimes find myself skiing with people I have no business staying with, sprinting it out with skiers I have no business challenging. But there are risks, and in this case trying to take the fast tracks downhill cost me a lot.
Not to go all gloom and doom on you – there was a really cool act of sportsmanship that happened out there. Right after I broke my pole in my crash, I had to struggle up and over the bridge hill that we normally glide right over. I came down the other side, and near the bottom a Norwegian coach was there sticking a spare pole out into the track for me to grab. This is amazingly cool because it wasn’t their job to get me that pole. This guy would have been well within his rights to whistle and look the other way, especially because Norway 2 was the team chasing me down, looking for that last medal spot. But instead this guy heard over the radio that I crashed and busted over with a spare pole to give me a fighting chance. That was a real class act, and I’m really grateful. After getting the new pole on, I scrambled up the last hill and sprinted into the stadium, expecting to see racers coming up on either side of me, but luckily we had enough of a gap before the next teams that I was able to hang onto 3rd place.
I wish I could say that I had the maturity and insight to cross the finish line smiling, but that would be a lie. I felt such overwhelming guilt over falling (again) and losing the silver for my teammates that had worked so hard that I just covered my face and the first words that came out of my mouth were “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry”. I know that that’s not the reaction people want, but my nature is to always be looking to push the bar higher, and it really crushed me to feel like I had let my teammates down in some way. Of course, later I realized that it was silly to feel like that and my teammates were in no way bummed out, but it took a whitewash of snow from Kikkan and Sadie for me to stop trying to apologize. The whitewash, by the way, was hilarious and it’s a shame the cameras never caught it 🙂 Looking back, there is absolutely nothing I would have done differently (except somehow predict a powdery downhill), and I am so very proud of how our entire team skied. It’s definitely hard for me to try and reign in my emotions right at the finish line when there are cameras EVERYWHERE and I wish I could be more professional and composed, and that’s something I’m working on. 🙂 I guess maybe that’s what happens when you race with your heart on your sleeve – everyone can see it!
What was the best part of the day? Seeing the USA finally have enough women over in Europe to field not one but TWO relay teams!!! I was totally in my happy place, putting facepaint on all the girls and handing out glitter. We even had two sets of relay socks – the second set courtesy of Kris Hansen from Stillwater! It was such a great moment seeing both teams race well and having everyone on course.
A real shame is that the coaches and wax techs and everyone behind the curtain that works SO HARD to make the races happen don’t get more public recognition. It takes such a huge team of people to get us athletes moving fast, and we would be nowhere without them! While we wish we had them on the road with us more often, this past week in Lillehammer we were fortunate enough to also have Margo Christiansen (she works in communications for us and helps us through the mix zone after races) and Anastasia Jeronimus Robinson (a great PT) here with us! Thanks guys for everything you do!
Ok, time for me to reflect on how this year is going so far. Check out these stats: in the first 5 World Cup races of the season, I have crashed in 2 of them. I have also crossed the finish line with a pole that is not mine in 2 of them (not One Way’s fault – crazy mishaps). I have felt really strong in 2 of them, and ok in the other 3. Interesting way to start the season, but I know that I am in good shape and am nowhere close to peaking for the season yet. I know that this is a good start for me, and that although I’ve had some weird accidents during my races, that’s also sometimes how it goes. There is no way to tell when the tracks will turn to powder, or when someone will step on you, but I know how to keep racing when things go wrong. Hopefully I don’t have to keep practicing though! 🙂
But a season is SO much more than racing! In terms of how everything else in my life is going this winter, it’s been pretty great. I’ve been really happy, having fun with my teammates on the road and feeling like I really belong with the group of people I live with for 6-8 months of the year. The venues and cities I’ve been in have been very good to us, and I enjoyed getting to explore a new town (Lillehammer) and see old venues again (Beito and Ruka). And of course the food has been good – I managed to somehow eat Salmon at least once every single day I was in Norway last week! Love it.
Monday, we traveled to Davos, back to the Hotel Kulm where we have always stayed for the last million years…because it’s so fantastic here. The hotel staff is super friendly and makes us feel like we are right at home, and it’s so easy to catch a bus down into town (about a 10 minute or less ride). Once we get a bit more snow, we’ll be able to ski right out the back door and down the tourist trails to the stadium. Can you tell that I absolutely love it here? I think it’s really helping that the forecast has sun all week long as well. The team is already looking a little less pale!