Winter Triathlon World Champion!
It’s the kind of thing you want people to know about. You even wish the security screeners on the way home would say, “Mam, there are some strange shaped metal things in this backpack and we are going to have to take a closer look. Is that okay with you?” Actually, as large as a the title World Champion of Winter Triathlon seems, it also seems very small as many world class athletes are bringing home Olympic medals from Vancouver. However, given that World Championships were in Norway, the birth place of nordic sport, my performance there caught many by surprise. “An American winning a World Championship event which involves cross country skiing? Unheard of!”
Olympics or no Olympics, I was prepared to race against the best in the world! Exceptional athletes from countries where cross country skiing, mountain biking and running are very popular. Countries such as Russia, Finland, Sweden, Spain, Norway, Czech Republic, Italy, Austria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Liechtenstein and the USA are the most common countries that are represented. One of the competitors from Norway had just won a bronze and gold at XC World Junior Champs in Hinterzarten, Germany and last years Winter Tri Champ was also on hand to defend her title.
In Eidsvoll, Norway the opening ceremonies for our championships were held on the same day as those of the Olympics. As my triathlon coach and friend Neal Henderson played the Olympic Theme Song as loud as his blackberry could, we proudly marched with our nation’s flag, I had butterflies in my stomach and a huge swell of passion knowing that I too was on a quest to do my best.
As a three time competitor in the ITU Winter Triathlon World Championships with a previous 6th and 3rd place, I certainly knew the task at hand. This year I had already raced at European Champs where excluding the disaster of 8km’s of mountain biking on a flat front tire, I could have won by minutes. I knew I was fit and hungry for the victory. During the week leading into the race I had a lot of stress on my plate from overcoming losing Euro Champs to dealing with some things on the home front with Sharbel over skype. I was not resting very well and knew that I would just have to trust in my preparedness to pull this off. I had, in terms of training, already put all the money in the bank and was just waiting to spend it! It does take a perfect race at this level to take that top step on the podium and I was sure I could do it.
Photos by Janos Schmidt / ITU Media
The race day weather was nice and crisp with some crazy high humidity in the snow and bright sun overhead. We structured our skis, deflated our tires (we run very low pressure) and readied all of our equipment in the transition zone. On a perfect day my teammate Emma would also be challenging for a place on the podium as she had proven she could do. This was going to be so exciting. Emma was called to the line first as leader of the World Cup due to her podiums in Euro and US Champs. Due to my disaster the weekend before I had fallen into the second place on the overall World Cup and was called to the line after her. “Let’s get this thing started” was going through my head perpetually. I did my signature Sign of the Cross and then beeeeepppppp, went the starters air horn.
I impulsively jumped from the line already one stride ahead of the others. I was on a mission! I settled in on the run with Emma for part of the first lap before we were overtaken by last year’s champion, Carina Wasle of Austria. She is a notoriously great runner and was now at the helm. I kept up stride for stride as the course dove off the road and down into the forest on a nordic trail. The footing was slippery and I was thinking of staying light on my feet. Normally the whole run is on trails, but this had an equal share of snow packed roads which was brutal on my body. We ran a total of 6 kilometers over the three laps. Eventually, it was me chasing down Emma. We had promised to work together as teammates when and where possible. This was shaping up great. I ran into transition in second place.
Photo by Janos Schmidt / ITU Media
With a quick change of equipment I was out on to the course rolling on my bike. I rode hard and grabbed Emma’s wheel for a minute before I took the lead. We had a nice lead of about 15 sec. on the rest of the field. The bike is always tricky in winter triathlon. With the correct tires and tire pressure however, the bike portion can be to your great advantage. Emma and I controlled the race for about a lap before I noticed I was starting to gap her. I rode hard and thought I was the only one with the reins when all of a sudden I realized people were cheering the very tall Russian, Yulia, who was now right behind me. At the beginning of lap three she over took me and I gritted my teeth and dug so deep to stay with her on the short road portion. We rode together for a lap and a half with her in the front and me drafting and trying to hang on. I watched three times as her coaches fed her drinks at illegal places on the course. It fueled my desire to beat her, fair and square. On a technical little uphill section she bobbled and I overtook her and never saw her again. I raced into transition in the lead after 10km.
I transitioned from the bike to skis rapidly and won this equipment exchange. It helps that I’ve put on ski boots thousands of times! I skated hard out of the stadium and knew that the nordic course was my safe haven. I could ski with anyone there and should easily hold my lead if not increase it. I settled in, letting my body adjust to the new movements of glide and stride, carefully keeping my balance. We were on course or 3 laps totaling 8km’s. I skied through the open, hilly field which comprised the largest part of the course, always watching to see the others. By two laps I couldn’t see anyone on this part of the course with me. I skied well, but didn’t have to go very hard and wanted to save some for the relay the next day. I cruised through the final narrow stretch of the woods and popped out in to the stadium to the yelling of the spectators. I V2’d hard and was super excited to get to THAT finish line. I almost forgot to grab the US flag waiting for me. I barely snagged it and skied slowly down the finishing stretch waving it wildly. I was wrapped in the thick orange ITU ribbon around my waist and had just become the World Champion! Wow! I made another Sign of the Cross closing out my incredible race. It was overwhelming to realize I had just added another World Championship title to my list of accomplishments. Praise God!
Photo by Janos Schmidt / ITU Media
Before things got too exciting with all the hugs and congratulations I made a point to tell my coach about the cheating Russian so he could protest against her. His testimony was all the more proven by the Austrian Team who protested with photo evidence. Yulia was disqualified. What a price to pay for cheating!
I was escorted by a doping control officer who walked me through the process to prove I’m a clean athlete. After this I hurried out to watch the men’s race. It is so fun to cheer on teammates. Each guy really fired it up in the race. No podiums or medals, but they chalked up even more experience and we can expect great things in their future.
After the men’s race they held the podium ceremony. I scaled to the top after congratulating silver from Russia and bronze from Norway. With flowers in hand and medal around my neck I could feel the emotions welling up inside me as I prepared to listen to my first United States Anthem on an international podium. Then, over the loud speaker they announced that they didn’t have it on their CD and promptly apologized. After all, I was the first non-European to win the event in its 14 year history. I guess I took them by surprise. However, that didn’t keep me from belting it out from the top of the podium as my teammates and coaches joined in. I stayed on that top step with hand over heart until the very last note even though the Russian and Norwegian had already left my side. It was amazing in it’s own way.
The next day the US women put it all together for the relay as well. My teammates Emma Garrard and Heather Best started strong to gave us a nice lead. Heather tagged off to me as the anchor leg of the relay and I was able to increase the lead substantially and bring home the gold over Norway by 4 minutes and 26 seconds. Outstanding! Two golds in as many days.
After one day at home, the whole family has joined me for my next ski trip to the Midwest. We are driving out to Madison, Wisconsin for this weekend’s Madison Capitol Sprints. Both Saturday and Sunday I will be racing in the streets around the capital building on snow that is trucked in and groomed for the race. Next weekend we will be in Hayward, WI for the American Birkebeiner where I intend to defend my title from last year. Stay tuned for more news from the traveling Dussaultskis.