Three long sleeve shirts, a short sleeve shirt, two warm-up shells, a hat, extra socks, and two pairs of gloves. And a puffy jacket.
“I pretty much put everything in my bag,” Simi Hamilton said.
When it’s 38 degrees and raining, and you have a four-heat sprint time trial ahead of you, you’re going to need a lot of clothes. Not to say that the dry stuff would remain that way for long, though: by the end of the morning, athletes were racing in whatever they had left: wind pants, raincoats, cycling caps—you name it.
After a week of sun and warmth at the U.S. Ski Team’s (USST’s) final dryland camp in Lake Placid, athletes and coaches finally got stuck with a day of typical New England fall misery. And the nor’easter that blew in just happened to coincide with one of the camp’s toughest and longest workouts: a sprint time trial with a qualification round and full heats, held on a loop at the Olympic Jumping Complex.
There was no fanfare when the Andy Newell stood at the gate as the first starter in the qualification round—just a line of athletes behind him waiting their turn, and a handful of coaches in raincoats and jeans trying to stay warm.
Days like this are tough on everyone, and the cold and wet weather doesn’t do much for athletes who are already walking a fine line between building fitness and fending off illness. But there’s still value to be found in the workout—while the athletes will spend the morning drenched and cold, they need practice at racing while drenched and cold.
“It could be pouring like this in Oslo, for sure,” said USST Coach Pete Vordenberg, referring to the site of this year’s World Championships.
Between the men and the women, roughly 30 athletes slog their way through a qualification round. Then, there’s a break before the rounds go off. Skiers don their soaking-wet warm-ups, jog around the parking lot, climb into vans—anything to preserve a little warmth.
“This officially sucks now,” says the USST’s Kris Freeman as he rolls by.
The heats finally start up half an hour later. With 20 men, the USST staff is forced to send out five heats of four at a time. Heats normally have six athletes, but with some tight corners and slippery conditions , the course can’t support that many on Friday. To make matters worse, there’s a straightaway that gets used in both directions, which means that coaches can only send out one round at a time, rather than running all five in brief succession. Nobody gets eliminated either—everyone here will race a quarterfinal, semifinal, and final.
The wet weather makes the dicey course even dicier. Tips and rollerskis are broken, athletes slip as they take their first steps off the line, and a body of water verging on a small pond nearly envelops some of the smaller athletes at the bottom of the course.
But despite the weather, the workout rolls on, inexorably. After two-and-a-half hours out in the rain, Freeman skis away from Newell and Hamilton in the final of the men’s heats. He collects his sopping pile of clothes and is gone from the scene in fifteen minutes.
Within an hour, the weather has turned to snow. Back at the Olympic Training Center, where the athletes are living for the camp, there is a lot of laundry to be done. And there is also at least a small level of satisfaction among everyone involved for having completed the workout—weather be damned.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.