Caitlin Gregg had big plans before arriving in Europe to race the World Cup circuit as the 2014 SuperTour leader. Aiming to qualify for the 2015 World Championships in Falun, Sweden, Gregg intended to ski for World Cup points. If she accumulated enough, a top-50 ranking would mean automatic qualification for World Championships.
After three World Cup weekends, that strategy appears to be out of reach for Gregg.
In the first few weekends of the 2014/2015 season, the 34-year-old Minneapolis native has been near the back of the World Cup pack. Choosing not to start in November’s opening World Cup races in Kuusamo, Finland, Gregg’s first World Cup competition was the mini tour in Lillehammer, Norway, where she placed 78th in the sprint. The following day, she was 62nd in the 5-kilometer freestyle. In the final 10 k pursuit, she skied the 70th -ranked time and finished 68th overall in the mini tour out of 74 women.
In the latest World Cup in Davos, Switzerland, Gregg improved on her previous results, skiing to 56th in the 10 k classic and 60th in the 1.3 k freestyle sprint. However, it wasn’t close to the top-30 she had been aiming for.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit disappointed with the results,” Gregg said after the Davos 10 k. “I was gunning for a little bit higher, especially in that 5 k skate. I was looking to be in the points.”
Some of Gregg’s fellow U.S. competitors have started their seasons slower than they’d hoped as well, with several of them outside the points.
While not everyone has posted strong results, the difference between the U.S. Ski Team (USST) women and Gregg is that they have each cracked into the top-30 at least once.
According to Gregg, members of the USST also have more wiggle room at the beginning the season, while she doesn’t as a Continental Cup leader.
“Obviously the ideal thing would be to be on the ski team, because they have a little bit of leeway in terms of, OK, are they firing on all cylinders now or are they waiting for World Champs?” she said. “In my position, or really anyone on the SuperTour, we don’t really have that opportunity.”
She said she was in a similar situation last year, when she started the season on the SuperTour circuit in the U.S. She believed a fast start was necessary to earn a spot on the Olympic team.
Gregg delivered in late 2013, earning a podium in every nationally attended race she competed in before leaving for Europe in January for the Word Cup. However, she was not selected to the Olympic team.
“But it’s a tough position on either side,” she acknowledged.
Her current situation is reminiscent to that of Alaska Pacific University’s Rosie Brennan last season.
The 2012/2013 SuperTour leader, Brennan started her winter on the World Cup with the hope of earning a spot at the Olympics. However, her best result was a top 60. While she earned a national title and several podiums at the 2014 U.S. national, she did not make the Olympics.
Even with the fast track to pre-qualification rapidly escaping, both Gregg and her husband, Brian, are still gunning for World Championships — they’ll just have to be picked by discretion or USSA points.
“We’ve seen people turn around some maybe slower starts to the season. We’re still optimistic,” she said. “We put in some good training this year. We want to go as the husband-and-wife duo. We got blocked last year, so now we have to go again strong.”
Gregg believes her best chance for qualification is to perform well in the upcoming World Cup 10 k freestyle in Davos this weekend. Now that she’s already raced the course, Gregg believes that knowledge and experience will help her accomplish a strong result.
When she returns to the domestic circuit for the 2015 U.S. national in Houghton, Mich., Gregg will again look to make an impression in the 10 k freestyle.
“A good statement in the 10 k at nationals and hopefully [it will] really put that little thought in the back of their minds again to bring us. Again, it’s all based on USSA points, so really looking to chase those down and see what we can do there,” she said.
Despite the challenge of skiing at the international level, Gregg said that the trip to Europe has been worthwhile for a variety of reasons.
“I wouldn’t trade this – even if it means that I don’t make World Championships because I came over here. I just have learned so much,” she said.
“I wouldn’t trade this – even if it means that I don’t make World Championships because I came over here. I just have learned so much.” — Caitlin Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus) on starting the 2014/2015 season on the World Cup
Gregg explained that after racing two weekends on the World Cup, she’s seen improvements in her skiing, especially in classic skiing.
Traditionally stronger in skating, Gregg’s 56th in last Saturday’s 10 k classic is her strongest result thus far on the 2014/2015 World Cup. She started amongst some of the strongest skiers on the circuit including Krista Parmakoski of Finland and Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland. She said that her race felt better than the earlier distance races of the season.
“I think last weekend I was like, ‘where did I give up all that time?’ Today was one of those days where you think, OK, that’s where it was,” she explained on Saturday. “I was happy when I got to the line with what I did out there, and I couldn’t have done anything else. My skis were dialed, I felt great, everything was great.”
As she enters the last World Cup weekend before returning stateside, Gregg said she’s excited to take advantage of the opportunities skiing on the World Cup has given her.
“[I’m] disappointed, but still really taking it in and learning so much. Psyched for the opportunity and knowing that it will make me a stronger skier down the road,” she said.
If she doesn’t make World Championships, you can expect to see Gregg competing her “other passion,” the American Birkebeiner on Feb. 21 in Hayward, Wis. “I don’t want to say [that’s] the second choice or anything like that, but that’s the plan,” she said.
— Chelsea Little contributed reporting
Lander Karath is FasterSkier's Associate Editor from Bozeman, Montana and a Bridger Ski Foundation alumnus. Between his studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, he is an outdoor enthusiast and a political junkie.