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?