3.15.13 World Champs Recap
This is my last post for you for a little while, so it’s a longer one. I want to share with you the story from World Championships, where Kikkan and I won the Gold medal in the skate team sprint race. It was a big deal for the USA because it’s the first gold our country has ever won at a World Champs!
A little over a month before World Champs even started, I saw the sprint course for the first time, and I started visualizing the race in my head. I guess you could call me crazy, but I think I’ve played the race in my mind around 100 times.
Race morning we did our usual routine…both Kikkan and I stuck to what we’d been doing all year, not changing anything. We got to the venue and practiced a few tags in the zone, and I tested skis with my tech, Jason Cork, who picked the pair for me when I got too nervous to be able to feel my feet anymore.
For the semifinal, Kikkan and I wanted to ski tactically smart and save as much energy for the final as possible. So I tucked into 2-4th place whenever I could, and stayed out of trouble, often accelerating a little into the tag zone so I could get a clear line to my teammate. We moved on through to the finals without a hitch, but what I was most excited about were my skis – they were SO fast, and I kept telling the techs what an incredible job they’d done. In between the semifinal and final, we had just enough time to chill out and put our feet up, and try to relax as much as possible. Then it was time for the final!
The first leg was a much more relaxed pace, and I started out in front to stay out of trouble but then settled into third or fourth. Again, I was thrilled to notice that my skis were running super fast, which was especially good since the course ended on a downhill and flats. Kikkan and I had smooth exchanges – we’d tag off and immediately pop our skis off and hand them to the techs in the pits, who would brush them out and keep them running fast. It was kind of like a pit crew for NASCAR, only in a ski race!
On my last leg (the 5th lap total of 6), I knew I had some extra energy kicking around, and I wanted so badly to tag Kikkan off into a great position. I knew that with the way she’d been skiing and how strong of a sprinter she is, I really just had to tag her into the first pack of skiers and she’d be able to pull it off, but crazy things happen in sprint races and I wanted to try to get her a lead if I could. So on the big hill, I skied absolutely as fast as I knew how, and started to drop the skiers behind me. But near the top, before we went under the bridge and around the corner, the Finnish girl behind me stepped on my pole and it came straight off my hand!
A couple thoughts flashed through my mind – first, a little irritation because I was trying so hard to get a lead and skiing with one pole isn’t usually the way to get a lead, then secondly I thought “well, the course is mostly flat and downhills from here…I can totally finish this thing up with one pole”. Truthfully, I wasn’t thinking much beyond “go, go go!” And I guess because I skate a lot with my legs anyways, I was able to keep the pace up till I got under the bridge, where the coaches were standing at the top of the hill.
And that’s when Erik Flora did his amazing 50m dash down the hill with one of the spare poles – he got it to me so fast, it was incredible! I was able to tuck behind the Finn and slide my hand into the biathalon strap, and re-boot mentally for the second half of the course. A quick note – the Finnish girl didn’t mean to take my pole off, and she came up after the race and apologized. But I wasn’t mad at her – that kind of thing happens in sprint racing! And it all worked out ok anyways.
We came flying down the steep downhill of the course, and I was able to slingshot into the lead and somehow hold it until I tagged off to Kikkan. Then she flew around the sprint course and crossed the line with over a 7 second lead! The whole team’s efforts made that race possible – and as I ran over to the finish pen I could barely breathe I was so excited. I hugged Kikkan and then realized that my parents and friends and family were watching that race on TV, and I started crying as it hit me that we really won.
Winning a race feels really awesome, but the podium ceremony lasts a couple minutes, and to get up there, you have to train for years and YEARS. And if you aren’t loving what you’re doing, enjoying each and every day of training with a team that you like and respect, then it’s not going to be worth it. Because having a gold medal doesn’t change you. It doesn’t make you happier or smarter or more successful. It means you have a shiny piece of metal that will end up in a drawer somewhere! What stays with you are the memories, the friendships, the great moments over the years with your team. So, if you’re dreaming about winning a gold medal someday – find a team you like, with people you like, and make your goal not just to win a medal but to enjoy every day and every step of the way there!
Skiers from Around the World:
At World Champs, countries who almost never come to the regular World Cup races show up, with their athletes totally excited to race. In order to finish some of the mass start races, however, you can’t get lapped. Because each race goes around a set loop a certain number of times, if the leaders of the race catch up with the skiers at the back, the slowest skiers have to step off the trail and don’t get to finish the race. They have this rule so that the fastest skiers don’t have to weave in and out of traffic, but because sometimes just finishing the race is so hard for countries who haven’t skied much before, it’s a big deal to be able to not get pulled. So when we were cheering for the men’s 50km race, where they did six loops, we yelled especially loud for the skiers going really hard on lap 5 so they would be allowed to finish the race. And a bunch of them made the cut-off!
Another interesting difference between all the countries is how they prepare before the Championships. The Scandinavian countries always go to high altitude in the Italian Alps. They have been doing this for years and are superstitious, and won’t change their routine! And I guess it works, because Norway and Sweden took home a lot of the medals. Our team also went to altitude, but we were in Davos, Switzerland, which is a little lower.
Cool things about World Championships:
The World Championships are the highlight of everyone’s season. It’s like at home how everyone prepares for Minnesota State, or the Birkie, or the Vasaloppet. It’s the BIG race that everyone’s been waiting for! So there’s a lot of excitement in the air, and at the end there’s a sense of relaxation in the air, since everyone’s done with the most important part of the race season.
The defending champion of each race gets to start with a special bib, that says “World Champion 2011” (because the last World Champs event was in 2011). So next year, the US skiers racing the team sprint will get to wear the “World Champion 2013” bibs! Because you get to keep your bibs, many people get them framed or hang them up on the wall, to remember the event by.
The awards ceremonies were a pretty fun event. There were bright lights flashing around an outdoor stage, that illuminated the big crowd that contained fans from many different countries, all proudly waving their flags for their favorite athletes. There was loud music and to open each ceremony a group of dancers performed a routine of the history of skiing, through dance. It was pretty neat! In addition to the snowflake medal that is always awarded to World Champions, each venue gives out a trophy that’s special to that region. Because the wood from that area is used to make famous violins, the awards were made of wood shaped like the curve of a violin.
The final training tip for the year is for when you are in the middle of a longer race. Sometimes, it’s so easy to start thinking “this is hard, I don’t want to do this anymore”. This happens to even the best skiers, and they practice different strategies for thinking about racing differently. Here’s a couple ideas of what you can think about during a race to stay motivated and focused!
One way is to focus only on the trail you can see right ahead of you. I like to do this – instead of thinking “oh, I have so much more left to ski!” I think only about the snow in front of me and how I can ski the hill I’m on as well as I can. Another strategy is to think what your favorite sports hero would do. How would they ski up the hill, and down it? What would their technique look like? Pretend to be them, and soon you’ll start skiing faster just thinking about it! Another skier I know likes to think of herself as a different animal every few kilometers. She’ll start the race thinking about skiing the way a panther would, attacking each uphill and skiing fast. Then she’ll switch to skiing like a coyote, trying to scamper up the hills and sneak around other skiers. It helps to distract your mind sometimes! So next time you’re in the middle of a long ski or race, try one or all of these, and see what happens!
I hope you have a great spring, and enjoy getting outside as much as you can! There’s a lot of fun activities to do with family and friends, and I challenge you to get outside every single day. I’ll write one post a month all through the summer, so you can hear the inside details on what it’s like to train year-round as a professional skier, and how much fun it is!
Have a great end to your winter!