March 29, 2013

World Cup Finals

I finished my World Cup tour off with a bang, racing 4 times in 5 days. I finally started to feel more comfortable on the circuit and skied better the last week, but I was still shy of my goals. However, I have already created a list of things to work on this summer and I have left a little hungry, which is never a bad thing. Since I have already detailed like on the World Cup, I will leave you with lots of pictures from the last week of racing. I have my teammates Holly Brooks and Noah Hoffman to thank for all the pictures!
Cross country is popular in Norway! Getting ready for the finish of the boys 50k

 Despite the fact that sprinting is not my favorite event, I think city sprints in Europe are about as sweet as cross country skiing gets. I am so glad I got the opportunity to race 2 of the biggest ones of the year. The first race of the World Cup finals was a sprint around the Royal Palace in Stockholm! We literally skied up the steps of the palace!

Stockholm is a cool city, figuratively and literally
The tracks down the steps of the palace
A nice square full of cafes just behind the finish area
Cannons loaded and guards standing watch for our sprint race!
The wax cabins were set up in the middle of the court yard!
Skiing past the guard at the top of the steps
The trail up the steps
View from the finish
The finish stretch

After the race they presented the winners of the Sprint Crystal Globe, meaning the person who accrued the most sprint points over the course of the season or the best sprinter in the world. Who just happens to be my most incredible teammate Kikkan Randall, she won it for the second year in row. Truly remarkable!

 After some epic city time in Stockholm we headed to Falun, Sweden for 3 races in a row. A 2.5km prologue, 10k mass start classic, and a freestyle pursuit start 10km. Perhaps more exciting than the race was the protest that I became a part of! As I was previewing the course, I went down the big descent into the finish, which entailed about 6 high speed turns that were of course icy and by the time I got to the bottom, I was nearly in tears. It was something else. Thankfully, I was not the only one who feared racing this new course. Most of the athletes were disappointed. It compromised our safety and made for unfair racing.  Kikkan Randall is the FIS Athlete Representative, so she quickly put together and athletes meeting. We all agreed we would not race this course and the jury would have to change the course. Well, changing the course on a World Cup is far more than just a matter of drawing a new line on a map. TV cables take days to set up before any event and the intermediate timing splits, sponsor banners, and so on all take time to move. The jury made some concessions but the athletes didn't feel it was enough. So on the night before the race, we all agreed we would not start if they didn't make further changes. I went to bed having no idea if I would be starting the next day or what decision I would make regarding starting. Fortunately, Kikkan is not only the fastest sprinter in the world but a great diplomat and she got the jury to make further changes. While we still had to ski some downhill corners at high speed, it was definitely a safter option for everyone.
Athletes getting worked up in the meeting
The media waiting for the athletes to come out
 The crazy part is that all the media outlets showed up and were just lurking all over the place trying to get a good blurb from anyone. I even made the tabloids in Norway:
Holly and I cheering the boys on 

DONE! After the last race of the World Cup!

Kikkan had an incredible last weekend and managed to secure a 3rd place overall finish in the World Cup. SO SO SO AMAZING!

There is a big party the last nigh and everyone gets really dressed up! Here are the american girls


 I had a great deal of fun the last week and am thankful for the experiences I had. Now I just have to hold myself and my back together for the last races of the season, 5 races in Truckee, CA!

March 14, 2013

World Cup

Competing in the World Cup is the most humbling experience I have ever had. The story is almost always the same, an American gets the nod for the start spot in the World Cup, flies all the way over there, and well, gets beat up pretty bad. It never made sense to me and I thought I could be the exception, the one who heads to Europe and skis great, but I am not.

I had two races in Lahti, Finland. It was a cold but sunny weekend and the hills on the Lahti courses are punishing and there are lots of them. I was never able to find my groove in either race and was very disappointed with my finishes in both. I have realized there is so much more that goes into becoming a World Cup superstar than meets the eye. Here are a couple examples of the hurdles we must overcome:

-Skis: the best skiers in the world also have the best skis in the world. It is very hard to get good skis in the U.S. so we often are starting with a disadvantage. Not to mention that the structures we have in our bases are for snow we see in the U.S., which is very different from the snow we see in Europe.

-We have to adjust to the time change, new food, languages, accommodations,  teammates, coaches, and wax techs. In other words, there are very few comforts. I have found it challenging to trust everything and find I get exhausted worrying about all these things. 

This all takes a lot of practice and patience to overcome.
The stadium in Lahti, its actually a real stadium, like one we would have for a football stadium, but this is only for nordic sports!!!
My incredible teammate Kikkan Randall won the sprint in Lahti, besting the "queen of nordic racing" by just a hair. She now has won the crystal globe for being the best sprinter in the world for the second year in a row. Truly incredible.

But there are also a lot of cool parts about the World Cup. For example, BMW is the sponsor so whenever you need to go somewhere you just dial up a number and a brand new BMW arrives to take you there, pretty slick. Everything is provided for you. I never have to wax my skis, there is always an athlete tent stocked with food and drink, transport is readily available, and trails are always perfectly groomed. 

In the summer, we had a Finnish World Cup star, Aino Kaisa Saarinen come train with us in Alaska. She is from and still lives in Lahti so she had us over to her brand new house twice over the week. It was so great to see her house and eat some real Finnish food made by her mother. 

Warming up against the wood stove (photo: holly brooks)

She had her own gym in her house!!! (photo: Holly Books)

This is rice pudding in a sort of crust. They are amazingly delicious. (Photo: Holly Brooks)

A lingonberry tart with berries picked by Saarinen's Parents over the summer.  (photo: Holly Brooks)

The Americans plus Aino Kaisa!
Monday, we hit the road for Oslo, Norway. This is my first time in Norway, and I have to say, it's been pretty amazing so far. We have had beautiful weather and we are staying right on the ocean so its very picturesque. There are lots of boats everywhere, the hills are much larger than I realized, and the buildings are all very modern or classic scandinavian style. 

A little run along with coast with friends!
On Wednesday, we had a city sprint World Cup in Drammen Norway, a smaller city outside of Oslo. It was really fun and amazing to compete. There were tons of fans, live Norwegian death metal, street vendors everywhere, and a very scenic course. The course went around the church and up through some of the streets before turning and finishing up a steep climb up the steps of the church. I felt I skied much better than in Lahti, but am still a ways out from skiing as well as I would like to. This weekend I will be competing on what is the Super Bowl of nordic skiing, the Holmenkollen. It is a 30km mass start skate on some very challenging terrain. I hope it will live up to all its expectations and I will find my groove!
The finishing stretch in Drammen.

March 5, 2013

Nove Mesto, Czech Republic

It has taken me a little longer than I hoped to report from over seas. I didn't have the weekend I was looking to have so I have taken a little longer to process all the goods and bads.

I met up with some of my APU teammates and former Dartmouth teammates in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic for some Slavic Cup races. This is their version of the SuperTour, however, typically more competitive due to the number of countries involved and the larger number of ski racers in the area. Nove Mesto is right in the middle of Czech Republic and hosted biathlon World Championships a couple of weeks ago so their were still many remnants like the giant bleachers still set up in the stadium. Of course, having hosted World Championships, the trails were challenging and the stadium was large, and despite the lack of snow in the area, the trails were in good shape with snow making capabilities. I had heard horror stories of the lack of sun in Czech, but am very please to report that we only had one really foggy day, the sun made an appearance most of the other days!

We started by visiting an english class in the local high school where we were treated to a presentation about the area and where we shared our own stories and hometowns in the United States. It was great to meet some locals and learn a little about the area. There are lots of pretty rolling hills and old buildings, however, there is still constant reminders of the Soviet era with tall apartment buildings totally daft of style and architecture breaking up the skyline. I am terrible at taking pictures so you will have to use your imagination!

Then we began racing. We started with a 3.3km skate prologue. This is an odd distance that we don't frequently race, but is very challenging to pace. Having suffered some set backs after the sprints in Madison with my chronic back injury, I was unable to do much training so this race was the first hard effort I had put in since the Madison sprints and I just couldn't find my racing rhythm so I ended the day in 5th place, about 10 seconds behind the winner (my teammate Fitz!) Luckily, the second day was a pursuit start, meaning we started based on our time back from the day before, so I had an opportunity to turn it all around. Starting only 10 seconds behind, I was able to catch up to the leaders pretty quick. I stayed with the leaders until the end of the last lap, where I started to reach my limit. I was holding on hoping I would catch a 2nd wind, when I caught an edge and hit the ground. I really struggled to find my rhythm up the last hill after that and was fighting hard, hoping not to get passed. I was really angry at myself and was skiing a little frantic, not paying attention to where I was going. I ended up skiing into the lap lane instead of the finish and didn't realize until I came up on the finish line and realizing I wasn't going to cross it. The rules read you must return to the spot you left the course to reenter, however, in all my frustration and lack of Czech speaking skills (the course workers were yelling at me), I simply cut across the course markers and went across the finish line. I knew the rules and thought I was probably getting disqualified so I was not a happy camper, to say the least. I hadn't skied technically well in the race and had made a real amateur mistake.

Thankfully, there was an english translator in the jury office so we worked everything out and I walked away with a written reprimand, the equivalent to a yellow card; another mistake will result in a disqualification. Despite my errors, I did make up two places to finish the pursuit in 3rd. However, more than the results suggest, I was hoping to improve on some technical aspects of skiing that I know are my limiting factors and will cost me a lot of time on the World Cup and I didn't feel I accomplished this, the silly mistakes only adding to my frustrations.

My teammates Sophie and Fitz lunged for the win, Fitz got it by not much!



The Girls Team

US Sweep!
I have decided that this was why I came over early to compete in the these races, I needed to get the bugs out before joining the World Cup so let's just hope that was all the bugs...I have moved on to Lahti, Finland where I will race in the World Cup on Saturday and Sunday. Finland is pretty far east so we are actually 7 hours ahead of EST and 9 of MST and both my races are at 10AM Finland time so while they will be shown on Eurosport, only the most dedicated fans would dare watch.