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. The U.S. Ski Team announced its 16-strong senior World Championships team on Jan. 26, and Cross Country Canada selected nine to its squad on Monday. On Tuesday, the U.S. added Ben Saxton as its 17th member.
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.
Kyle Bratrud is a unique addition to the World Champs rookie squad. The Northern Michigan University skier is the only American team member currently on a college ski team roster. At the age of 22, Bratrud is not the youngest skier on the squad (Saxton is 21-years-old), but he does have the least international racing experience. In 2013, Bratrud traveled to the Czech Republic for the World Junior Championships. More recently he competed in the 2015 U23 World Championships in Kazakhstan where he earned 19th in the 15 k freestyle and 37th in the 30 k skiathlon.
On the domestic front, Bratrud has found much success on the college circuit earning eighth at the 2013 NCAA 20 k freestyle and sixth in the 2014 NCAA 10 k classic. At the 2015 U.S. Cross Country Championships in Houghton, Mich. he had a breakout performance in the 15 k freestyle, which he won by roughly 50-seconds over veteran Kris Freeman.
After competing in Kazakhstan, Bratrud joined the U.S. Ski Team in Östersund, Sweden for the World Cup weekend before competition gets underway in Falun. Sunday’s 15 k freestyle will mark his first World Cup start.
1. What was the first thing you did when you found out you were named to the World Championships team?
“I had woken up from a nap and opened my phone and thought I was seeing things, but eventually I realized it was real so I went for a run and ran way too fast.”
2. What’s been the biggest performance of your career so far? Which race stands out the most and why?
“Probably the 15k skate at Nationals. I had a really good day and beat some guys I never thought I would beat, also my teammates rocked the day.”
3. What are you most looking forward to at World Championships?
“I am extremely excited to soak it all in. Ostersund will be my first World Cup ever and than obviously Falun will be my first World Champs, so I am really excited to see the best skiers in the World compete and get to be in the same race. Also, I am stoked to see just how passionate the Scandinavian fan base is.”
4. Whats your biggest motivation while racing?
“My biggest motivation is to get that deep hurt and still feel like I can go forever. Certain races in my career (both distance races at Nationals) have given me this exciting feeling that no matter how much pain I am in, I can keep pushing, so I am always searching for that feeling when I race.”
5. Which race(s) do you hope or plan to compete in?
“15 k Skate”
6. If you could race the team sprint with anyone in the world, who would it be?
“Probably Federico Pellegrino because he is skiing extremely well this year and with me sprinting, the team would need him to do all the work.”
7. Which World Cup skier would you least want to meet in a dark alley (or in the last 100 meters of a race)?
“Alexey Petukhov. Have you seen the guy?!”
8. What will be your key to success in Falun?
“Enjoying myself and racing like it is just another race. This will be a great opportunity to take away valuable World Cup experience.”
9. Finish this sentence: If I made the podium at World Champs, I would …
“Go over to the hottest girl I saw and ask her to what she was doing later. Never underestimate the power of speed goggles.”
10. Name someone who’s had a major influence on your skiing career.
“[NMU Head Coach] Sten Fjeldheim. He has taught me how to train effectively, handle the physical and mental stresses of racing, and stay true to myself and the process that is the life of a cross country skier.”