Women ski hard in sprint races. They hit the heats hard out of the gates, and claw and tear themselves above their opponents all the way to the finish. Men tend to play touch and go with each other a little more, but not these women. With them, it’s all or nothing.
Some women don’t have to claw and bite their way to the top, at least not today. Holly Brooks (APU) showed us that she is here to stay, and here to cause trouble.
Brooks skied smart through the heats and showed no mercy down the finish lane in her 3-woman quarter final. In her A-final, Sadie Bjornsen (Methow Olympic Development) took an early lead out the start and up the first long climb, but Brooks slipped by and right away from the other women just as they ducked out of sight around the corner. From there to the finish, Brooks put the pedal down and never looked back.
“Sadie is a really good starter. You do not want to get boxed in on the first hill and want to look for holes on the downhills,” Brooks says.
When asked how much of today’s result was planned or how much of it was a surprise, Brooks explained that she had no idea what to expect.
“I haven’t done a sprint with heats in five years. It was my goal to get out in front and stay in front. It’s just like an interval set that lasts all day, so I wanted to pace myself.”
“Like I said before, it’s like an interval set, except the last interval is fast!”
Caitlin Compton came back from a set of relatively disappointing races last week in West Yellowstone to finish second overall today. She qualified first today, skied unchallenged in her quarterfinal and solid in her semi, then hung back to snatch second in the last few meters of her A final, passing Becca Rorabaugh (APU) at the finish line.
“I was happy after last week – I feel like I had more to give. Fish’s magic really helped me today.”
“Bryan Fish’s Magic” is more of a deciding factor for Compton these days than it has been in the past. While Compton has skied with CXC and trained under Bryan Fish in the past, the National Champion explained how recent mixups with her sponsors has left her more or less without support, and grateful for any help she’s receiving out here.
“I am paying for my own hotel, skis, and wax. I’m totally funding my own way here. It’s definitely tough. It’s awesome that CXC stepped up to the plate and helped me out. Fish helped with wax and I borrowed some skis from a friend of mine today.”
Very close behind Compton was Becca (The Wrecka) Rorabaugh, skiing with APU. Like Brooks, the young senior has been focusing on distance races and was not expecting to place so well in today’s sprint.
“I think I did pretty darn good. I had no idea how I’d do. I thought I’d move up the pack a bit. The tact was fun out there, and it was nice that there were no crashes in my heats.”
Rorabaugh has been focusing on longer events, and so hasn’t participated in the speed work and sprint time trials like APU’s sprint-specific skiers.
“I’m usually a distance skier, so I haven’t done any time trials. But this was the best durability I’ve felt during a sprint. Girls usually have less tactical racing than boys, but I liked the racing today.”
We continually see skiers that consider themselves better at distance events, but also win in the sprints. Garrott Kuzzy won today’s men’s sprint but is considering it a training run and looking forward to bigger events. Holly Brooks destroyed her field but also played the sprint like an interval session, playing conservative and racing against the big picture. Petter Northug is also…well, you get the point.
In this light, ski sprints look less like a specific event, and more like another place for all nordic skiers to test their fitness over a day of excitement. It’s exciting for the spectators, it’s punishing for the racers. Also, racers that are otherwise fit but ski poorly in the sprints have more energy to spare for the next day’s distance events. What will happen next?