The invitation to Burke to participate in the “Jr.NM” or Junior Norwegian Championship was the idea of Bjorn Ilsemann, an energetic coach with the Norwegian College of Elite Sport (NTG). Bjorn’s school and Burke Mountain Academy have just finished round one of an exchange program that we hope to have as an annual affair. The Jr. NM participation grew out of that. These are the major races of the year for Norwegian kids and similar to our own JN’s. Qualification is necessary, and each region sends a team. Thanks to Bjorn, to the host club of Kjelsaas and to Per Nymoen and the organizing committee of the Norwegian Ski Federation, for letting us join in. We really appreciate the opportunity!
We put the team together with athletes from across the US and had a gang that represented US junior skiing well. Thomas Rabon, and Jack Hegman are BMA seniors and were in Europe on the “Scando Cup” J1 trip. With them was Heidi Halvorsen from GMVS. When the Holmenkollen opportunity popped up they decided to forego the US JN’s and to stay on in Europe, training with the NTG gang and some local clubs in Oslo. Monday, the 12th of March, barely flight time from the US JN’s in Soldier Hollow, Ben Saxton from Minnesota and the Midwest Team, Kevin Bolger, and Jack Steele who are both finishing up PG years with the Sun Valley team joined us in Oslo. A last minute change created an opening for Ian Moore, a J1 from coastal Maine.
On the first team practice up at Holmenkollen, the Canadian National team was taking a post-World Cup easy ski up at the venue and the gang talked some of the ‘guns’ into a picture. I enjoyed a nice visit with Justin Wadsworth before the team headed off to the Palace Sprint in Stockholm and the finals in Falun. Justin is enjoying his role as the Canadian head coach, and it seems like the mood on the team is ‘Up’ and eager.
Among the goals for this trip was putting US juniors into a large competition in a foreign setting and exposing them to the demands of a team assembled from different regions at short notice. The experiences of foreign food, transportation, race protocols, and the necessity for increased independence and self reliance were all part of the design. Another deliberate design for the trip was to provide the chance to legitimately place oneself on a broader based speed, fitness, and ability scale; a chance to see where one “stacks up” with good skiers from one of the world’s foremost ski countries.
It all happened. Weather and snow conditions were challenging. After the sun and warmth that met the World Cup 50 and 30 k races, courses were hammered. There was even talk of a venue move but in the end, the huge volunteer work force worked its magic and the races went off at Holmenkollen. The first day’s classic distance races of 7.5, 10, 15 and 20 km, depending on gender and age class, were held in thick, chilling fog. That was a somewhat sobering introduction and probably the one that set people back on their ears a bit.
In spite of an obvious bruising, everyone rallied well and as the schedule developed for the next day the mood was good. Having the efficient and fast public transportation almost from our door to the venue was both fun and reassuring and another part of the whole experience. It let me get to the venue early and set up wax benches, touch base with the testers (big thanks to Endre and Henrik from Sport 1!), and do the final touch up of skis, while the athletes were able to leave the house on their own and get up to the courses comfortably for warm up and not have to stand around in the fog.
The skate race started off with the girls, again in fog. Heidi Halvorsen endured a high speed crash, and bounced back to claim a very solid 17th place. While a couple of ours were still finding their feet, results were better and people happier. The sense of where we were was coming clearer, and over all it was encouraging. The top third of a field of 450 guys and 350 girls is not a bad place from which to start working. Even those who came from US JN’s with podium places to their credit were seeing and positively reacting to what was going down in Oslo. There is work to do and seeing the field there gave perspective to the project.
On the morning of the relay the fog was thick in town but as I drove up toward the venue I popped into bright morning sun. Courses were open and firm and visible. There had been a light freeze during the night, and having made the decision to change the relay to all skate legs to keep the quality of the course up, the organizers lightly salted the parts of the course most affected by the sun. That leveled the field a lot.
We had a core relay team of Jack Hegman, Kevin Bolger, Tom Rabon, and Ben Saxton and the others all found berths on Norwegian teams. In the Men’s division there were 111 four-man relay teams and over 60 in the women’s. Our guys were seeded at number 33 and finished at number 34 which put them comfortably in the top third. While I could see deep tiredness in some parts of the course, overall it was clearly the best day for the gang and everyone was up and happy with the effort.
It was a good trip and for me reaffirmed the importance of getting the big picture without over-emphasizing junior results. Placing personal skills and training levels into a bigger frame of reference and one that rewards effort, work, patience and dedication, is an approach we in this country cannot use often enough.
Hopefully we’ll be able to do this again. It was good for Burke Mountain Academy’s kids, and we certainly enjoyed the participation of athletes from other programs in the country. Thanks to our Norwegian hosts for opening their homes to us and special thanks Bjorn Ilsemann and his gang from the NTG-U for the invitation, logistic support, and fun pre-race workouts. Let us know if you have interest in joining us or helping to support the trip next year.
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Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.