I woke up on the day of the 15k classic World Championship race to see huge wet snowflakes falling out of the sky. The temperature was right about zero degrees Celsius. It was not the ideal weather for classic skiing. The snow fell all day and was coming down hardest in the afternoon when I arrived at the race venue. I tested three pairs of skis with my wax tech Joaquim. All three skis were prepared with hardwax. One ski was clearly the best. It was fast and it kicked easily. Unfortunately the wax iced over when I skied up the steepest hill on the course. The ski was still my best option though. Then Peter, another wax tech, came running from the wax room to give me a pair of Zero skis to try. I saw which pair they were and was very skeptical. I had tested them extensively in Whistler and they were always the slowest of the three Zero skis I have. Peter told me that he had tested all of the skis and that these were the best. I put one on one foot and my best hardwax ski on the other and skied for five minutes. The Zero ski was slower but had much better grip. Joaquim came to the same conclusion after he tested them. I couldn’t decide which pair to use and neither could Joaquim. We walked to the wax bench where Peter and Vordy were standing. They listened to our test results and Peter didn’t have an opinion. Vordy announced that he had an opinion. I asked him for it and he said “take the Zero’s.” Taking the Zero’s was a great choice and I think it is a sign of a strong coach to make a hard and decisive decisions under pressure. I was lucky he was there. As it turns out the top six finishers in the race were all on Fischer Zero skis.
I skied the first lap of the race very conservatively. I had done some math and figured out that I would finish the first five kilometer loop just as one of the top five ranked skiers started. I knew a draft would be advantageous but that I would need to be fresh enough to hold on to an initial surge in pace. Lukas Bauer passed me at six k and I latched on to him. He was flying and his speed was most apparent on the gradual ascents but I was able to match his pace. Lukas is from Czech so the crowd noise was deafening while I was skiing with him. I managed to hear a few splits from my coaches though, and I knew I was having a top ten race with a shot at the podium. With 1.5ks left I passed Bauer and started my push for the line. I closed nearly 10 seconds on third place over those 1500 meters but I came up 1.3 seconds short of a medal in 4th place. I wasn’t unhappy with the result. I was thrilled. But to be so close to making history and coming up short was a bitter feeling. I have heard a lot of congratulations from fellow ski racers and coaches. The theme is always “so close or “almost.”
When I made my decision to have surgery two day after World Championships end, Zach asked me if I would be able to stop racing if I put up a great result at World Championships. I told him I thought it would be easier to stop if I raced well than if I raced poorly. Now that I have a great race under my belt I want to keep going, but I would want to keep racing if I was skiing poorly too. That’s what makes me who I am. What I will take away from these Championships is the knowledge that I am a medal contender next year and the hunger for true greatness.
Kris Freeman is a longtime member of the US Ski Team and the top-ranked distance skier in the United States.