LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Tad Elliott isn’t a big runner. Reflecting on his training from inside the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center, he was quick to admit that.
So when fellow U.S. Ski Team rookie Ida Sargent took him on a long run in Park City, Utah, and the two ended up lost, he wasn’t thrilled.
Elliott, the fun-loving, laid-back jokester, not happy?
“I was cranky,” he said of what turned out to be a 3-1/2 hour trek. “We had no idea where we were.”
Also a first-year member of the USST B-team, Sargent smiled as he told the story. Seated across from Elliott, she quietly said it was her fault.
“It was a joint effort,” Elliott said with a laugh.
Despite their personality differences — with Sargent as a more-reserved Dartmouth biology major and Elliott as an outgoing mountain biker — the two formed a bond while traveling with the national team last year. Both competed at the 2011 World Championships and U23 World Championships, with Elliott helping the U.S. men’s 4×10 k relay place 14th at worlds. At the U23 championships, he notched 19th in the 15 k freestyle and Sargent placed 23rd in the classic sprint.
In April, shortly after the season ended, the two were named to the USST, and invited to the Park City rookie camp in June. There, the 23-year-olds — Elliott from Durango, Colo., and Sargent from Barton, Vt. — were the oldest of the bunch.
Elliott said their sudden seniority was strange at first, but once they began training with A-team members like Kris Freeman and Andy Newell, he felt at ease.
“I remember being a junior at these camps and being scared to talk to Kris,” Elliot said at the Lake Placid USST camp in September. “Now, I’m one of the older guys at camp joking with Kris and getting coffee with him. It’s kind of neat to always have that be your goal and now that you’ve achieved your goal, it’s fun to enjoy it.”
“It’s not like anyone’s a big scary person,” said Sargent, who roomed with USST veteran Liz Stephen in Lake Placid.
“I still have that hero worship a little bit,” Elliott said, adding that he tries to keep that on the lowdown.
Some could have similar respect for Elliott, formerly a professional mountain-bike racer on the U23 national team who traded his wheels for skis.
That was after Elliott said he “semi-retired” from nordic skiing after graduating high school in 2007. A year later, Salomon recruited him to its factory team, and he was back in the cross-country ski scene.
This spring, he gave the USST his word that he would fully commit to ski racing. Rather than bike for 70 percent of his training, he made sure it only occupied 30-40 percent of his offseason regimen. Running, rollerskiing and weight lifting took up the rest.
“It’s been a really big change for me,” Elliot said, noting that he didn’t fly his bike to Lake Placid because it cost about $200 to do so.
He and a friend attempted to rent bikes during their 1 ½-week stay. Without much luck, they decided to save their energy.
“I’m definitely more tired now than I’ve ever been,” he said. “And I think that’s just from training.”
Usually at this time of year, it was the travel associated with mountain biking that wore Elliott down. Several months into his ski-specific plan, he described his state as a “good tired.”
More hours in the gym were certainly a factor, he said. While he hated being inside (“It’s so boring,” he said. “I’d rather be outside blasting my mountain bike around”), Elliott understood the importance of his strength plan.
“Hopefully it will make (me) strong and feeling good into the season,” he said. “The biggest goal for me is to be still getting better, still want to be racing more and learning how to be at that (level). That’s where these older skiers on the team can help you.”
Elliott could also look to elite athletes like his father, Mike Elliott, a three-time Olympian in nordic skiing, and his fraternal twin, Evan, a professional downhill mountain bike racer. Upon being nominated to the USST, Elliott said his entire family supported his decision to switch to nordic.
“My dad was amped,” he said. “My brother was pumped. … My mom’s just happy with whatever. … Whatever my goals are, they’ve supported.”
As for his upcoming season, which starts in early November with the USST in Norway, Elliott expected it to parallel mountain biking with similar training and World Cup events.
Because of U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) budget cuts this year, there weren’t additional financial incentives to join the national ski team; Elliott and Sargent said they received a little more last season. But they understood the economic situation and said the USST, their coaches and their clubs (including Team Homegrown for Elliott, and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project and NENSA for Sargent) were doing all they could to support them. The opportunities were invaluable, they said, and being on the team attracts sponsors.
“I’m happy with my decision to be on the U.S. Ski Team … (and) be part of these guys,” Elliott said. “It’s been awesome so far working with them.”
More of the Same
Sargent, who has one quarter left at Dartmouth College, plans to go back in the spring. The former captain of the university’s ski team, she said it was bittersweet missing the college-racing scene last winter. However, it was worth it to race in Europe, especially at Worlds, she said.
Like Elliott, her initiation into the national team officially began with the one-week rookie camp this summer. There, the six newcomers learned what the USSA had to offer and how to conduct themselves as full-time athletes.
As the summer progressed, Sargent’s training didn’t change much. It had worked well under the guidance of Pepa Miloucheva, who coached Sargent from her youngest years skiing in Craftsbury, Vt. Sargent had older siblings Eben and Elsa to look up to, as both went on to ski at Dartmouth. Her interest in the sport led Sargent to Burke Mountain Academy, where she spent the last three years of high school.
The academy’s head coach at the time, Matt Whitcomb, helped her improve, and she continued to work with Miloucheva as a member of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project in college. Conveniently for Sargent, Whitcomb became the USST women’s coach.
In the end, Sargent mostly consulted with Miloucheva for workouts and frequently spoke with Whitcomb. She figured the new arrangement would make communication even easier.
To her, the best thing about being on the national team — aside from racing abroad — was the opportunity to train with talented skiers.
“We’re all just out there working hard as a big group,” Sargent said, specifically pointing out the benefit of camps, which typically include top-tier regional skiers and the National Elite Group. “I really don’t think it’s that different from the juniors that are with us. We train the same.”
“You probably get a cooler jacket with a patch on it,” Elliott joked.
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.