I’ve had a busy few weeks, filled with travel, competitions, some hard moments and time for reflections. I thought I would try to fill you in a bit here.
Three weeks ago, the COC group and I flew down to Munich after competing in Rena, Norway. This was January 22nd, the day that the Olympic qualification period was officially over. I don’t want to make this post all about that, but not making the team definitely shaped my plans and thoughts over these past few weeks. That evening, Grant Andrews and I rented a car and drove into the night and rain to Ramsau, Austria, a little over two hours away from Munich.
Grant and I spent the week training by ourselves. The rest of the team was split between a pre-camp for World Juniors in Oberstdorf, Germany and preparing for the Olympics/ competing in Seefeld, Austria. It was probably best that we get away for that week – we wouldn’t have fit in with the stress and excitement of the guys heading off to the Championships. We arranged a couple sessions of jumping with the Polish team training in Ramsau. It’s a bit awkward – and this wasn’t my first time – walking up to a random coach and saying, “hey, want to be my coach for a while?”, but it also always seems to work out. In this community, “we’re one big family,” as the Poles so kindly demonstrated.
The cross-country trails are phenomenal in Ramsau, and we took full advantage of the chance for some nice easy cruising. I skied over 100km in a few days and hardly repeated the same loop. My prescription for fresh air and exercise in the mountains was well received. These days reminded me how much I love this sport, and how lucky I am to still be doing what I’m doing.
Ramsau is a ski-town where more tourists come to cross country ski than downhill. This might seem like a lot of work compared to the average person’s idea of a vacation, but these aerobic vacationers are far more relaxed than your typical Disney World/ Mall of America/ Times Square tourist.
Speaking of being a tourist, I actually spent a whole day off-skis in Salzburg with my parents before they went to Switzerland to watch my brother at World Junior Championships. They flew into Zurich on Friday, then fought off jet-lag and drove nearly all of the way to Salzburg so that we could have the following day in Salzburg. Clearly, their support for me is unwavering and limitless. Without it, I can’t imagine I’d be writing about these experiences now.
After Ramsau, the excitement level kicked up a notch with a trip to the World Cup in Hakuba, Japan. I flew over with Ben Berend, who got our fifth Olympic team spot upon its late announcement and would be heading to Korea from Japan. Clint Jones came from the US to coach us on his way to Pyeongchang. Clint works with both our team and the ski jumpers, usually just when we’re in the US, and it was awesome to have him on the road with us.
We partnered up with the Czech team for skis and waxing, continuing an alliance which is proving to be all around great. While we were in Japan, our World Cup technicians waxed for the Czech COC team in Planica, Slovenia, and the rest of the US/Czech crew worked together at World Juniors in Switzerland. We were super psyched to watch Ben bring in a bronze medal on the opening day, and the Czech took the win, making for a real cause for celebration from our staff there!
This was my third trip to Japan. I’ve felt extremely lucky to be there each time. They always treat us with wonderful accommodations, warm hospitality and the occasional laugh from Japanese TV programs. In the evenings, after a dinner with fresh fish and endless options of Japanese foods, we would relax in the calming Onsen hot springs.
The ski town of Hakuba is the home of many of the 1998 Nagano Olympic venues. The Nordic venue is surrounded by a Rocky Mountain size ski resort, with runs that shoot right down to the big climb of the cross-country track. Above the ski resort, snowy peaks rise for more than 1000 meters beyond the highest lifts. To put that into perspective, imagine Deer Valley with another mountain more than doubling it in the background. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fantasize about staying and skiing powder for a few days after the event… maybe next time, definitely sometime.
For the moment, it was time to get some points. Although no World Cup is ever easy, this one had just 38 competitors (with many athletes skipping competitions to prepare for the Olympics). On Saturday, however, I wasn’t at all close after the jumping. Until now, I had never not started the race after jumping. It’s tough to fly halfway across the world and then sit out a race, but this time it made far more sense to save my energy for the next day. Watching the racers grind five times through a grueling course, I knew I had made the right call. On Sunday, I finally put together a better competition jump – still not great, but I could hardly complain about going nearly 15 meters farther than my last three jumps.
I’ve found that I almost always have my best races when I have a good jump and it really counts. I hadn’t had a race on World Cup that I was truly satisfied with in about two years, but with a chance to bring in some points, I was more motivated than ever. Starting in 30th, I ended up skiing to 24th, which was better than I hoped after the jumping. I was the 8th fastest on the day, a stat that doesn’t really matter, but it makes me happy, especially since my previous best was 9th from three years back. The day before, Ben Berend had scored his first-ever World Cup points with a strong 23rd place finish, so it was a good weekend for our team.
From Hakuba, I went right back to Europe on a direct Tokyo – Munich flight. It wasn’t nearly as quick as that sounds. The travel day began at 3AM with a 6.5-hour bus ride (to cover just 185 miles) and a still-too-early arrival to the Tokyo-Haneda Airport. After an 11-hour flight, waiting around in Munich for a few hours, and another couple hours in the car, it ended 26 hours later in Seefeld, Austria.
Seefeld, like Ramsau, is an Alpen-paradise – the perfect place to spend a couple days training before getting right back to competing that weekend. Asides from the 5:00 o’clock wakeup calls (thanks jet-lag), I had nothing to complain about. I was back with a full team here: Grant, Stephen, Jared and coaches/wax techs Tomas M. and Tomas K. I was happy to get a session of training on the hill, a nice easy classic ski, intervals on the race track, and some recovery time at the neighboring four-star hotel’s spa area.
From Seefeld, we headed east, towards Vienna and the edge of the Alps for Eisenerz, Austria. This little town is where I first competed in a Continental Cup on international soil. Since that first eye-opening weekend in 2011, I’ve been back a couple more times. This year, I was excited to get on their completely new 97-meter hill, which was a drastic improvement from their old-school hill that I had competed on in the past.
Despite my enthusiasm for the new hill, ski jumping didn’t suddenly get easy for me. I jumped to 45th on Saturday and 38th on Sunday. (In contrast, I skied the 7th and 9th fastest times). My 94.5-meter jump on Sunday was definitely a better effort for me, but the level of ski jumping on both the COC and World Cup circuits is higher now than ever. If you’re going to jump like that and still hope for a good result, you better ski real fast. I tried my best to do just that, latching on to Bernhard Flaschberger, one of the fastest skiers in our sport. On the best of days, I can hang with him for a while, but one lap of flying through the pack with him was too much for me. On the second lap I went from around 30th to 20th place and right back when I “hit the wall” and watched the group that I had just passed ski by me. Ahead of me, “Flaschi” pushed on to an impressive 11th place (from 41st), but I had a bit of a resurrection in the fourth and final lap and skied back up to 22nd. It wasn’t a result to celebrate by any means, but it’s the best I’ve done on Continental Cup this year. At this point, I have to focus more on overall performance feelings – like I would in a summer competition – than getting too caught up in results and counting points and seconds.
That’s the gist of these last few weeks. I haven’t been on social media much, but I’ve been overwhelmed with the outpouring of support that I’ve received in texts, emails and messages from many of you. You guys are amazing. This winter has been extremely humbling, actually this sport in general is a generous dose of humility for me. Hearing from all of you has been a really needed balance for the tougher days.
Finally, for those that missed it, I sent an email out to everyone who supported me in my Rally Me this year, trying to express my gratitude, which I copied below.
Here I am, not going to the Olympics. In case of any luddites living without social media (which I do recommend trying), you'll need to hear it from me. I didn't make the Olympic team. More than likely, you all already have known this since last week's team naming.
Some of you were probably shocked and a little confused. If you watched Olympic Trials, you might have thought that my 2nd place performance would put me right in line. When we somehow, miraculously, ended up with five spots, surely you would have expected me to be among the crew. Up until a handful of weeks ago, if someone had told me that we’d send five athletes, but I wouldn’t be one of them, I would have been equally in disbelief. Our qualification is all about international rankings, and I never had a day like Trials on the World Cup or Continental Cup during the qualification period. I understood the criteria quite clearly; by the time the selection period ended, I knew where I stood… pretty low on the totem pole.
After the official announcement, I heard from many of you. At a time when I needed support more than ever, a few words of encouragement went a long way. It’s funny how much more likely we are to give congratulations than condolences, but the messages in these few days meant more to me than they could have at any other time. Those that really helped me get through a few bleak days were the people kind enough to praise my strengths as a person, rather than simply a skier. With admittedly spotty success, I’ve endeavored to hang on to this concept. I try not let me entire self-image collapse simply because I often fail to execute over the space of 40 or 50 meters and a time span of a few seconds. From a macro perspective, this notion seems completely irrational. But I’ve given everything to this sport, and I’ve had the full support of a family, community and staff at my side. For years, every goal I set was focused on Nordic Combined: metrics like average ranking, COC and World Cup results, and ultimately preparing myself to ski at the 2018 Winter Games.
And now, it feels like failure.
I’m not the first to feel this, I certainly won’t be the last. Right now, I need to accept this and grow beyond wrapping up my identity with whether or not I have the Olympian prefix.
When I don’t get so caught up in the moment, I take a look back at all of the amazing times I’ve had pursuing this dreams, and I really wouldn’t trade them for an easier way. The experiences of this year alone certainly outweigh a couple weeks of being spoiled by the USOC.
To tie all this together, the real reason I’m writing this is to thank you one more time. I realize now that when I said that I needed your help in order to achieve my Olympic Dreams, it may have been with unfair focus on the result. In reality, what you all really enabled me to do is so much more than I can possibly convey here. This year, the stars didn’t align, but your support doesn’t mean any less because of it. I am forever grateful.
Where am I?