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Archive for March, 2010

World Cup Finals Report

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Just wrapped up the World Cup season this past week with the World Cup Finals in Sweden, a mini-tour with 4 races in 5 days.

Race #1 was a classic sprint on the steps of the Royal Palace in downtown Stockholm. I snuck into the rounds with a 27th place finish in the prelim. In the quarters I skied a strong race and narrowly missed advancing to the semis. I was the first “unlucky loser” this time for 15th place.

Race #2 moved on to Falun for a 2.5km classic prologue up and down the infamous Modarbocken (translation “murder hill”). I thought I felt pretty good during the race but was disappointed with 36th place, 1:09 out.

Race #3 was a 10km duathlon. It was a hot, sunny and slushy day. I skied solid through the classic portion and really came on strong in the skate to finish 14th with the 6th fastest skate leg. By far and away my best duathlon ever!

Race #4 was a 10km skate handicap start based off the total time from the whole tour. The weather changed again, with heavy snowfall during the race making for soft and slow conditions. I latched on to a few racers right from the start and hung in the pack over the first lap. On the 2nd lap I made an attack again on the murder hill and was able to break up the train. I had a good duel with Marianna Longa to the finish, where she got me by a ski length. I finished 17th overall, and 17th fastest for the day.

Last year I finished 50th in the finals, so to finish 17th this year was an exciting improvement!!

Now I’m in Fort Kent, Maine for the final races of the US season. We kick off tomorrow with a 30km skate mass-start. It’s snowing as I write this, so it’s going to be interesting!!

The Full Story:

The 2009-2010 World Cup season wrapped up this past week with the World Cup Finals in Sweden. Contested in the “mini-tour” format, we did 4 races in 5 days.

The first race of the series was a classic sprint carried out on snow poured over the steps of the Royal Palace in downtown Stockholm. We actually got the opportunity to preview the course this year the day before. I put in almost an hour of the most urban cross-country ski training I’ve ever done. The next day’s race was fast-paced and exciting.

In the qualifying round, despite slipping a bit on the course’s two uphills, I was able to sneak into the rounds in 27th position. In my quarterfinal heat I got off to a good start and was able to hang up in the top 3 for most of the race. Coming up the final gradual climb I was charging hard and almost snuck into the top 2. Unfortunately a funny bobble in the final meters caused me to lunge too early and I narrowly missed advancing to the semis as a lucky loser. I was the first “unlucky” loser of the race for 15th place.

Immediately after the conclusion of the sprint race, we all hoped on a bus for a 3 hour ride to Falun. We then got a short rest day before the next three days of consecutive competition.

The next race was a 2.5km prologue, in the classic style, up and down a hill known as the Modarbocken, or “murder hill”. It’s a beast of a climb! I felt pretty energetic in the warm-up and had high expectations for a good finish. It was pretty warm and it began to rain just before the start.

My plan was to carry a fast pace out of the start, and to build speed as I went up the climb. I felt right on as I made my way out of the stadium and by halfway up the hill I was still feeling pretty good. About 2/3rds of the way up however, the hard effort really set in, especially as I transitioned to a steep herring-bone section. I had to fight through the fatigue over the top.

As I came back down off the fast decent, I caught the skier that had started 1-minute ahead of me, Marte Kristopherson. I yelled “hup” several times but she wouldn’t get out of the track. I tried to pass, but the snow outside of the track was much slower and I couldn’t get by. I kept yelling “hup” until she did finally move, but it had definitely cost me some time. I ended up a disappointing 36th place, 1:09 back. The tough part was, I couldn’t really pinpoint where I had lost all that time. The effort had felt like a decent performance. It was a little concerning with two races still to come.

The next day the clouds cleared away and the sun came out. We didn’t race until 1pm, so by the time we got out there, the snow had been baking for several hours and the tracks were slow!! This race would be a 5km + 5km duathlon.

The pace was fast and the pack was chaotic as usual heading out onto the first few kilometers. I found a good rhythm in the middle of the pack, and gradually worked my way into a the top 30 by the end of the classic leg. I had a fast transition and was able to latch onto a few skiers that had been slightly ahead of me.

The first few strides on my skate skis, I almost fell on my face it was so slow. After a few hundred meters I could tell my legs were still feeling good and I started to move up.

Approaching the Modarbocken, I worked my way to the front of the train I was in so that I could have clear snow ahead to make an attack. When I hit the hill, I ramped up the tempo and started catching people like crazy. Halfway up the hill I was back in the mix but the trail was clogged. I danced from side to side, trying to find an opening to move up but it was pretty blocked. Just over the steepest part, I reverted to double-poling to get past some tiring racers. It was amazing to go past skiers like Saarinen and Kowalczyk.

I caught up to Smigun over the top of the hill just as she caught Olsson and Haag. I followed Smigun down into the stadium and was trying to decide whether to go around when Olsson came out of the draft and then Kowalczyk. So I came around the final turn in the back of the train. The finish stretch turned sharply upward just before the line, and I made one final attempt to pass. But Smigun stepped out in front of me and I had to try and dive through her to lunge for the line. It ended up being a photo finish. I got Olsson by .1 for 14th place.

It felt so good to lay in the snow. I was so hot from racing in the sun and it felt good to have laid down such a great race. I ended up having the 6th fastest skate leg of the day, which is usually when I start to fade in these types of races. A new distance PR for sure!

With that great pursuit race under my belt, I was anxious for the final race, a 10km skate handicap start based on your overall time.

The weather changed again for the third day in a row and snow began to fall. By race time at 1pm, a couple inches had accumulated, making the already soft snow even softer and slower. I started in 16th position, 3 minutes and 15 seconds back but right around several other top racers. We quickly banded together in a train for our 2 trips around the 5km course.

For the first lap, I just focused on matching the pace of those just ahead and staying relaxed where possible. When we hit the Modarbocken for the first time, the pace accelerated, but I was able to match the new speed and hold my place in the train. The pace was hard but surprisingly manageable.

Midway through the 2nd lap I was still feeling pretty good. So again, when we approached the Mordarbocken, I worked my way to the front of the train and attacked when we hit the climb. It didn’t feel quite as effortless as the day before, but I was able to carry a good tempo and pull away from some of the skiers behind.

There was one more climb, part way up the Mordarbocken, and a Russian caught me there. I tried to hang on but she had a little more zip in her step. Marianna Longa had stayed with me up the climb and was hanging right behind me. As we came around the final turn, she pulled out beside me and we had a duel to the finish. She got a little edge on me across the flat. I tried to come back up the last rise, but she remained strong. I crossed just behind her for 17th place. It was also the 17th fastest time of the day. Another really solid distance race for me. Last year I finished 50th in the finals, so to finish 17th this year was an exciting improvement.

With my World Cup finals concluded, I stayed out at the venue to watch the men’s race. The snow continued to fall heavily making the course even more soft and knarly. If someone was just watching cross-country ski racing for the first time, they wouldn’t have been too impressed.

After the men’s race concluded, they held awards for the overall World Cup standings and sprint and distance cups. Andy Newell finished 4th in the overall sprint rankings, so I was there to cheer him on and take some photos. Watching those guys stand up on that podium definitely made me want to be there someday soon!!

The rest of the day was a whirlwind of packing up, saying goodbye and finishing off the night with some dancing and celebrating with all the World Cup folks. It was great to let loose and dance with the best skiers in the world! Although it did make for a short night, Andy and I had to catch a shuttle to the airport at 4am.

We’ve since made our way to Fort Kent, Maine for the US Distance Championships and the SuperTour finals. I am hoping to just keep the energy rolling as I attempt another four races in five days. We kick it off with the 30km skate tomorrow!!

Podium in Holmenkollen!

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

Cliff Notes:

In Oslo, Norway this week for World Cup competitions that are a preview for next year’s World Championships at the newly remodeled Holmenkollen ski arena (said to be the 3rd most widely recognized sports area in the world).

On Thursday I raced a classic sprint on the city streets of Drammen. I continued to have tough luck getting into the rounds and missed qualifying by a second, finishing 34th. Although disappointed, I quickly put that race behind me and focused on preparing for Sunday’s skate sprint. (I opted to sit out Saturday’s 30km).

Needing points to qualify for the World Cup finals in Sweden and wanting to put in a good showing in my best event, I went into the skate sprint with a lot of expectations. My good form continued from the Olympics and I was able to lay down a solid 8th place in qualifying.

During the quarters and semis, I was able to ski up near the front and put on strong surges over the final few hundred meters to make it through to the Final. I felt better and better as the day went on.

In the final I led briefly out of the stadium before tucking in behind Kowalczyk for the first half of the course. I had a brief scare on the big climb when I got tripped up but thankfully did not go down and was able to maintain my position. I took the lead going up the final hill and held the front spot coming into the final stretch. Marit Bjorgen however, was able to get me with a surprise attack and I responded too late. She took the win and I got the silver.

It was great to be back on the podium, contributing to the momentum from Andy Newell’s third place in Drammen. A big thanks goes out to our coaches and wax techs that provided great skis for me.

I earned enough points to qualify for the World Cup finals in Sweden this week. So I’m headed to Stockholm tomorrow for Wednesday’s classic sprint at the Royal Palace.

——————-

The Full Story:

Skate sprints don’t come along too often on the World Cup, so I get pretty excited when they do! My last World Cup skate sprint was back in Davos in December and it was hard to imagine then that I would have to wait three months for my next shot!

I had good momentum coming off the Olympics, where I came into peak shape at just the right time and hit all my goals. Peaks however can be tricky and it was hard to know how long the top form would last. I hoped it would at least continue for the three weeks I had left on the World Cup.

A solid 24th place result in the 15km duathlon in Lahti was encouraging. But then a few days later, not qualifying in the Drammen sprint was a big disappointment and my confidence was tested. To top it off, I was still sitting just outside of the top 50 in the overall World Cup rankings, which I needed to be in to move on to the World Cup finals in Falun, Sweden. I needed a good performance on Sunday for many reasons.

I chose to sit out Saturday’s mass-start 30km skate race in order to be rested and ready for Sunday’s sprint. Next year’s World Championships will be contested on the courses that we are racing this weekend and it was going to be important to gain as much experience and confidence on the sprint course as possible.

In the two days leading into the race, I had a chance to do some solid workouts on the sprint course. I didn’t feel particularly amazing during my intervals but I was able to get a good feel for how the course flowed and where the important sections would be. It was a surprisingly hard course because even though there were no really big climbs, there was no good chances to rest either. You had to work every section.

The qualifying round didn’t start until 1:30pm, so it was a long anxious wait hanging out at the hotel all morning. I ate breakfast twice and went for a short jog to stay loose. It was a relief to finally get to the venue just before noon to start warming up.

The final Nordic Combined World Cup race of the season was underway when we arrived, so we weren’t allowed to warm-up on the course until the race was finished. I grabbed some warm-up skis and jogged the 600m to the warm-up track through thongs of fans making their way into the stadium. I felt heavy from all the nervous energy and spent the first twenty minutes coaxing myself up to pace.

When the course finally did open, about 35 minutes before the start, I met up with Peter to test skis. The snow was drastically different on certain sections of the course and it took some careful attention to select the right pair.

My warm-up went pretty well, although it never really felt very good. I did one moderately hard lap around the course and then picked different 30-45 second sections to ski at race pace. Hot and warm, I headed back to the wax cabin to change into my race top.

Somehow I got a little behind on my pre-race schedule and ended up running to the start a little flustered. On my way, I ducked in front of this group of guys just as one of them was popping the cork off a shaken bottle of champagne. It turned out to be the Finnish Nordic Combined team that was celebrating their successful end of the season. The cork narrowly missed my head but the champagne ended up spraying over my face as I ran by. I figured that was a good luck omen!

After a long and eager wait it was great to finally get on course and get the racing started! I carried good speed up and out of the stadium and around the first turn. Then I ducked down the course’s only real downhill and burst onto the backside climb. I jump skated aggressively up the hill because I knew this would be a good place for me to make time.

Coming over the top the effort was starting to sink in but I was still able to make crisp movements. There was a headwind along the next stretch and I fought my way into it and down into the stadium. Gliding down the gradual decent it was tempting to want to sit in a tuck, but I knew I had to keep free skating forcefully.

My momentum carried me partway up the final climb and I V2’d for a couple big strides before switching back to a jump skate. This hill had been scraped down to ice in some sections, so I had to be light on my feet to sift through the sugar and keep from slipping.

I hit the headwind again going across the top of the biathlon range and my body was really burning from the effort. I could see the finish line. I dropped down and sailed up and over the final bridge and into the last stretch. I free-skated aggressively for a few strides and then rose up into an overspeed V2-alternate. Then I slid my foot across the line for 8th position, 3 seconds out of the lead.

While it was a really hard effort, the type where you think to yourself “how can I possibly do that three more times today?” My legs were like wood, my mouth was dry and every time I tried to clear my throat I would gag and almost throw-up. Yet it was great to get the first round done, especially knowing that I felt strong. Usually when I qualify in the top 10, I know I’m in good form.

I slowly jogged a cool-down and then found an open spot in the VIP room to relax until it was time for the finals. It was a pretty crowded room. I casually nibbled on a banana and snacked on some PowerBar Gel Blasts and semi-consciously watched the jumping competition on TV. After about an hour, it was time to get going again.

8th qualifying position put me in the 5th women’s quarterfinal. This was good because I could watch the other heats go and examine different strategies at work. I noticed that most of those leading off the final hill were able to advance. So I decided my strategy would be to get a fast start and try to get into the top one or two spots from the beginning.

Even though the sun was out and the air temperature was balmy, a wind had really picked up and it was quite chilly standing in the start gates. The starter called us to our positions and I crouched waiting for the gun. I reacted well and got off the line quickly. I stayed in a low jump skate almost until the end of the pine boughs and then opened up into a quick V2.

I was able to take the lead going up the first hill and as soon as I felt everyone settle into position behind me I backed off the pace just slightly. I accelerated going into the downhill and powered into the backside climb and skated just hard enough to stay in front. I relaxed a bit across the next flat and then surged going down into the stadium.

Halfway down the stretch I could feel someone coming up to my left so I accelerated to counter and stayed in front. I jump skated quickly up the icy steep hill and relaxed a bit coming over the biathlon range. Then I accelerated hard around the final turn and stayed low going into the compression bump over the bridge. I tucked for a couple seconds and then began free skating down the finish lanes. Korosteleva from Russia made a surge on the left and got up next to me, but I crossed the line safely in 2nd and moved on to the semi-finals. The effort was pretty hard but manageable. One down, two to go!

I had about 30 minutes until my semi-final heat so I skied for a few minutes to clear out my legs and then grabbed an extra jacket and headed down into the stadium. I was psyched to see my teammate Andy Newell pull a sweet move off the bridge, moving from 4th into 2nd to advance to the semis.

In my semi-final round I got off to a good start and was able to tuck in behind Hanna Falk of Sweden as we left the stadium. I followed her up the big climb. The pace was just right. Fast enough to keep the others from making attacks but still manageable.

As we came down into the stadium however, Vesna Fabian of Slovenia came free skating by on the right. Falk responded a little late and by the time we hit the steep icy slope, the others had come surging up as well. I was trapped behind Falk dropping back to forth. I almost panicked but then was able to get around as we went along the flat above the biathlon range where I got back into 2nd going around the final turn and into the finish. Korosteleva had another strong finish and we both advanced to the final.

There was only about 10 minutes to rest by the time I got back to the start area and put my warm-ups on. I jogged around to stay loose. Despite having three rounds in my legs already, I was feeling better and better as the day went on. I was psyched to lay it down in the final.

When we lined up for the start the announcer gave each one of us an introduction. There were an estimated 30,000 spectators on hand and while it wasn’t as big as Bjorgen’s, I got a pretty good cheer.

I started on the far left lane to the inside. I knew I was going to need a good start to keep from getting cut-off. I crouched for the gun once more and reacted instantly when I heard the crack!

I sprinted hard for the first 100m to get out front. As we neared the top of the first rise, Falk was to my left but she didn’t challenge for the lead. I thought to myself, “okay, I’ll lead if I have to.” I took the lead going around the first corner but eased back on the pace a bit. Just then, Kowalczyk came powering by on my right and took the lead. I responded quickly and tucked in behind her on the next downhill. This was perfect; I could follow Kowalczyk and save energy for an attack in the 2nd half.

Sprinting up the big climb, Kowalczyk was jump skating at a pretty good pace, but I pulled over to the right to defend my position. For a few seconds I contemplated passing her and going for a break. Falk tried to come up on the left side. Then someone stepped on my ski and I got partly spun sideways. There was a split second of panic but I had so much momentum I was able to regain my stride quickly and tuck back in 2nd behind Kowalczyk over the top of the hill. I continued to play defense and draft behind Kowalczyk across the next flat.

As we headed down the hill into the stadium, I stayed behind for just a few seconds and then tried to get a slingshot out of the draft, free-skating hard to take the lead. I got open snow up the steep icy climb and jump skated my way to the front. I sprinted hard but tried to vary my pace across the flat and then made a big surge going around the final turn. I made it up and over the bridge and sailed into the final stretch with the lead.

This time I didn’t tuck; I went straight into free skating aggressively as I could. Suddenly, with just 100m to go, a dark shadow came bursting up next to me on the right. It was Bjorgen. She was madly V2’ing while I was still free skating. It took me a second to respond and get up on to my poles. By then her momentum was too great and she got a couple meters on me. Just before crossing the finish line another shadow came up on the right. It was Korosteleva charging hard. But I was able to stick my foot out and hold 2nd place. The crowd was roaring.

Immediately, Bjorgen came over to me and we exchanged handshakes and then also with Korosteleva. We were all happy to have a great finish to hard day. I was super psyched and relieved to be back on the podium. Grover came running up and gave me a big hug. It feels good to have a successful result like this not just for me but also for the team. I have a great team behind me and they did a wonderful job with the skis and support to make this podium finish possible. It was great to share it with everyone.

I changed into dry clothes there in the finish area and watched the men’s final. Then we did a flower ceremony, a press conference and a quick stop in doping control. Thankfully I was plenty hydrated!

By the time I got back to the wax cabin, everyone was chanting and celebrating and in a really good mood. I shared my story about getting sprayed in the face with champagne earlier in the day and we joked about making that a new pre-race ritual.

Later that evening all of the US, Canadian and Norwegian team members were invited to the US Ambassador’s house for a reception. US Ambassador Barry White gave a welcome speech and then each team had a representative say a little something. Devon Kershaw gave a nice speech on behalf of the Canadians and Billy Demong represented us well, even including a little Norwegian at the end of his talk. It was a great chance to celebrate a good week of racing and maybe recruit a few more fans for cross-country skiing!

Taking 2nd place at this Holmenkollen World Cup sprint was important in so many ways. Firstly, it was a good buoy to my confidence and motivation for the future. It feels good to be a true contender for the win. Especially since the Olympic sprint was classic, it’s nice to know I would have been in there if it had been skate! Secondly, it was sweet to put down a good result and gather a bunch of experience in preparation for next year’s World Championships. And lastly, I needed a good result to get enough points to qualify for the finals in Falun this next week.

So now I head off to Stockholm for the start of the World Cup finals. It will be a classic sprint there on Wednesday, with the course laid out over the steps of the Royal Palace. Then on Friday we’ll be in Falun for three days of racing back to back in the form of a mini-tour.

Thanks for tuning in!!

Cheers,

Kikkan

2010 Olympic Review

Friday, March 5th, 2010

What a whirlwind the last few weeks have been! It’s taken me a bit to unwind and write down my thoughts.  This isn’t everything I could possibly say, but since a report is already long overdue, here is a taste of my 2010 Olympic experience…

When I first got serious about cross-country ski racing, I pictured 2010 as the first Olympics where I expected to be a medal contender. Those expectations might have been correct, had it not been for a little technique change in my best event.  2010 would be a classic sprint, not my favored skate technique, so I had to readjust my goals coming into these Olympics. While a medal was not out of the realm of possibility, I knew a successful games would include a top 12 in the classic sprint and a top six in the skate team sprint.

My season was focused on skiing fastest in February.  Everything seemed to be going according to plan except for less than ideal results in Canmore the week before the opening ceremonies.  It took a lot of mental strength and confidence to ignore the results and feelings from Canmore, and stay positive that everything would come together in Whistler.

The first few days at the Olympics were busy and trying as well.  During team uniforming they ran out of smaller women’s sizes in all the Polo stuff, which put me in a bad mood.  The weather was challenging at the venue and the Opening Ceremonies day was a long haul.  Yet, I could feel my peak form coming up during training (a complete 180 from Canmore), and that got me excited.

I decided to sit out the opening 10km skate race in order to stay fresh and rested for the sprint, which also gave me a chance to do a few more key workouts on the sprint course.

While the day before the sprint was pretty nasty weather-wise and I didn’t feel like a total rock star during my intervals, race day was a different story.  The sun came out and the conditions were awesome.  I didn’t feel that great during my warm-up but when I got on course, I felt more fresh and strong than I had all season, and opened up the day with a solid 10th place in qualifying.

In the quarterfinals, Bib 1, Marit Bjorgen, took the pace out hard and left the rest of us trying to keep up.  The pack strung out and I was in fourth coming into the stadium. Determined to give it everything all way to the line, I was able to move up one spot for 3rd before the finish. Since only the top two move on, I thought my day was done.  However, after a nervous wait of watching the next four heats come in, I ended up advancing to the semi-finals as a “lucky loser” by .3 of a second!

The semi-finals were fast and furious and I skied to the full limit of my classic sprinting ability to move from sixth to fourth over the 2nd half of the course.  Unfortunately, this time I missed out on being lucky loser and had to settle for a final place of 8th.

While it is every Olympian’s dream to win a gold medal, I had to be satisfied with my day sans-medal.  I knew it was going to take a big improvement in my classic sprinting just to be competitive in the rounds, so to have qualified 10th and made it up to 8th was a big accomplishment for me. To top off the day, I got to celebrate with my friends and family after the race.  It really meant a lot to me to have everyone there!

Next up was the freestyle team sprint and it felt good to get back on my skate skis.  Caitlin Compton was my partner, skiing the lead-off leg and me the anchor.  The day before the race we took a little extra time practicing our exchanges.   The sunny weather continued.

Our first goal of the day was to try and make it into the finals.  During our semi-final race we gradually worked our way up through the pack over each of our three laps.  On my final lap I was able to reel in and pass Canada to get us into the third automatic qualification position.  We moved on to the final.

In the final, Caitlin got caught in a tangle-up on the first uphill and we spent the rest of the round trying to catch back up.  Coming into the final lap we were in eighth place, 7 seconds back from Canada in seventh.  I made a big push to catch up to Sara Renner, and we both passed Finland coming into the stadium.  Sara and I had quite a battle to the finish line, but I won the contest for sixth place.

Again, while it wasn’t a medal, it was a big improvement from our previous US best of 10th place and a satisfying day.

Next up was another relay.  The sunny weather finally came to an end and it was a challenge picking skis for the rain and slush.  For the 4x5km relay, I skied the scramble leg for the US Team of myself, Holly Brooks, Morgan Arritola and Caitlin Compton.  I had high hopes for a top 10 finish with this team, and I wanted to put us in good position.

Each leg skied two laps of a 2.5km loop.  The first loop was quite a cat-fight jockeying for position amongst the 18 teams.  I stayed calm and gradually worked up from my start position of 14th.  By the end of the first lap, I was in third.  The pace accelerated and the pack strung out.  Going up the big climb at the 3km mark, I was hanging in there with the leaders and actually took the lead for about 20 seconds on the following downhill.  Coming up the final climb, I was caught and passed by Norway and Sweden but managed to keep our team in fourth, 10 seconds back by the tag-off.  It was an all-out effort and I was completely exhausted for about 20 minutes after I finished.

Our team dropped to 13th after the 2nd leg where we stayed until the final few kilometers when Caitlin was able to pull back one spot.  Our final place was 12th. I felt pretty good about my leg, but I know the other girls didn’t have the performances they are capable of. This is an event I believe the US can be competitive in over the next few years when we all put together good races on the right day!

Shortly after our relay race ended, the Nordic Combined men raced their second individual event of the games.  It was incredibly exciting to see my US teammates Billy Demong and Johnny Spillane take gold and silver respectively. If they can do it, we can do it! Later that evening I represented skiing as the athletes chose ‘Billy D’ to be the US flag bearer for closing ceremonies.

The time at the Olympics seemed to accelerate as the days went on.  Suddenly we were in the last few days.  The final women’s event would be the 30km classic mass-start. I flip-flopped on whether or not to race the 30km all week.  When it came down to the day before the race, I decided to go for it.

I was pretty nervous the morning of the 30km. The weather must have been nervous too because it was crying out all sorts of precipitation, making for some tricky waxing.  The decision came down to choosing between zeros (no-wax) skis or skis with klister.  I chose to go with klister skis for safer kick, although I would have the option to change my skis three times during the race if needed.

The beginning of the mass-start was pretty chaotic as everyone was antsy to get into a good position. I stayed calm and made up spots where I could without expending too much energy.  About 3km in, I collided with an Ukrainian girl on a corner and fell, but popped back up quickly. Over the first 10km, I worked my way into the middle of the pack and settled into a good rhythm.  I was surprised to find the pace very manageable.  We lapped through the stadium after each 5km loop and each time several skiers would dive off to switch skis.  My skis were kicking well, so I stuck with them.

Around the 15km mark I could still see the leaders ahead, about 30 seconds off in the distance.  However, the pace was beginning to shift and the pack started to thin out.  Sometimes I would be skiing in a train with five to ten other skiers and other times I would be alone.

With 10km to go, the coaches were encouraging me to switch skis to get a faster pair.  However, I could feel my muscles starting to cramp, especially my triceps and I didn’t want to risk loosing my kick.  Over the last lap and a half, I still had good energy but the cramps were coming on stronger and stronger in every part of my body. I had to shorten my stride to keep from completely locking up.

Finally, I made it back into the stadium for the final time.  From the roar of the crowd, I could tell someone was hot on my heels.  As I rounded the final turn, I felt the presence of another skier to my left.  I tried all matters of technique trying to fend her off and ended up lunging for my final place at the line.  The board read ‘FOTO FINISH’.  Luckily, I got my pinky toe in just before hers (Sylwia J of Poland) for 24th place.

It had poured rain during most of the race and I was totally soaked.  As I changed into my dry clothes, my muscles continued to cramp. Though it didn’t matter, my Olympics were officially done.

That last day was a mad rush to pack everything up (three duffle bags worth) while simultaneously watching the men’s 50km on TV before heading down to Vancouver for the closing ceremonies.
The highly anticipated Gold Medal Men’s Hockey match between the US and Canada was in progress during our bus ride down to Vancouver.  We reached the athlete village just in time to catch the last few minutes of the 3rd period.   The place went nuts when the US scored with 54 seconds to go to force overtime.  Then the place went nuts again when the Canadians scored and won the game.  You could practically hear all of Canada roar when the winning goal went in.

The Closing Ceremonies was a good show. They had the men’s 50km medal presentation in the stadium, which was pretty cool.  Canada gave us their last hurrah while Sochi 2014 gave us a preview of what to expect in four years.  When IOC President Jacques Rogue “called on the youth of the World to assemble four years from now in Sochi,” it sent chills down my back.

Many athletes were ready to party after two intense weeks of competition, especially as many of the sports’ seasons concluded at the Olympics.  However, with three weeks of World Cup racing still to go, a bunch of us cross-country skiers headed back to our hotel to try and get a few hours of sleep before reporting to the airport to fly to Europe at 4:30am that next morning.

Now that the Olympics are over, here are some of my impressions.  Overall, I had a successful Olympics.  I hit two of my season’s biggest goals (top 12 in sprint, top 6 in team sprint), I skied well in the opening leg of the relay and I set a personal best in distance in my first major championship 30km appearance.  I am proud of how I prepared for these games, and confident that I skied my best.

I am also incredibly proud of, inspired by and thankful for all those people that have helped me get to this point.  Coaches, teammates, staff, family, friends, supporters and fans have made this journey so much more than just ski races.  You have believed in me and supported me from the very beginning, and it’s amazingly to look back and see how far we have come together.  I can’t possibly express in words how grateful I am to have such amazing people behind me!

For me this is not the end.  I see this Olympics as the beginning of the next four years.  I feel like the US team is getting closer to the medals all the time.  In Sochi, there will be another shot at a skate sprint.  I hope to be competitive in the other distances as well.  Along the way there are also a World Championships in Oslo in 2011, a World Championships in Val di Fiemme in 2013 and plenty of World Cup races to test myself against the best in the world.

The best of the journey is yet to come!

One more month of the 2010 season to go.  Next report will be from Lahti, Finland.

Until then, Cheers!