It’s hard to believe its already been 3 weeks since touching down from our Scandinavia trip and representing the U.S.A. in Estonia in the National Junior (under 18) championships. Athletes have since returned home to their respective clubs and bounced back to racing this week at US Junior National Championships at Soldier Hollow. I missed the team the moment we parted ways in Tallinn and I was thrilled to get to see everyone racing (fast!) again in Utah. It was exciting to see everyone out representing their home regions and battling it out for Alaska Cup points. I saw teammates turned to fierce competitors in a matter of days.
This year’s trip was a valuable learning experience. I wanted to give a shout out to the kids and to Scott and Adam for being so flexible, understanding, animated and inspiring. Three crazy days of racing culminated in the team relay event; a perfect conclusion to an amazing week.
Its hard to calculate success on this trip. For most athletes, this is their first ski racing trip overseas and for many their first high level international competition. Exposure to this kind of event is the first step to creating comfort and confidence on the international level in the future. Its easy to be intimidated by the bus loads of kids hopping off of team Norway or team Sweden’s bus in matching national team jackets, suits and backpacks. But, what you realize as soon as you strap on your skis and hit the trails with them is that we’re not all that different. They love to ski. They train really hard. And, they race fast. The biggest difference I see is level of support and cultural respect for the sport. One afternoon while we were training at the venue an endless stream of Estonian schoolchildren were bussed in to the Mammaste Sport Center. By the time we were packing up to leave their were several hundreds of kids taking part in some kind of outdoor winter sport. Some were racing on cross-country skis, some were sledding, or snowboarding, but all were enjoying their time outside. Later in the week we leap frogged around the Estonian countryside chasing some famous names as they navigated the 63 kilometer Tartu Marathon course. We saw military personnell at every road crossing and hundreds of townspeople lined up to offer food, drink or encouragement to any of the thousands of racers. Skiing is a part of the culture here and you can feel it all over.
We started with a week long training Camp at the Tehvandi Sport Center in Otepaa Estonia. We were greeted by cold clear skies and sunny days at this world cup venue and enjoyed exploring the challenging trails. We checked out the ski jump, went night skiing, snow tubing and explored the “winter capital” of Estonia. At the end of the week we ran a classic time trial and hopped in our VW vans to drive 40km East to Polva. This year’s competition took place at Mammaste Sport Center, a short 3km drive from our hotel in Polva. We arrived 5 days before the first competition to dial in the wax and begin testing. The race courses were awesome. The trails had a bit of everything, from rolling hills to steep difficult climbs, and tight fast corners. From a waxing perspective things were tricky. We were greeted by warm and wet weather. About half of the track was man-made and half was natural. A few km’s had a bit of each.
Thursday the 23rd of February brought the eve of our first race: A night sprint! Qualification began at 1600 and final heats concluded under the lights at 1930. All 6 women qualified for the heats and 4 of the 6 men. Adam Martin raced his way from a 30th place qualifying time all the way to the B final, and our women hung tough through the rounds to put 3 in the top 12 (Nichole Bathe 8, Heidi Halvorsen 10 and Anika Miller 11). At the end of the day we put 4 men and 4 women in the top 20. The following morning we woke to contest the classic individual start. We tested rigorously and ended up settling on straight klister. Conditions remained tricky and slow throughout the day and upper body strength proved an important factor in success. Julia Kern (’97) posted our fastest finish in a respectable 14th over 5km. Bathe and Halvorsen were close behind in 17th and 19th respectively. In the men’s 10km, Adam Martin paced the team in 23rd and teammates Jack Hegman and Eli Hoenig followed close behind in 24th and 25th. Two days down, one to go. On the final day of competition the women raced a 3 x 3km relay and the men a 3 x 5km. Leg one was classic, and legs two and three were freestyle. We rallied together and everyone pushed themselves to the limit one final time for team USA. Our women crossed the line in 6th and 8th place and the men battled hard with Finland 1 for 8th and 11th.
One of my favorite parts of the entire trip happens the moment the competition ends. After the final award is handed out all of the kids gather together to trade hats, jackets, suits and stories. A few lucky guys will get the top Norwegian’s number and most trade Facebook or other contacts. The coaches were removed packing and travel waxing skis, but it was easy to see how much fun everyone was having wagering (sometimes in broken English) for the coolest gear they could find. Best trade goes to Max Scrimgeour for his Team Finland (Nordic Combined) Parka and best gift goes to Adam Martin for the pine bough bouquet (and digits) he received from A certain fast and beautiful blonde Norwegian.
And finally, THANK YOU NNF. Without the National Nordic Fountain, and all of its generous supporters, this trip would not be possible. We Thank You for your generous support.