Going into this season I was targeting one week, World Junior Championships, where I wanted to be skiing at my fastest. Some people call this peaking, but I see it as everything falling into place at the right time…and this requires practice and some luck too. You can be peaking and yet, things do go quite as planned.
Over the past 3 World Junior Championships I have placed better each year, making steady improvements and that is what you want to see. This year I wasn’t afraid to set some big goals, leaving me with butterflies in my stomach the days leading up to the races…more than ever before. Sometimes setting challenging goals leaves you feeling like you have something to loose. I made the goal of getting top 10 in the sprint all the way back in September, but now it had added bonuses; a top 10 meant I would earn my first World Cup starts in Quebec, Canada at World Cup Finals later this season. This was something that hadn’t been known until 2 weeks before World Juniors because World Cup Finals got moved from Russia to Canada, allowing the U.S. with extra start spots.
For the first time, I had the confidence that I could compete with these girls and make it to the A final, a mentality that I lacked in the previous two years and had ultimately stopped me from moving through the rounds. I had everything going for me: I had already raced the course before, I knew how to race at altitude, and I was racing on home soil in front of family and friends. The month leading up hadn’t been ideal, but I was feeling really excited and confident I would do well.
The qualifier was my best yet, placing 11th with big time spreads, but I knew I had more in me. There was a quick turn around to quarterfinals since I was in quarterfinal 1 with the 1st place girl in the qualifier, who had won by 6 seconds to 2nd place…that is HUGE! My tactic was just to stick behind her the whole way. My tactic worked just how I wanted (which usually it doesn’t in heats) and the German, Russian and I battled it out, dropping the rest of the heat fast. We came into the last downhill together and I skied aggressive (something I have been working on) and pushed the German to the outside on the 180-degree turn. I ended up finishing 2nd in the heat, moving onto the semi finals with the fastest quarterfinal of the day.
I had long wait until the semi final, but thankfully we had out physical therapists on site to keep us loose. My tactic in the semi final was to not lead, but put myself in a good position before the downhill. I did exactly that, skiing in 6th until the last climb where I made moves up to 3rd/4th. On the downhill I was gliding up to the people in front of me so I switched tracks but a Norwegian switched tracks right in front of me and placed both her skis in one track and started to fall. As she fell, I switched tracks to avoid her but her pole flew into my lane, stopping my ski and sending my flying forward to a 25-foot penguin dive (yes, I seriously looked like a penguin sliding on my stomach). I quickly jumped to my feet, trying to convince myself I could make some miracle comeback but I looked up and realized they were long gone and I had zero momentum on the fastest part of the course. But I quickly glanced back and saw the Norwegian on the ground so I quickly started to ski to the finish because I knew I just had to beat one girl in my heat to get that top 10. Although frustrated, I was happy to achieve my goal and finish 9th on the day, qualifying for starts spot for World Cup Finals in Canada. At first I wasn’t too bummed because I skied exactly how I wanted to, but as people came up to me and said “you were in the perfect position”, it did sting a little because I knew I had a good shot at the A final, and maybe even more. However, crashes are part of the sprinting game and it is something you can’t control so I am closing that door and not getting wrapped up by the “what if’s”.
The sprint day left me hungry for more and I was really looking forward to kicking butt in the Skiathalon. I guess it was my unlucky week and I woke up sick two days later. I took every home remedy imaginable to miraculously kick the cold in 2 days, but I knew it would be a long shot. Although I was feeling a little better by the day of the Skiathalon day, I knew racing sick would produce a result I would not be happy with and I would risk not being able to race in the relay, which was one of my biggest goals for the week.
By relay day, I was feeling good enough to race, but not 100%. We (Hannah, Hailey, KO and I) had been dreaming of this moment for 2 years since Lake Placid training camp. We were walking through town, talking about how cool it would be to be on the same relay together at World Juniors, and even better, got a medal in our home country! We were walking through the Bass Outlet and found red and blue snowflake socks; we each bought a pair, 2 people bought blue and 2 people bought red. We tucked them away on our drawers, saving them for THE DAY…and it came! We each put on the blue snowflake socks on one leg, and the red stripped sock on the other (specially imported from the World Cup team relay sock collection), American flag tattoos, glitter, and our game face and we were ready to take the foreigners by storm! Hailey threw down a strong first leg, keeping the gap to first close. She tagged off to me in 8th. I was pretty disappointed with how I raced because 3.3km classic and relays are what I do best. I still did not feel healthy, but I knew every second would count so I fought hard to the end to tag off in 6th. Hannah was our third leg and threw down an aggressive leg, charging after all of those foreigners, moving us up to 4th. KO was our anchor leg, posting up the fastest split of the day and sleighing our team to a bronze medal…the first ever relay podium for the U.S. at World Juniors! There is no better feeling than standing on that podium with my best friends (we call ourselves the four musketeers J) after all of those hours working with each other in workouts or pushing each other in races.
Now after I have had a week to soak in the victories, reflect on the races, and go on some solo ski adventures in Park City, I am ready to close the door on the frustrations of the week and take away motivation from the victories. I am ready to open the next door and see what excitement it holds! I am excited to get my first World Cup starts in a month and I am looking forward to a good training and racing block! I was fortunate enough to be able to stay with the Adams family in Park City and train and do some testing at the COE.
Now off to Michigan for some SuperTour races!