“I have everything to gain, they have everything to lose,” says Kari Øyre Slind, a 24-year-old Norwegian development skier who recently earned a spot in the World Cup opener this coming weekend.
Two weekends ago in Beitostølen, Norway, Slind notched two consecutive podiums in the preseason International Ski Federation (FIS) races. That put her in a position to start the season in earnest on the World Cup. She’s raced in four individual Word Cups previously — most of which were sprints. On Nov. 13 and 14 in Beitostølen, she was second in the 7.5-kilometer freestyle and third in the 7.5 k classic behind national-team leaders Therese Johaug and Heidi Weng, respectively.
As a result, Slind was selected to help fill the Norwegian World Cup team’s distance quota. But she isn’t overly nervous for the upcoming World Cup, which starts Friday in Kuusamo, Finland.
“I felt like I skied a pretty average race, and I don’t dare to hope that I will rank as high in the World Cup opener,” Slind told FasterSkier in a recent phone interview. “I thought I would be the last of the girls on my team. My dryland time-trial performances and fall workouts haven’t exactly been outstanding this year.”
Slind, who is a part of the Norwegian Ski Association’s regional-development project Team Veidekke Trøndelag, pointed out that she rarely wins dryland races, but generally performs much better once the season starts.
“When we start ski racing, I often beat those who beat me in fall,” she said.
Slind has never been named to the World Cup team for distance events. In 2010, she was selected to her first international World Cup in Düsseldorf, Germany, where she placed 22nd in the skate sprint. Also that 2010/2011 season, she placed 22nd in a World Cup skate sprint in Drammen, Norway. This past March, she raced the Holmenkollen 30 k skate, where she was 33rd.
But those times, Slind was part of the national quota; the host nation receives a higher number of World Cup berths for the events they host.
So this is big for her, and while she’s excited about her two races so far, she remains grounded.
“I choose to think of the Beitostølen weekend as a performance out of the ordinary,” she said. “But now I know that I can perform with the best on a good day.”
Much to be Gained
Slind explains that the support she’s received from the national-team women during and after Beitostølen has been very encouraging. The fact that they are impressed with her means a lot to Slind.
“Therese said that she felt faster at the season opener this year than last year, and both Heidi and Astrid [Uhrenholdt Jacobsen] are skiers who aren’t exactly list fillers at the World Cup races,” Slind said. “So that means my race was really good. It would have been different if they said they didn’t feel like they raced well.”
Despite a good start to the season, Slind said she won’t set her heart on making additional World Cups later this season. She will race at the Lillehammer World Cup Dec. 6-7 in Norway, but for those races she was selected via the national quota.
“I have no expectations for placing at the World Cup opener in Finland,” she said. “I’m racing against a bunch of athletes who are at a really amazing performance level. I almost feel like if I had expectations, I would almost be trashing and downplaying the established World Cup athletes. I don’t really belong in that company.
“I’m going there to have a good time at the races, enjoy myself and just take things as they come,” she added. “I have everything to win and nothing to lose.”
Slind found her Beitostølen breakthrough especially surprising after a season where she mostly trained alone and did few hard workouts.
“I have focused on long workouts that border to recovery efforts rather than performance training, such as long mountain runs,” Slind said, noting that those are her favorite kind of workouts.
“When I can just run for hours, I train with the team during team camps, and sometimes with my sisters [Astrid and Silje Øyre Slind] when they are home, but I actually really like training alone,” she said. “Just being outside makes me so happy, seeing our beautiful surroundings right here where I live in Oppdal, and just allowing my thoughts to drift.”
Ownership and Balance
Previously a member of the Norwegian junior and then the development teams, Slind trained independently last season. She explained she truly enjoyed the freedom and flexibility of setting her own schedule and being in charge of her own training program. At the same time, she trained with the Trondheim-based university program Team NTNU.
“They were really welcoming and inclusive,” she said. “It was really nice to know that any time I wanted, I could join them for camps and that I had a place to stay and support for races during the winter. I’m very thankful for that.”
While Slind enjoys her own company and likes training alone, she also likes to socialize.
“Being a part of a team helps break up the routines. Actually, I really miss being a student,” she said. This spring, Slind earned her bachelor’s degree in exercise science.
“I loved studying, and I loved being a part of a student community where you can talk about different things than just training, racing and skiing,” she added.
She is considering pursuing a master’s in exercise science, but will take off this winter at least to train and race full time.
“I don’t feel like going to school while racing was a problem. Sure, there were times when you had a lot of work hanging over you, and that might have added to the total stress load, but for the most part I just really enjoyed my field of study and I was really excited to learn,” she said.
“But this is a point where I have a chance to take a season and try out what it’s like to just focus on skiing.”
Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.