First World Cup race is in the books and I can definitely say that I got the full experience!
Leaving the stadium-#7 on the left side. Photo thanks to Pete Vordenberg
The original plan was for Kikkan to scramble and then tag off to me but on Saturday afternoon, the coaches decided to flip the order sending me out first. I think my jaw dropped quickly after hearing this news and immediately the nerves set in. Relays in general usually make me more nervous but now scrambling a World Cup relay in Scandinavia… Luckily Sunday morning I woke up feeling a little more relaxed and was pleasantly surprised to hear that the temperatures had slightly warmed up from the frigid arctic temperature which had hovered around -20C all week. Wax testing was very easy and we had great fast skis but a lot of kick which would come in handy on the hilly course. I kind of zoned everything out while I was warming up but then in the last few minutes while I was running around the stadium and getting ready to lineup I started to take it all in. There were spectators everywhere, packing the stadium. One side of the stadium had bleachers that were packed with bundled up Swedes. A huge screen was ready to broadcast the race footage and there were speakers everywhere on the course playing music and race commentary in several different languages. It was kind of like a huge party and just really exciting. Alongside the course people had built fires. This part was actually not so sweet because parts of the trail were very smokey and smelled a lot like burning hotdogs. The US team had drawn the start spot in the middle of the second row so I was lined up right behind Norway. Looking around and lining up I could feel the nerves clenching again but before I knew it the gun had fired and we were off, serenaded by the loudest cheering crowd I’ve ever heard for a Nordic ski race. I got a quick start and was immediately right in. Everything was so loud and exciting that I don’t think I noticed how fast the group was skiing. At the time the pace didn’t seem overly fast or aggressive but I think I was just really amped up with adrenaline. Because then a little before the 4km marker, the wheels came off and things went downhill quickly. I lost a lot of time between that point and when I finally reached Kikkan in the tag zone. But going first meant I got to watch the rest of the race play out which was awesome including great skiing from Kikkan, Morgan and Liz.
Morgan, Liz, Kikkan, and I before the race
I was pretty bummed with my race at first but looking back I decided I probably wouldn’t do it any differently if I could go back and do it again. Hopefully with some more experience and training I can hold that pace for a little longer. It was also very fun to watch the men’s race afterward. The volume of the stadium when hometown hero Marcus Hellner outsprinted the Russian team to give Sweden the win was indescrible and definitely gave me goosebumps.
The view from my window in Kuusamo just after lunch
On Monday morning we loaded onto a big bus and drove the seven hours to Ruka, Finland. The course here has some monstrous steep uphills and screaming downhills that is sure to make for very tough races. There is only one 5km course open here so everyone is out skiing laps together. Racing gets going again tomorrow with a classic sprint and then a 5km classic and a 10km skate later this weekend. In the meantime we’ve passed our time with a little blacklight bowling.
Can you find me?
Thanks to Kikkan for most of these pictures!