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.