Liz Stephen is a member of the US Ski Team. She finished third in the mass-start freestyle race at the U23 World Championships in Italy.
FasterSkier: First of all, congratulations on your 3rd place finish! Could you give us a quick recap of that race, and how it felt afterwards to be standing the podium an international championship event?
Liz Stephen: Thank you. I really enjoy mass starts. It is almost guaranteed to be a cluster out there; everyone thrown in together to battle it out, the unexpected becomes the expected. A broken pole, a fall, literally standing still in a race just waiting until the people in front of you move, even a broken ski or binding isn’t of the question, and it adds an excitement to the race. I think mass starts really make a hard or heroic effort show up. We had two boys that left the stadium in last place after getting up from tangle ups with other athletes. One, Noah Hoffman, got up to find that his binding was no longer attached to his ski. Luckily, Jason Cork also had a heroic effort out there and grabbed the nearest ski with a NNN binding he saw and handed it to Noah.
The next day every coach from every country was out on course with extra skis along with the usual spare poles. My point is Noah and Mikey Sinnott both had races that I think they should be really proud of. Noah skied the first 10K of the race 30 seconds faster than any other junior out there, and passed over 70 dudes to finish 23. Mikey finished 30th and passed his fair share of guys too, each lap moving up. These guys may not tell you they were happy with the result that they ended up with at the end of the day, but I bet they would tell you that they left it all out there on course. I believe that mass starts bring out these kinds of efforts. Taking a chance and making a move early in a long race, or skiing up from last, it seems I see these kinds of efforts every time I watch a mass start race, and that’s cool to me. As for being up in the podium, that has never been my favorite part, it tends to really stress me out, but it was cool, for sure.
FS: Two of your teammates â€” Tazlina Mannix and Morgan Arritola â€” were right up at the front with you until a late crash dropped them off the front pack. Were you able to work together during the race? If so how important was it to have the three of you in a group throughout the race?
LS: Taz and Morgan’s crashes were really unfortunate. To have a teammate, or in this case, two, go down so close to the finish, especially when they skied so well the whole race is a really hard thing to swallow. It certainly makes standing on the podium even more stressful and kind of kills your own buzz to know that your teammates should be up there too. However, those are the misfortunes that sometimes happen when you put yourself out there and I hope that those girls can recognize that, though, like Mikey and Noah, the place at the finish line was not be what they wanted, they can ski to a podium finish on another day with a little better luck.
FS: What were your goals going into the Championships? Did you see a podium finish as reasonable?
LS: Yeah, but what’s crazy is that probably at least 1/4 of the field had that as a realistic goal. We are in a sport where fitness brings us to a point, but only a point. Olga Tiagai, the one who stood on the top of the podium that day, skied with some guts; she made a move early and held on hard. There were 8 of us out there that had her in our sight for the last 5K and she held us off. That has to be more than just fitness alone and that is what keeps me coming back for more, the desire to be the gutsiest one out there.
FS: Your result in your other start at U23s was quite good as well. How did you feel about that race?
LS: I wasn’t particular psyched with my classic race. I was tired and breathing hard way too early in the race, my body just felt worked. My classic still needs a lot of work, so my expectations lay in the 15K on Thursday, for sure.
FS: You did not race in the sprint — do you consider yourself more of a distance racer at this point?
LS: I am definitely more passionate about distance races, but I like sprinting too and I think it’s important to race both. I didn’t sprint because my goals lay in the distance races and I wasn’t feeling super strong going into the week, so Pat, Matt and I decided that it would be best to rest for another couple of days.
FS: You didn’t race the World Cups in Canmore. Did you qualify and decide not to go? If so, how come? If you did not qualify, did this serve as extra motivation heading into U23s?
LS: I did qualify for Canmore, and if we had known that U23’s would be postponed I probably would have gone. It is really hard to sit out of a World Cup, especially one so close to home, but I wanted to keep my goals for the season in focus and those lay at U23’s.
FS: What are your plans for the rest of the season?
LS: I am at Canadian Nationals this week and then will head to Distance Nationals in Fairbanks from here (Editor's Note: Liz had a very successful week at Canadian Nationals, with finishes of 3rd, 1st, and 5th). I’m really looking forward to these next couple of weeks. Longer races, and hopefully some good spring klister skiing.
FS: What will you do in the spring to recover from a long and successful season?
LS: Spend some time in Vermont, possibly take a road trip with a friend down the southern coast and kayak out to an island to camp for a few days. For me it is really important to unwind mentally from skiing and take some deep breaths off the snow for a little while. The spring is a great time to go on the adventures that don’t always fit into the training plan during the rest of the year, so I will be doing some of those for sure.
FS: Looking ahead, what are your goals for next season? Long term?
LS: I need to get stronger and fitter, so those are some of my main goals to show up with for next season. The Czech Republic would be cool to see. (Editor’s Note: World Championships are in Liberec, Czech Republic next year). Long term….the Olympics would be quite the experience.
FS: Where will you base your training this summer? Who will you be training with?
LS: I will be based in Park City, Utah, training and living with Alice Nelson and Sarah McCarthy, for sure, but hopefully a few others will be kicking around some too, including Rosie Brennen who lives there and possibly a couple other University of Utah skiers. My coaches, Pat, Matt and Pete all live in Salt Lake or Park City, so I hope to do much of my training with them, as well as Kristina Casey.
FS: Thanks Liz and good luck with the rest of your season!