It's finally, no already, that time of year. I’ve hung up my jump suits; race skis wait with storage wax, and a duffel bag with a handful of remaining items refuses to unpack itself. After nearly 4 months of weekly travel and competitions, we were all more than ready to get home and relax for a bit. If I let myself tally up all the time in a van, on a plane or sharing a euro hotel bed, it was, to say the least, enough. We spend the last week dreaming of all the food we'd eat (namely burritos and burgers) and the days of Park City sunshine that lay ahead. Yet at the same time, a part of me didn't want the season to end. It seemed like it just began when I start looking back at the days of competition.
I had all the opportunities that I could ask for this winter. I competed in every weekend of World Cup, raced twice at World Championships, and skied in one Continental Cup. The only races that I sat out were 4 World Cup’s that I didn’t qualify for and can’t say I wasn’t given the opportunity for.
In many ways, this was the best season of my career to-date. I improved my jumping, consistently raced in the top third, sometimes quarter, of the field in terms of race time. Most importantly, I broke into the points on three occasions. My last competition of the season, in Trondheim, Norway, was a great example of how the whole year went. I had one of my best competition jumps in terms of execution, but the field was extremely tight and I was all the way back in 44th after jumping. From the start, I tried to keep up with Taylor, who skied the fastest time of the day, and ended up skiing up to inches away from the points, finishing in 31st in a photo finish. So, in reality, I had a solid day on both sides for my own level, certainly performing far better than I would of a year ago, but yet, I was just shy of points. In short, it was a good day, but I wanted more.
That’s how I see this season, I’m happy, but I wanted even more. I worked towards the goal of finishing in the top-50 of the World Ranking List, which is a criterion for nations quota and A-team status. In the end, I fell in at 55th. Happy, but never satisfied, is a phrase for a good athlete’s mindset that I once heard a coach say.
The above gallery is from Trondheim and below is Oslo. You won't hear any complaints from ending our season in Norway. I didn't compete in Oslo, which was right after Tronheim, and only for the top-30 in the season standings, but the Holmenkollen is a spectacular event to spectate. The Nordic Combined 15km season finale was right before the 50km for the cross country skiers. Year after year, the crowds at Holmenkollen rival any World Championship race, with rowdy Norwegians lining the race course, some of them even camping out nights before at the prime spots.
After just a day at home, Bill, Bryan, Taylor, Ben and I spent the better part of two days participating in a corporate retreat with Basin Holdings. Basin came on this year as a big sponsor of USA Nordic Combined. It was a great opportunity to develop relationships and learn from each other. All the Basin guys were really interested to learn from us, as elite athletes. But from my perspective, these guys (and the one brave girl in the bunch) were the elites to learn from and an honor to be around. The CEO, who put the initial plans for the trip together with Bill Demong, obviously understands that we could both learn from each other, and from the chance to expand our usual horizons. The highlight for most everyone was learning biathlon down at Soldier Hollow, and then racing in a team relay. None of them were cross country skiers before that morning, but they sucked up the thin mountain air, raced their hearts out and demonstrated just as much desire to win as any athlete.
We had organized discussions of teamwork, innovation, commitment, focus, and other ingredients to success in any pursuit. But we also had more casual, relaxed conversations over meals and developed relationships that we hope to continue to build. After a long season with a very small group of people, I came away from this incredible opportunity with fresh perspectives on the idea of success.
As I realize that the notion of putting my feet up is a challenge in itself, it’s already time to get excited about next year. During the season, I try to keep thoughts away such thoughts like: “we should have done this, next year we’re going to train like this.” But now, I’m free to evaluate, scheme, dream and plan all I want. Mapping the road for the next season, and the years to come, is one of my favorite parts of this time of year.
Now I’m taking this time “off” to rest and decompress, while also addressing goals from last year and writing down new goals. Goal setting is incredibly important, but perhaps the most important (and often over-looked aspect) is taking the time to assess which goals where accomplished, which were not, and finding explanations.
Next week we’ll be back into organized training, starting with strength and treadmill testing, then moving into building up a strong base of strength and low-end endurance work. It's nearly time to get back into running and biking shape, but while the last of the meager snowpack lasts, I'll try to spend as much time on skis in the backcountry as possible.
How do I describe my World Championship experience? It was the first time in 3 months that I spent over a week in the same place – and yet the time went by as quick as any trip this winter. It's a lot to put down in writing, even though I tried to stick to the highlights.
Hundreds of locals and nearby Swedes came to volunteer for the event, and they put on quite a show. Almost all of the events were sold out ahead of time, with some 40,000 spectators attending some of the racers. As a team, USSA Nordic had a huge support staff, along with fans, friends, and parents (mine included). In the excitement of everything, I didn't get nearly as many photos as I should have, so I had to borrow most of the ones below. My parents made it to almost all of the events and took some great photos.
Takeaway Number 1 was that anything can happen.
Yes, many of the favorites won repeated medals: Marit Björgen, Petter Northug and Severin Freund, for example. On the other hand, Eric Frenzel, the most dominate athlete on the Nordic Combined circuit for the last three years, came away without an individual medal. Meanwhile, his teammate, Johannes Rydzek, who hasn’t been on the podium since the first World Cup of the year, came away with an individual gold and bronze, in addition to a team gold and silver.
In the women’s 10km individual start, our skiers demonstrated this more than ever. Caitlyn Gregg was the first US women to start, as an unseeded skier, she went third, with the other women who didn’t have World Cup points. As the later, “stronger” skiers started coming through the early time checks, it became clear that she had set a formidable pace. She remained in 1st at the finish until Jessie Diggins bumped her down to second. At the point, we started realizing that their times might hold. The snow that started flying early in the race picked up momentum, and one thing became extremely clear: the Norwegians missed their wax. In the end, hometown favorite Charlotte Kalla, won in commanding fashion, but Diggins and Gregg hung on for a historic US double podium.
Of course, the difficult conditions, fresh snow and unusual results pointed to a fair bit of luck on our side. But Kalla started with all of the late-seed favorites, in the middle of the hardest snowfall, Jessie came from the middle, and Caitlyn came from the beginning of the starters, proving that it was anyone’s race to win. Additionally, to dismiss a result to pure luck is completely unreasonable: nobody wins a World Championship medal without some luck, great skis, and a hell of a race.
At the beginning of the trip, I woke up before an early morning jump training session with a rock in my stomach and a increasingly painful headache. Somehow, I convinced myself that I was just tired and the last night's dinner wasn't sitting well. I pushed through two official training jumps without feeling much better. When I got home and slept through lunch, then woke up and promptly proceeded to empty my stomach of breakfast and dinner from the night before, there was no denying that I was sick. By the next morning, after sleeping for close to 24 out of 36 hours, I woke up cured of whatever bug I had. However, that was on Wednesday, two days out from our first individual event. I needed more time to get my strength back and rest up for the team event on Sunday.
On Friday, in the K90 individual event, Ben Berend and Bill Demong took the jumping portion by storm. Ben threw down one of the best early jumps, and stayed in the leader box for 10 jumpers before Bill laid down the gauntlet again and took the lead for a while longer. It’s been a while since one of us has been in the leader’s box. Taylor and Bryan jumped later, with all the high rank skiers, and both had really strong jumps - especially for Taylor, who, like me, has struggled with his jumping.
In the race, the Fletchers went out charging, but didn’t have their usual magic. They didn’t have great skis, and in extremely tough conditions, our whole team paid in the later portions of the race. It was a bit of a reversal for our team; finally, we jumped well, but no one raced as well as they would have liked. In the end, it still was a solid day; Taylor, Bryan and Bill all finished in the top-25.
For Sunday’s 4-man team event, I was back in. We knew the competition was wide open, especially if we jumped solid. The seconds per point conversion is lower in this format, thus putting more weight on the cross-country race. Unfortunately, luck wasn’t on our side from the get-go. Bill spent the night of awake with another stomach bug. It probably wasn’t the same as what I had (coming 4 days later and with different symptoms), but we had to start wondering how sanitary the cafeteria-style food was.
Taylor led the way in jumping with a strong jump to K-point. I hadn’t jumped consistently well in training, and although I had a better jump in training, it still wasn’t where it should have been. Bill skipped trial and mustered up a solid competition jump – but not as good of an effort as he’s capable of. Bryan had a pretty good jump but bobbled on his landing – for a bit it looked like he was going down. Collectively, it just wasn’t good enough to put us in the mix. In the race, the Fletchers skied especially strong, I put down a decent race, but Bill was understandably weak. He was feverish and nauseas before the race even started, so you’ll forgive him for not having a great race. We ended up 7th – not what we were hoping for.
Next up, on Thursday’s large hill individual, Bryan made the team proud. He had one of his best jumps of the season and skied an awesome race for an amazing 5th place finish. While he was painfully close to the medals, you can’t ask for much more than a great performance on both sides of the sport when it counts. It was his best World Championship finish, and the best for our team since Bill won in 2009. That night, we had the honor of attending the medal ceremony for in the team section for the second time, as they (deserving) recognize the top-6 from each day.
I didn’t exactly have the performance of my life. I jumped to 45th and skied up to 41st. But I still had one of my better jumps of the week in competition, and skied a strong race – which is all you can ask for on competition day. I had a blast racing in front of a massive crowd, with a good contention of American fans, including my parents, who got out to the toughest hill to cheer me on. My mom was successful in screamed loud enough to distinguish herself from the other fans.
This weekend I went back and watched the race on YouTube. It's a thrilling race, and so cool to see Bryan in the hunt for medals. Check it out on the link below.
As a team, we had one more shot at the medals in the two-man team sprint. The Fletchers brothers were the clear pick to ski for our team. With the way Bryan jumped on Thursday, Taylor’s consistency, and there speed on skinny skis, anything was possible. In windy conditions, Taylor was pulled off the bar twice and forced to wait for a few minutes before he was finally given the go ahead. Nonetheless rose to the challenge, and put us in contention with one of his best jumps on the large hill of the week. For the second round of jumping, conditions only worsened. When Bryan jumped, the normally prevailing cross-headwind switched to a nasty cross-tailwind. With his aggressive jumping style, he didn’t have nearly enough height and only jumped 98.5 meters. It was painful to watch their medal chances vanish in an instant. In the race, they just had to “ski for pride,” as Bryan put it, and they fought their best in extremely difficult, slush conditions.
Here's a few photos from the sprint, from myself and my dad.
As the Championships concluded, we packed up and flew over to Lahti, Finland, where the World Cup continues. I left Falun wanting more, but proud of our team and motivated for the rest of the season. Lahti will be an exciting weekend, with all of Nordic the athletes except for women ski jumpers competing here, and the anticipation for the 2017 Lahti World Championships already building.
Where am I?