Simi checks in from Norway!
It’s Scandinavia… what’s there not to love? Granted, we go to some fairly amazing places throughout the whole year, but I think it’s probably safe to say that any time we board a flight from central Europe or the U.S., and the destination on our ticket stub either reads OSL (Oslo-Gardermoen), ARN (Stockholm-Arlanda), or HEL (Helsinki-Vantaa) we get a little more pep in our step and you see a few more smiles in the aisles. Maybe it’s the fact that we know where we are headed… great ski towns with amazing food, awesome training and racing venues, and with locals around every corner on the street or turn in the trail who are genuinely psyched to see you there and share their home with you. It’s not that we don’t get all those things in just about every other place we go during the season, but there’s an energy here up north that’s just a little bit different, and it feels a bit more like home. With the Canadian tour rounding out the World Cup season this year, it’s nice to feel that energy a bit earlier in the season than we’re used to (usually our Scandinavian tour starts in early March). Although the weather has been a bit dramatic since we’ve arrived here and we’ve seen everything from crisp, bluebird, and cold days to long periods of right-around-freezing and fog so thick it’s hard to see where your binding tabs are, we can’t complain. Our scando-tour races kicked off with the famous Drammen sprint last Wednesday in the beautiful, old city on the water. That one is staple on the World Cup and it’s always a ridiculously well put-on event. The course winds through the city’s cobbled church plaza, right in the heart of the downtown shopping district. Within three city blocks, 80,000 fans pack themselves in and around the course come rain or shine, and the energy is absolutely electric all day. Fortunately for us, the day was beautiful and the snow was in great shape all day. It was super bomber klister conditions, with fast tracks that held up really well throughout the thousands of laps that the racers and techs skied throughout the day. Probably the craziest element of the Drammen sprint is the depth of the fields. With Norway as the host country, unfailingly there are plenty of guys and girls there that are in top form for the races and many of them have a knack of coming out of nowhere to qualify for the heats (the host country of any World Cup race gets several more start spots than their usual allotment, which is awesome for us this year because we’ll pick up those extra quota spots during the Canadian tour). For the qualification, we had 4 U.S. men and women qualify to move on to the heats. Just outside of the top-30 in both the men’s and women’s qualification, we had several skiers who were knocking on the door to skiing the rounds. That’s always such a frustrating feeling to be literally tenths of a second away from advancing to the quarterfinals, but it’s part of ski racing and it’s the stuff that gets you really fired up the next time you’re lined up at the start line. I was happy with my day, qualifying in 12th and moving on past the quarterfinals to ski in the semifinals. It was a little bitter sweet because I knew that my form was on point and I had unbelievable skis, but I barely got any time to recover from the final men’s quarter final before having to start the first men’s semifinal (regardless of any quarterfinal heat you come out of, if you are the second ‘lucky loser’ you go into the first semifinal, so if you come out of the fifth heat, you get about 10 minutes of rest before your next heat). Still, to be 11th in a classic sprint on the World Cup is a good sign for me, since I’m generally a much better skate sprinter and Drammen is probably the toughest classic sprint we have all year. I definitely ran out of gas in the last 150 meters of my semifinal, but overall I think it’s safe to say that how I felt all day is a great sign of where my fitness and speed are right now, which is a great feeling heading into the last period of the World Cup season. To top off an exciting day, Soph, Jessie, and Sadie all skied outstanding quarterfinals, but we’re shut out of advancing to the semis by near inches in all of their heats. The World Cup is a place, especially in a race like Drammen, where if one little thing doesn’t go perfectly, it can be the deciding factor of whether you keep racing that day or not. Sometimes you end up on the unlucky side of things or you are missing that 1% for a variety of reasons on any given day, and it shows thru at this level of ski racing.
With Drammen on Wednesday, the Oslo Ski Festival races were far from over. Many consider the 50 km and 30 km races at the Holmenkollen to be the queen distance races of the whole year. And when you take a lap on the race course 24 hours before the race even starts, you can tell why. Starting on Friday morning, thousands of Oslo locals make their way up the winding Holmenkollen road with skis and poles in one hand, and backpacks full of tents, sleeping bags, grills, and booze in the other. Weather it’s 60 degrees and sunny or 30 degrees and raining, they’re there. They construct these elaborate forest compounds reminiscent of a Lost Boys camp, all along the entirety of the 8.6 km loop. They are there to cheer on their favorite skiers (usually Norwegian, but they cheer just as hard for last place as they do for first place… believe me, I know from experience), but above all they are there to have a great time with their friends and family. Like I said in post last week, this culture lives and breathes xc skiing, and nothing reminds you more of that fact than witnessing what the Holmenkollen is like during the 50/30 km weekend. I wish I had some great photos to share with you that depicted the scene, but one of the reasons why our team is pretty outstanding is that we all pull the weight that needs to be pulled, even when the task seems a little extra ordinary. So for both races on Saturday and Sunday I had my hands full in one of the feed zones, dishing out Gatorade and Coke to our guys and girls. It’s a hectic scene, and fairly critical to make sure our athletes are keeping their sugar stores up over 50 and 30 kms of racing, but it’s always a blast to lend a hand and feel like your contributing in way, albeit somewhat small, to the successes of our distance skiers. Noah led the dudes on Saturday with a great result, finishing 24th (he skied incredibly gutsy and hung tough in a race that was taken out balls-t0-the-wall from the start and didn’t let up for 50 km). And new to the World Cup circuit, Scott Patterson skied an amazing race, finishing just outside of the points in 32nd. On Sunday, on a day plagued with freezing rain and cream thick fog, our girls buckled down and charged impossibly hard for their 30 km. Sadie led the girls finishing 22nd, with Liz hot on her heels in 23rd, and Jessie just a few seconds behind in 25th. Maybe not our absolute best day for our girls, but I am incredibly proud of them for fighting so hard on the toughest course of the year, with the toughest field of athletes, and walking away with three very solid results that they should be proud of.
So now I’m sitting in our hotel room overlooking Oslo (or more accurately where Oslo should be because we’re still completely socked in up here at the Holmenkollen), and thinking about how psyched I am for our next race coming up in just a few short days. We’ll fly to Stockholm tomorrow night and on Wednesday start gearing up for the city sprint there, which will take place on Thursday. A distance weekend in Falun, just a couple hours north of Stockholm, will go down this weekend, before we wake up to our final week in Europe before we head home on the 21st. On our last weekend over here, we’ll race in Lahti Finland, splitting the days with a skate sprint on Saturday and a duathlon on Sunday. We are all anxiously awaiting that plane trip back to North America, but we’re having a rocking time over here still and can’t wait to throw down some more great results around these parts before we head home.