I’m running around in tight little circles before the start of the team sprint final, and I’m excited, nervous, and ready to go all at once. I hear Cork finish brushing out my race skis and say “hey, you guys think it’s a little hot out here?” in a strangely theatrical voice. I look over and he’s rolling up his waxing pants to the knees…to show off the pair of relay sock he’s wearing!!! I burst out laughing and pointing out the socks to Grover and JP. “He’s wearing the socks! He’s wearing the socks!”
It’s funny the things our coaches and friends will do to keep us in the zone and let us know they’ve got our backs, and for Cork it was running around the tech pit zone in rolled up pants with striped socks to let me know he was all in and believed in us. For me, it’s baking banana bread for the service team to thank them for all their hard work (and feed them, since they’re running around all day!). It’s the girls team getting together to drink tea and laugh and hang out. It’s everyone standing still and letting me glitter their faces before each race.
Total belief has been the big theme of these race for me so far – it’s never been hard for me to believe in my techs and my team, but to finally believe in myself 100% as well and ski like I already know I have what it takes has been a game changer. I can’t tell you how many people (well meaning, I’m sure) have told me “I didn’t think you would be able to out-sprint Stina to the line!” or “you looked so tired, I didn’t think you had it in you”. Well. That’s nice, but you know what? I don’t care! I’ve gotten to the point now where I don’t care what other people think, because I know that I believe in myself, and that’s what matters at the end of the day. The people closest to me believe in me, and I know that and carry it with me in every race, and I don’t worry about the rest. They don’t hand out medals to people because of their past results, or to who “should” be winning the race. They give the medals to whomever skis the fastest that day, and if I believe that I have what it takes and ski with that belief in myself, then I’ve just given myself my best shot, instead of handing it over to someone else because somewhere deep inside me I believe that they’re faster than I am.
My Dad always asks me to tell him “the blood and guts” when we Skype after a race…the story behind the results that you can’t tell from reading a press release or watching the race on TV. So here’s the first three races of World Champs (the skate sprint, skiathlon and team sprint) from my eyes. Warning – it’s a long post! But then again, I have a lot to say. And the photos from our friends are awesome! Huge thanks to Rich Narum, Getty Images and Liz Arky!
The day of the skate sprint I had been so nervous, but I worked hard with my sports psychologist to stick to the things I can control and not let anything else stress me out. So my goals for the race focused around pacing and technique, and what I would say to myself between the rounds. My biggest goal was to set my sights on the podium so that I would keep my focus level high throughout the 6 hours that I would be at the venue. It can be a mistake to make the final and then be so psyched with making it that I almost lose that extra fight during the final itself. But skiing with the thought that I always had to finish top 2 every time I crossed that line even after I’d made the final was a big help to me. It let me believe that I really did belong in that fight for the podium because I’d earned my way there and my work wasn’t done yet!
In my quarterfinal I wanted to get out in front for a couple reasons – if I was able to not let it be a super fast heat that would be a service to my teammate Kikkan who was in a lucky loser spot, and since I was in quarterfinal 4 I didn’t want to expend way more energy than I needed to since I would have less rest before the semis. Which meant that I also had a chance to practice my slingshot out of the long downhill, and test how my skis were running. Thanks to our incredibly hard working staff, they were running GREAT and it was a big confidence booster for me to see that!
In my semifinal, I used a different tactic and tucked in behind the other girls as I didn’t want to lead (again, second semi = less rest before the final) and was able to use the slingshot to come into the final corner feeling ready to go. It was hard to find space, though! I almost got pinched into boards by the Finnish girl and then Ida of Sweden swung wide so I found myself in the farthest lane which still had snow in it. But I just kept pushing as hard as I could and that’s when I realized that while in the past the finishing lanes haven’t been a huge strength of mine, on that course and that day they were my biggest strength, and I needed to take that confidence in my fitness and speed with me into the final.
Before the final Sophie, Kikkan, Grover and Matt and I huddled up and we were talking about how we are each going to ski our own race as fast as we can, but also on a course with many pinch points not to step on a teammate. I said “everyone hands in the middle, USA on three?” and then Grover said “yeah! But quietly, we’re in the start zone!” and we smiled and did our team cheer and it was this awesome moment of “yeah, we know we have more work to do out there, but let’s take a second and celebrate the awesomeness that is having half the final be from our team!” And I don’t think that smile left my face until the start gun went off!
In the final I knew that Maiken would go from the start as fast as she could, so I did my best to maneuver myself into the right positions at the right time. I figured she’d go from the bottom of the long climb, so I pulled out and got around Falk but then slotted behind Ida for the rest of the climb. Ida had been absolutely killing it all day, but unfortunately for me she ran out of gas right before the steep pitch at the top and I got trapped behind her. I wanted to yell “go! GO! you can do it! Go!” because I couldn’t go until she did! But right after we turned the 180 corner at the top, I put in a few good skates and got around her halfway down the hill, and I turned my focus towards chasing down Maiken. Rounding the corner I knew she was too far away to catch, but I kept thinking “tight core, push hard, keep your arms in tight!” and saying my cue words over and over to myself. As I came down the lanes and realized there was nobody around me it sank in and I realized what had happened! And I was so, so proud of how Kikkan and Sophie skied. They were cool and collected and powerful and they did such an amazing job!
I went right to Maiken and gave her a huge hug, and it was so cool to see the happiness and joy on her face since she’s a friend and has been focusing on this race for so long. And the hugs from Sophie, Kikkan, our coaches and our staff were the best thing EVER! It was so cool to celebrate what we did together, and skiing down the lanes in the usual podium finisher celebration holding the flag up with Kikkan was such a great moment. We’d come from doing the team sprint together in 2013 to being on the podium together again in a skate sprint, and although it was an individual race, we all know we got there because of the power of team.
The media after that race was a huge whirlwind, and it was happy and exciting but also completely emotionally and mentally draining. I mean that in the best way, but you know – even GOOD stress is still a toll on the body! I just kept focusing on recovery and taking care of my body and trying to get as much rest as possible. My goal for Worlds was to compete in 5 of the 6 events, with the relays being my biggest targets, and I knew I could only be helpful to the team if I took care of myself and didn’t get tuckered out!
The skiathlon day I was feeling pumped and ready to go, and my body felt good too, but during warmup finding the right amount of kick for the classic half was quite tricky. We did the very best we could but I know that I didn’t make the right call and should have asked for even more kick than I did, and that’s totally on me, not the service team! But as a result of my indecision, I really struggled in the classic half of the skiathlon. I felt like I was bouncing my way up the hills and was losing so much time trying to figure out how to climb efficiently on the steep pitches on a tricky wax day. I should point out that a lot of other skiers were struggling with this too, so I wasn’t alone! But because I was planning to race 24 hours later, I had a difficult choice to make. Actually, you know what? It wasn’t that difficult, because I will always chose the team. Every time.
I knew I was so far out of the front packs in the race and it wasn’t going to come close to the race I knew I could have had, and I could either dig deep for a top-20 finish or stop right away and save everything I had for the team sprint with Sadie. I have had so much belief in Sadie and I wanted to be the leg 2 that could match her awesome striding in leg 1, so I knew it was the right choice to stop my own race and focus on recovery straight away. While it was my choice to make, it was really confidence-boosting to have the coaches say that they supported my decision and believed in me, and that they knew I was being smart. And it was motivating because I was determined to prove them right.
That afternoon Sadie and I went for a jog together and we were laughing about how we were going to be the dark horses that nobody saw coming. We decided (again, on the theme of believing in ourselves!) that we didn’t care who was favored for the podium – we wanted this and we’d trained our butts off for this race and we were going to go ski the race of our lives. And I think it’s a very powerful thing when you want someone else to succeed just as much as, if not more, than yourself. Because I never could have pushed so hard as I did in those final 100 meters of the race if it was just an individual race…but when I knew Sadie was waiting for me at the finish and that her result was tied to how I skied, it gave me a whole new gear! Many people have pointed out to me that most of my best races have come in team events, or in a race format usually only found in team events (5km skate). There’s a reason for that!
We were slotted into the second semifinal which was unfortunate, as we knew we’d get 25 minutes less rest and recovery time than the first semi. But, knowing that, our plan was to race as smart and conservatively as we could while securing a place in the final. Between each lap, we would pop our skis off as soon as possible and Cork would grab the skis and he and JP would brush them out and prep them for the next round…all within the 3 minutes it took for the other person to ski their leg! I’m just so darn impressed with our service crew.
We had Grover in the pit giving us information on how our heat was stacking up compared to the first semifinal (we expected it to be slower since it had started snowing in the first semi and kept going), and before the final leg I knew that we had to be top 4 to make the final. We didn’t need to be top 2 but 3rd would be ideal, and so when Stina charged up the herringbone hill I noticed and remembered that for the final, and when we came in 3rd we knew our place in the final was secured. There was definitely a moment of panic when I thought “did I just blow this for us?!? What if somehow our splits were wrong and I needed to be 1-2?” But we were ok, and then we focused on cooling down briefly, getting massage from our awesome MT and PT Steph Caverhill and Zuzana Rogers, and warming up again right after for the final!
Then we were off! I’m just so proud of how Sadie skied – she skied her heart out and charged up those climbs every time, but I’m even more impressed with how she skied the flat part after the climb. While many people’s energy flagged, she double poled with all her might and made ground every time, never giving up and always pushing! She skied like a champion.
For me, I focused on laps 1 and 2 on skiing conservatively and saving my energy, while also taking notes on everything around me. By the time I got tagged off for my final lap, I knew how my skis stacked up compared to all the other girls, I knew Stina was going to make her move on the herringbone hill and I knew who was going to get tired that I wouldn’t want to get stuck behind. And it played out the way I’d guessed! Stina came charging on the herringbone climb and I hopped out of the tracks into the herringbone lane early so I could get around Germany and Finland.
I had gone back and forth about 10 times on whether or not I wanted the extra bump of kick wax under my skis, and I finally decided to keep it as fast as possible because my strengths were the double pole sections and downhills. So while I lost a bit of time on the uphill, by the time we finished the flat section on top and started the descent back to the stadium I was tucked safely in Stina’s draft and ready for a slingshot. I moved left and got the inside lane so I was able to round the final turn into the finishing lanes ahead, which was also important since it had been snowing and I wanted my pick of lanes first. Then I just put my head down and double poled as hard and fast as I could!
The whole time I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I was going head to head with a sprint champion – I was only thinking “you CAN, you CAN, you CAN! Because Sadie needs you to!” and that was important for me. If I had thought about Stina at all I would have given her the advantage because I could have intimidated myself right out of a good result. But instead I focused on what I could do, not what anyone else has done before that exact moment. And I kept an eye out for when the red line in the snow approached so I knew when to throw my foot out, and as soon as crossed it I headed straight for Sadie’s arms! Good thing too, because I was too tired to stand anymore.
The emotions after that team sprint were some of the best ever. I was just so proud of the entire team and seeing the celebration and happiness in the faces of all our techs, coaches and service team was something I’m never going to forget!
All those guys worked so hard to make that race possible for Sadie and I, and we know that we have such a strong team of women who all could have also skied incredible legs. And then we saw the men’s race finish, and Erik and Simi skied to 5th place! They did such an awesome job and it was so cool to see them skiing so strong and powerful.
Now we have 2 races left – the 4×5 relay and the 30km. I’m super excited for both and I can’t wait to keep skiing my heart out! Wish us luck!