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.
Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess entered the 2014/2015 season with a major goal: to make the World Championships team by setting himself apart from the U.S. men’s sprint field. He did just that with two convincing sprint national titles in both the classic and freestyle competitions. When the team was announced in late January, his results appeared to do the trick as the 28-year-old Bend Endurance Academy skier was selected to the now-17-member team.
“This year everything has been geared toward Word Championships so this is a stepping-stone,” he said after his initial classic-sprint victory on Jan. 6. “The goal was to put myself in a position to win and see if I can do it. Everything worked out really well and I’m excited. Obviously I can’t control if I go to World Championships, but I know that the way we set up the training, we are on the upswing and things will continue to rise in February.”
Just days before World Championships, Blackhorse-von Jess finished 59th in the Östersund World Cup classic sprint. He will look to improve upon that result in Falun, where he said he hopes for a top-30 finish.
1. What was the first thing you did when you found out you were named to the World Championships team?
“Unofficially? Started booking tickets and figuring out travel/housing arrangements. The logistics can be a little complicated – and expensive. Officially? Sat in my char in the office looking like a fool with a massive grin on my face and high-fived my coach!”
2. What’s been the biggest performance of your career so far? What one race stands out the most and why?
“Winning my first U.S. National Sprint Championship in Solider Hollow in 2013. It had all the elements of everything I think of racing to be – among many other things I didn’t ‘feel’ great, the course wasn’t ‘good for me,’ and I just kept my head on right and put myself together in the seconds before the gun went off and found a way to win. Then, afterwards, the outpouring of genuine enthusiasm and support from the entire ski world… It was overwhelming. The 11 hour drive home that night whizzed by. It was one of the coolest experiences of my ski racing career.”
3. What are you most looking forward to at World Championships?
“Racing!! I’m sure the whole experience will be unreal, and as Pete Vordenberg told me: ‘Don’t forget to enjoy the moment.’ But I race on the second day of the championships. After that I can soak in the rest of it. Until that day though – I’m focused on getting to that starting line as fast and prepared as possible – and then throwing down!”
4. What’s your biggest motivation while racing?
“Getting to the finish line as fast as possible, but to do that I guess it’s managing little goals along the way: can I ski fluidly over this section and transition powerfully into that section, find little bits of speed here, and there. And when it’s time to quit holding back and give 100% can I ski just a bit smoother? Find a bit more power? Glide a little longer? Strike a little harder? When you ask if I had a good race or a bad race, I think about those little details, not the result on the board.”
5. Which race(s) do you hope or plan to compete in?
6. If you could race the team sprint with anyone in the world, who would it be?
“Sam Naney, a man who has been a teammate for a long, long time and who now coaches Momentum Northwest. A critical member of ‘The Band’ (Husaby, Scott Johnston, Naney and myself), the Team Sprint is the one event we never did together and it would have been an absolute blast. And I think we would have kicked serious ass.”
7. Which world cup skier would you least like to meet in a dark alley (or the final 100 meters of a race)?
“I think most people would say Petukhov because he’s kind of a scary looking dude, but then he smiles and he just looks like such a nice guy. That Teichmann guy though. He’d probably beat you up AND take your lunch money.”
8. What will be your key to success in Falun?
“Skiing my own race. I have some personal keys to success that have been working out pretty well for me back home… so not losing sight of that and finding a way to just ski as fast as I can and believing that’s not only fast enough, but the fastest way to race.”
9. Finish this sentence: If I made the podium at World Champs __________.
“I’d have to watch the video afterwards because I’m not sure I’d even remember what happened – just the emotions of the moment. Fair bet to say that I’d get a hell of a hug from my coach and a kiss or two from my girlfriend (both of whom will be there), though!”
10. Name a person who’s had a major influence on your skiing career.
“You can’t sum this one up in a single name. There’s no doubt that Ben Husaby has been the pivotal figure in my ski racing career – a coach, mentor, guide, friend… a walking, living lesson in the do’s (and don’ts) of ski racing from a man who’s done all of this himself – and been with me for over a decade.
“But without my parents there would be no ski career. My mom and my step-dad Roger supported me in so many ways from the first day I decided to pursue skiing and have never stopped being there. Of course the rest of my family — a good-will (and financially supportive) machine without which the sport would be incredibly difficult to pursue at this level. And the other athletes and coaches who have, and continue to, mold and shape my experience.
“The list is extensive, but my training and racing partners, coaches, teammates and friends are all critical components of my experience. Thanks to all of them for the guidance, support, ideas, but mostly for the good times, because at the end of the day, if you aren’t ‘having a good time all the time’ (BEA team rule #1), then you’re missing the point.”