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.
Matt Gelso of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) had a successful start to the 2015 season. In West Yellowstone the 26-year-old charged his way to first in the 15 k freestyle, followed by a pair of third place finishes to earn him period two World Cup starting rights. After racing at the U.S. Cross Country Championships where he was fourth in the 15 k and seventh in the 30 k, he jetted off to Estonia where he teamed up with Erik Bjornsen to earn 11th in the World Cup team sprint.
In the following Russian World Cups, Gelso faced illness but told FasterSkier that the experience racing the international field was valuable. Now, Gelso will get to take what he’s learned and give his best effort for the U.S. at the 2015 World Championships.
Gelso decided to skip the U.S. Ski Team’s pre-World Championship altitude camp in Davos, Switzerland, and instead train at sea-level in Trondheim, Norway. The Truckee, California native recently met up with the rest of the American squad in Östersund, Sweden where he will race in the World Cup 15 k freestyle.
1. What was the first thing you did when you found out you were named to the World Championships team?
“I believe the first thing I did was say, ‘Yes! Thank you Grover!’ then I called my parents and my coach to let them know the good news! They were both really excited.”
2. What’s been the biggest performance of your career so far? Which race stands out the most and why?
“Probably winning the 10km classic at the NCAA Championships in 2010 in Steamboat Springs, CO. It was a great performance on the right day with challenging wax conditions at the end of my college career. I had set this goal the summer before and it felt great having achieved it.”
3. What are you most looking forward to at World Championships?
“Racing. It will be a new experience to have tens of thousands of people on course partying and cheering. Definitely a different vibe than races elsewhere in Europe and in the U.S.”
4. What’s your biggest motivation while racing?
“Specific motivation is a tough one for me as it varies so much from race to race. Different situations and different days require different motivations. I can’t say exactly what my specific motivation will be for each race, but I can say that my coaches, parents, friends, and ski club will be in my thoughts. All the people that have helped me get to where I am as a ski racer are essentially on the course through me and I want to be in it for them.”
5. Which race(s) do you hope or plan to compete in?
“The 30 k pursuit is definitely a focus for me. Being equally proficient in classic and skate this is an even that can play to my strengths. As for the other distance events and relay, I don’t know officially what I will be racing in but I will be ready for any and all opportunities I am given.”
6. If you could race the team sprint with anyone in the world, who would it be?
“I already got that wish in Otepää when Eric Bjornson and I raced the team sprint together.”
7. Which World Cup skier would you least want to meet in a dark alley (or in the last 100 meters of a race)?
“He is not on the World Cup now, but coming into a race finish with Thomas Alsgaard would be a tough one. If you have seen him at the end of the World Championships relay in Val di Fiemme or the Olympics in Salt Lake City, you know what I am talking about. He has the speed to beat anyone at the end of a race. As for current athletes, I hate to sound cliché here, but that would have to be Petter Northug. When he is in good shape he has a race finish speed that is unmatched by anyone. He will act and toy with you and then blow you out of the water in the last 1km, then let you catch back up and blow you out again at the finish in the last 100 meters (anyone see the finish of the relay at Norwegian Nationals?).”
8. What will be your key to success in Falun?
“Staying relaxed and confident. These are races just like any other in my career, I need to go out there focused, with a plan, and ski my best. Keep it simple works.”
9. Finish this sentence: If I made the podium at World Champs, I would …
“If I made the podium at World Champs I would….. make sure I didn’t miss the flower or awards ceremonies.”
10. Name someone who’s had a major influence on your skiing career.
“There are too many people to name. Becoming a nordic racer requires the support and influence of so many people. However, the most recent person would be my coach at SVSEF (Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation) Colin Rodgers. I watched him go from athlete to rookie coach, to seasoned veteran coach. He also helped me realize the precious nature of each race opportunity and the importance of being completely prepared for each one because once you finish a race, you can never get it back.”