When the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) announced the nominations for the upcoming season’s National Team earlier this month, four new faces were added to the ranks. Caitlin Gregg (Team Gregg/Madshus) and Rosie Brennan (Alaska Pacific University) were nominated to the B-team, while Katharine Ogden (Stratton Mountain School) and Julia Kern (Cambridge Sports Union) were placed on the D-team.
FasterSkier caught up with each of the new additions to discuss their motivations, feelings, and journeys to their respective nominations. From the 34-year-old Gregg — who has been working to earn a spot on the team for nearly a decade — to Ogden — a 17-year-old who will be a senior in high school next season — the four women mark changes in the USST lineup that will ultimately shape its future.
Caitlin Gregg: A long time coming
Gregg was the only new addition to the USST to qualify via objective criteria. After a season which included two national titles and a bronze medal performance in the World Championships 10 k, she ranked 27th on the International Ski Federation (FIS) distance points list — which was within the USST team standards.
The Minneapolis-based skier had kept her eyes on the list throughout the latter part of the season, but it was only after her dominating performance in the 30 k freestyle at U.S. Distance Nationals in Sun Valley, Idaho that she knew there was a good chance of making the team. Even then there were still several international races left in the season for other athletes to bump her out of the qualifying standard.
“We calculated my points after the 30 k at U.S. Nationals, but there was a period of races after that – the marathon in Russia and a few others around the world – where other athletes could have gotten better FIS points and bumped me down,” Gregg said in a phone interview after the nominations were announced.
Once all international races were complete it was only a matter of waiting. Gregg received a call from USSA in April informing her that the nomination was coming – something the 34-year-old had been working towards her entire career.
When it comes to the USST, Gregg has faced challenges regarding her age for a long time. According to a blog post by Gregg’s husband Brian regarding her 2015 World Championships medal, she was told after the 2007 World Championships that she was “too old for the U.S. Ski Team and their pipeline.” Eight years later, however, Gregg is on the team and excited about the season’s prospects.
For Gregg the nomination is a reward for the years of hard work – physically, financially, and otherwise – that she has put into the sport. She explained that due to her late entry into professional skiing, her career has seen delayed trajectory. While the journey to the nomination was challenging, the 34-year-old said it was worthwhile.
“It’s been a goal for a long, long time. I’ve been battling; a lot of the criteria is centered around age-based results,” Gregg said of her journey to the nomination. “That was always something that was more difficult for me because I came into skiing after college and even after college there wasn’t a whole ton of programming until CXC came around. By the time that all came together I was on that older end of the spectrum already.
“At my age you’re not going to be discretion-ed onto the team but if you make the criteria they’re going to put you on the team. I think that’s really reassuring for anyone out there who’s really questioning if it is worth it to keep going. It’s not going to be easy and nothing will be handed to you, but it’s totally possible.”
Earlier in the 2014/2015 season Gregg wasn’t sure what her future held, and before the successes of the late-season she contemplated retiring. “It’s a tough decision after every year,” she explained.
According to Gregg, both she and Brian have created a sustainable financial model that has taken years to master. That, coupled with her recent successes led them to ask, “why stop now?” Furthermore, Brian plans to continue to ski through the 2018 Olympics, and while it would be possible for Team Gregg to exist as a one-man project, it largely centers around the two of them.
“As much as it would be sweet for me to be his coach or working or supporting him from the side, we really feel like it’s a pretty incredible opportunity for the two of us to keep racing together and keep building that model we have,” she explained.
“I’m really psyched with that decision. I know it’s early in the season, but I think it was the best call so I’m fired up.”
In the upcoming year Gregg will continue to ski as a skate distance specialist, but will look to improve her classic and sprinting skills. In the past, focusing on several key races instead of trying to compete in them all has helped her perform at the highest level. She will employ a similar strategy in the 2015/2016 season.
Fueled by the exciting developments in her career, Gregg began her busy summer schedule earlier this month with a trip to the USST camp in Park City. She will remain there for Rookie Camp, where she said a joking Matt Whitcomb (USST Women’s Coach) told her she would likely be the oldest rookie in history.
“[The nomination is] super exciting and something I’ve been trying to do since I was 18-years-old,” she explained. “To reach the goal a few years after I had hoped is still awesome and an incredible feeling. Both Brian and I are incredibly fired up. We feel like we learned so much in the last couple years and now with the resources and opportunities that are presented to us and available we feel like it’s a great launching pad and we can build on what we’ve already achieved. We’re excited to see what’s possible.”
Rosie Brennan: A return to the team
Of the four women who will join the team in 2015, Brennan is the only one who held a position in the past. The Park City native was nominated in 2007 and remained on the team until she was cut in 2009. Brennan was 18 and a recent high school graduate when she was first nominated to the team. She decided to attend school and race for Dartmouth College, while juggling her spot on the national squad.
“I was quite young and I decided to school anyway,” Brennan said in a phone interview. “I did a few years on the National Team but was pretty much just racing at school with the exception of Junior Worlds and U23s and camps and stuff. After 2009 the coaches decided that wasn’t the direction they wanted the team to go so they dropped all of us who were in school at the time.”
According to Brennan, her removal from the team was difficult because she felt as if the USST coaches had lost faith in her abilities. “At the time I was really bummed and really devastated by it. For whatever reason it’s hard not to feel that the governing body of skiing doesn’t believe in you,” she said.
“It took me a little while to get over that. I was really thankful that I was in school and I had a really good ski team and coaches that supported me and believed in my skiing regardless of what the direction the ski team was headed in. I kept plugging along.”
Although she debated to continue her skiing career after Dartmouth, Brennan ultimately decided to race professionally for APU. She said the “supportive and conducive environment for training” on the team helped her jump back into racing and eventually regain a spot on the team.
Brennan said that her return to the USST feels especially gratifying given her history. “It makes me extra proud to know that I didn’t give up and believed in myself and I made it back to where I know I should be,” she said.
In the upcoming season Brennan said she hopes to continue on the trajectory she started this past year — where she earned 16th in the 30 k and helped the U.S. ski to fourth in the women’s relay, both at World Championships. “I’d like to just continue on what I was doing last year. I finally figured out how the World Cup circuit works and I’d like to continue along those lines and work forward from there,” she said.
Brennan is planning to attend the two USST camps in Park City, but hopes to remain in Alaska for the majority of the training season to continue a program that has worked for her in the past.
Katharine Ogden and Julia Kern: Young and up to the challenge
Ogden has been one of the most successful junior athletes in the history of U.S. cross country skiing, so when she received a call from Matt Whitcomb over her spring break it seemed routine. It wasn’t, however, as Whitcomb told her she would be nominated for a spot on the USST D-team – a feat she had only dreamt of since she was a very young skier.
“I was kind of shocked because ever since I was little it has been a huge — I don’t know if you can call it a goal when you’re six — but it’s been something I wanted to do for my entire life,” Ogen explained in a phone interview. “It was just crazy, and while it really isn’t the U.S. Ski Team it’s the next step, which is really cool.”
It was a similar experience for fellow D-team member Kern, who received the call right before she was supposed to meet with her CSU teammates.
“I didn’t really know how to respond,” Kern said in a phone interview. “I was about to meet two of my teammates and it was weird because I couldn’t say anything. I was thrilled and honored to be nominated. It also kind of felt relieving in a way because it is a dream come true.”
The skiers, both 17 years old, will be the youngest members of the team. Kern will graduate from high school this year, while Ogden still has one year left at Stratton. Both had a momentous year on the international circuit, with Ogden claiming sixth in the skiathlon at Junior Worlds and Kern taking third in a mid-season Slavic Cup.
Kern said she is excited about her spot on the team because of the new opportunities that will be at her disposal. “It will offer more support and access to resources which is definitely a big key,” she said. “It’s just a great motivator.”
After Kern graduates this spring, she will make the transition from CSU to take a post-graduate year at Stratton, where she will train with Ogden and utilize the ski-oriented environment at the small Vermont school.
“This last year I was thinking about taking the year off and skiing, and since the year went well I wanted to see what skiing full time is like,” Kern said. “With the Stratton option I’ll have one of the best coaches I know, Sverre Caldwell, and also Pat O’brien. I’ll also still be able to stay in contact with Rob, my high school coach. The training group is so competitive with such a great group of girls and guys. I’m so close with Katharine and our strengths are opposite so we’ll have a lot to gain from each other.”
Ogden echoed Kern’s statements, adding that another top female junior skier, Lauren Jortberg from Boulder, Colo., would be joining the ranks at Stratton. “I’m so excited to have everyone coming. The more fast people around the better everyone gets, but also I’m just really close friends with Julia and Lauren and I’m really excited to spend more time with them and I think they’re going to be a great addition to our team.”
Both Kern and Ogden will travel to Park City for the upcoming rookie camp, where they will learn about the inner workings of the USST. From there, the two are looking forward to a season where they can call some of the best skiers in the world their teammates.
“It’s pretty incredible and motivating to be able to consider the U.S. Ski Team A and B team women my teammates because they are so incredibly strong,” Ogden said. “They’re some of the best in the world and that’s incredibly motivating.”
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.