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In Bend, U.S. Ski Team Reunites to Begin the Road to Sochi

Jessie Diggins, Holly Brooks, Kikkan Randall skiing at Mt. Bachelor on Wednesday during an interval workout. (Photo: Dan Simoneau)

Jessie Diggins, Holly Brooks, Kikkan Randall and Liz Stephen skiing at Mt. Bachelor on Wednesday during an interval workout. (Photo: Dan Simoneau)

After six weeks apart, most of the U.S. Ski Team reunited again this week for their annual May training camp in Bend, Ore. Through sunny skies and falling snow, the group put vacation time in the past and set to work at Mt. Bachelor to get ready for the 2013-2014 season. So far that’s included on-snow speed workouts, over distance and intervals, along with mountain biking ride and lots of team meals.

“The team atmosphere is great,” said Holly Brooks, the USST’s newest A-team member. “There are lots of hugs, lots of great meals together and workouts, stories about the spring…it’s really easy to get back into the natural swing of things.”

There is also a quietly building anticipation for the most-hyped part of the upcoming season, the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. It snowed in Bend on Wednesday for the team’s first group interval workout, and athletes saw the soft conditions as practice for the snow they might see in Sochi.

“It sucks, none of us want to be in cold weather this time of year, but for training it’s pretty good,” said Andy Newell. “Conditions were pretty soft today, but realistically those are the conditions we may see in Sochi and so many other place on the World Cup. So we don’t like it, but it’s good practice.”

Andy Newell, David Norris and Erik Bjornsen scramble during intervals. (Photo: Dan Simoneau.)

Andy Newell, David Norris and Erik Bjornsen during intervals on Wednesday. “Bjornsen and I did a few intervals together, which was great. I don’t get to do intervals with him very often,” Newell said. (Photo: Dan Simoneau)

Bjornsen and I did a few intervals togheter, don’t’ get to do intervals with him very often.

“We got to [Mt. Bachelor] and we said, ‘It’s championship day,’” added Brooks. “That’s Matt [Whitcomb]’s favorite thing to say when it’s adverse conditions.”

The first cross-country race of the Games, the 15/30 k skiathlon, go off on February 8, and a measured excitement for the opening ceremonies is already building in Bend. The team’s training program at the camp is similar to what it’s been in the past — on-snow sessions mixed with less structured workouts on biking and running trails — and only part of their recent goal-setting sessions have focused on Sochi. But there is no denying that Olympic hype has started in the media and within the team, adding an extra element of focus to their first camp.

“For an Olympic year, it’s definitely a big motivator,” Newell said, a 2006 and 2010 Olympian. “You want to make every interval session count; you want to make sure each one is at it’s best. We train like that every year, but it seems more magnified in an Olympic year because you have that thought in the back of your mind. It only comes around once every four years. It raises the intensity level of all the training camps.”

Even with the Olympics looming, however, May is still just the beginning of the off-season. Athletes are being smart as they reenter a full training schedule, Brooks says, resting when they think they need to so they’ll be ready to go come February.

“One thing that’s different is people are extremely proactive about their health and injuries,” she said. The Alaskan skipped SuperTour Finals, for example, to make sure she was fully recovered to begin training for the Olympic year.

“I think our whole team has gotten smarter in that regard,” Brooks continued. “People are being really patient with their bodies and…making sure they’ll be in good health come February.”

The media hype that surrounds the Games has already begun, adding another level excitement to the training season. Newell and women’s team leader Kikkan Randall flew to Los Angeles, Calif., last month for a photo shoot with NBC, where Newell said his interviews with the Olympic broadcaster indicated more interest in cross-country than he’s experienced in the past. The whole team will have another media summit in Park City, Utah, in October, and NPR is scheduled to do a piece on the team during the Bend camp.

As a result, the team’s reunion in Bend has been an opportunity to define what motivates them as a group as they enter a brighter spotlight and a year filled with big expectations. The increased media attention makes the upcoming season feel a little different, Brooks says, but the team’s drive to work hard comes from the same place it always has.

“We had a great team meeting last night and went over some goals that weren’t necessarily performance goals but process goals,” she said. “How to treat each other, what we want to do outside of ski racing as a group and stuff like that. And it was just really cool to see how united everyone is and how motivated everyone is and how we’re really ready to approach the Olympic year as a team.

“There’s not secret to it; it’s not like we do anything different,” Brooks continued. “At this point, we got here by doing something right, and hopefully we continue that good energy and take that with us to Sochi.”

One of the bigger goals for the team will be to replicate their pre-World Championships momentum from last season.

“I think a big goal for me this year and for everyone is: you don’t want to go into Sochi hoping you’re going to do well,” Newell said. “I’m looking to have a successful beginning to the World Cup season…For me a big goal is to be on the podium before going to Sochi. I think that can take the pressure off. Last year the more success we had, the momentum carried to the Championships. So that’ll be the same goal this next year — to roll with momentum into Sochi. Then it’s just like another weekend of racing, and that’s a fun position to be in.”

About Audrey Mangan

Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.

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