We can’t imagine anything much more exciting than making an event like World Championships for the first time, so we contacted the North American skiers living that exact dream this year.
Instead of interrogating them with the usual “tell us how you’re feeling,” we decided to pose the following 10 questions to each of the North Americans headed to their first World Championships from Feb. 18-March 1 in Falun, Sweden.
The youngest member of the five-man U.S. Nordic Combined World Championships Team, 19-year-old Ben Berend, of Steamboat Springs, Colo., recently competed at the FIS Junior World Ski Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
There, he notched a best individual result of 13th in the normal hill/5-kilometer competition and placed seventh in the 4 x 5 k team event with fellow Americans Jasper Good, Ben Loomis and Koby Vargas.
“I’m on a little bit of a different agenda than the rest of the world champ team,” Berend told the National Nordic Foundation while en route from Almaty to meet teammates Adam Loomis and Taylor Fletcher in Ramsau, Austria. After competing in the Continental Cup there, they traveled to Falun on Monday.
“For me, I don’t really have any expectations because I have no idea what to expect. As the 5th man and youngest member of the team my biggest goal is just to absorb all the information that comes my way,” he said. “Our team consists of Olympic and World Championship medalists who I can learn a lot from. It will be awesome to see first hand how Bill [Demong], Bryan [Fletcher], Taylor, and Adam prepare and handle a championship event.
“My biggest advice for the young guys in our sport is just to stay patient and work hard,” the U.S. Nordic Combined B-team member added. “Improvement doesn’t happen overnight so don’t get frustrated if it takes some time. If you put in the work though, it will ALWAYS pay off eventually. Also don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice from any of us older guys. We not only want to achieve our goals but we want to help you achieve yours as well. It may be an individual sport, but it’s a team effort.”
On Friday, he was listed to compete in the first nordic-combined competition of the week — the 100-meter normal hill/10 k individual — along with Demong and the Fletcher brothers.
1. What was the first thing you did when you found out you were named to the World Championships team?
“When I saw the press release of the World Championship team, telling my Mom and Dad was the absolute first thing I did. They have been so supportive of my skiing career over the years.”
2. What’s been the biggest performance of your career so far? What one race stands out the most and why?
“I think two results stick out the most to me. My 14th place finish in the Park City Continental Cup last winter was really huge. Not only was it my first time in the top 30 but it really showed me that I belonged in these competitions and could be competitive. Also last week’s result at the Junior World Championships in Almaty was a testament to how much I have improved over the last few years. My top result in 2013 was 26th, in 2014 it was 23rd, and this year my top result was 13th. It’s one thing to feel an improvement but to see results justifying that is a great feeling.”
3. What are you most looking forward to at World Championships?
“I’m really looking forward to the atmosphere in Falun. With one World Cup start to my name I’m very new to that whole scene. I honestly have no idea what to expect and I think that’s kind of fun. It will also be awesome to witness how Bill, Bryan, Taylor, and Adam handle and prepare for a Championship event. These guys have had a lot of success at this level and I know I’m going to learn a lot from them.”
4. What’s your biggest motivation while competing?
“There are two types of motivation, self motivation and outside motivation. Up until this year I definitely fell into the first category. Outside factors have never really affected my motivation. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could accomplish things. This spring our funding was cut and we were basically told that the future of our sport didn’t have podium potential at the Olympics or World Championships. To me that was a slap in the face because I was one of the younger guys coming up. A lot of my motivation now comes from wanting to prove that the younger generation of this sport can be as successful as the guys that came before us.”
5. Which event(s) do you hope or plan to compete in?
“As the 5th guy, I have no idea what events I will compete in. We have a very strong team going into Falun with four guys who have really proven themselves on the World Cup. However, if I could choose any event it would be the Big Hill 10km because one of my strengths is jumping on larger hills.”
6. If you could race the team sprint with anyone in the world, who would it be?
“I would definitely convert Gabriela Soukalová [of the Czech Republic] from a biathlete to a nordic-combined skier so we could race together and fall in love.”
7. Which world cup skier would you least like to meet in a dark alley (or the final 100 meters of a race)?
“I would not want to meet Magnus Moan in a dark alley or in the last 100 meters of a race because he is tall, scary, and has bad ass tattoos all over his arms.”
8. What will be your key to success in Falun?
“As a team, our key to success is experience. Between Bill, Bryan, and Taylor there are 6 World Championship medals to account for. These guys have been here before and know how to perform when it matters.”
9. Finish this sentence: If I made the podium at World Champs __________.
“… I would yell ‘I’m going to Disney Land!’ as I crossed the finish line. I would celebrate with my teammates and savor that moment forever. Also I would quit my job as a dishwasher immediately.”
10. Name a person who’s had a major influence on your skiing career.
“I can’t name a single person because so many people have influenced my skiing career. I think the most influence has come from my teammates on the World Champ team. As a young kid I watched Bill Demong win World Championship and Olympic Medals. He really set the bar for US Nordic Combined skiing and I so badly wanted to follow in his footsteps. Last year I made the National team and had the opportunity to move in with Taylor Fletcher and have Bryan Fletcher live right next door. Throughout the year I’ve learned from these guys what it means to handle oneself like a true professional inside and outside of the sport. On any given day Bill, Bryan, Taylor, or Adam would be helping me with my cross country skiing. Even though they were focused on their own skiing, they would all go out of their way to help me develop my own skills as an athlete. It’s a real team effort and I couldn’t ask for better teammates and friends.”