Nordic skiing already claimed the talents of one dual-sport prodigy five years ago, when Canadian Alex Harvey gave up a promising mountain biking career to focus on cross-country.
Now, it has gained another: American Tad Elliott says he’s also making a shift away from mountain biking, and will put more of an emphasis on skiing this coming off-season.
“That’s kind of the focus now, is putting more chips into skiing, and wanting to do World Cup skiing, wanting to do World Champs,” Elliott said after last weekend’s 50 k freestyle in Oslo. “I think there’s a bright future in skiing now, and I want to be a part of it.”
Elliott, 22, a two-time U.S. national champion in skiing, is also an accomplished cyclist. He owns multiple U-23 U.S. mountain-biking titles, and last year, he raced domestically and in Europe for a professional squad, Team Sho-Air.
But after one of his best ski seasons ever, Elliott says that he’s not going to go back on the international circuit. Instead, he’ll compete for a local team, working as a mentor for junior riders and competing in his home state of Colorado.
In the past, Elliott has made a quick transition from skiing to mountain-biking, and back again. This spring, for example, he won the U.S. title in the 50 k freestyle in Maine in late March before competing in the Sea Otter Classic in California in mid-April.
This coming season, though, he said that mountain biking will play a smaller role.
“I just get to race some local races, and use it as a building block for my skiing,” Elliott said. “My season starts late, and is over early, and it’s perfect.”
Currently, Elliott is competing with Central Cross Country’s (CXC’s) elite team. But this coming year, Elliott said that he hopes to attend more camps with the U.S. Ski Team (USST)—and he also said that securing a nomination to the latter squad was something that motivated his move. (Despite a strong campaign from Elliott during the 2010 ski season, he was left off the 2010-2011 USST, and Head Coach Chris Grover cited Elliott’s mountain biking schedule as a factor in the decision.)
“I’d love to get on that team some day. I’d love to ski for them, but that’s up to those guys, if they want to bring me,” Elliott said. “Everyone’s really positive about it—seems like a great plan. [CXC Head Coach Jason] Cork says he’s into whatever I decide, and whatever those guys decide.”
There have been a number of successful skier-cyclists competing internationally in the past, most notably Harvey’s father, Pierre, a road biker who competed in the Summer and Winter Olympics in the same year, 1984. More recently, American Carl Swenson raced on the skiing World Cup during the winter, and the professional mountain bike circuit in the summer.
Neither of those men ever won a major championship medal, though Pierre Harvey was certainly successful, winning the prestigious Holmenkollen 50 k World Cup in Oslo in the late 1980’s.
Alex Harvey was also an elite mountain bike racer when he was younger, and a very good one—he competed at the World Junior Championships two times. But faced with a difficult transition to the senior level five years ago, just as his ski results were improving, he decided to pursue the latter sport full time.
“It was more of a natural decision—it was just good timing,” he said last week.
For Elliott, at 22, the shift is coming five years later. He said he was motivated by a desire to do more international racing, and he also noted his performance in the American 4×10 k relay squad at the World Ski Championships in Oslo last week, when he teamed up with Andy Newell, Kris Freeman, and Noah Hoffman to finish 14th.
“The result wasn’t there, [but] the group is there,” Elliott said. “That’s a group that could be there for a while, and I want I want to put more focus in it.”
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.