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. Last 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.
When the U.S. Ski Team announced 16 skiers to its World Championship team, Ben Saxton’s name wasn’t on the list. However, USST Head Coach stressed that there was still a possibility for additions to the team with strong performances at the U23/Junior World Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan .
“Somebody needs to have a standout performance to demonstrate that they would ski faster than somebody who is already on the World Championship team,” Grover said to FasterSkier after the initial team announcement.
Saxton had the standout performance that Grover was looking for with a sixth place in the U23 classic sprint. Just days later he was named to the team. At the age of 21, the Stratton Mountain T2 skier enters the year’s most anticipated races as the youngest U.S. competitor.
After U23s in Almaty, Ben competed in the Slavic Cup freestyle sprint in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, which he handily won. He is now in Falun, Sweden preparing for his first race of Worlds.
1. What was the first thing you did when you found out you were named to the World Championships team?
“Email Pat [O’Brien], and fist-bump my tech Tim Baucom.”
2. What’s been the biggest performance of your career so far? Which race stands out the most and why?
“I’d have to say U23s this year. It’s the first really competitive race I’ve had against World Cup level competition, and it resulted in me being named to the WC team which is a dream come true.”
3. What are you most looking forward to at World Championships?
“Competing with the absolute best in the world. I’ve been watching guys like Emil [Jönsson] and [Ola] Hattestad for years, and now I’m starting the same race as them! I’m definitely hoping I get a chance to go head to head with them in heats.”
4. What’s your biggest motivation while racing?
“I just love going fast. There are few things that can match the primal joy that comes from racing as fast as possible and beating someone. I definitely don’t always beat people, but that feeling is worth chasing again and again.”
5. Which race(s) do you hope or plan to compete in?
“I’m slated to do the classic sprint, and that’s all. You never know what could happen in regards to the team sprint, but we have an incredibly strong group of sprinters coming over for World Cups and I believe that the older men will probably start the team sprint.”
6. If you could race the team sprint with anyone in the world, who would it be?
“Ooh that’s a tough one. My friend Lenny Valjas and I have always joked about doing a combo team sprint, I think that would be pretty awesome. Of course it would just be one of the coolest things ever to do a team sprint with Andy or Simi, since they’ve done so much to help me reach this point.”
7. Which World Cup skier would you least like to meet a “dark alley” (or the final 100 meters of a race)?
“I have nothing but respect for everyone in that field, but I’m not scared of anyone…more like excited.”
8. What will be your key to success in Falun?
“Staying relaxed, and taking care of the little things like I did all throughout U23s.”
9. Finish this sentence: If I made the podium at World Champs, I would ___________.
Did you ever see what Oystein Petterson did when he made his first podium?
10. Name someone who’s had a major influence on your skiing career.
“There are so many people that should be on this list, but first and foremost are my folks Paul and Julie who have given me every opportunity they could afford to throughout my skiing career. Without them there’s no way I ever could’ve started on this skiing career.”