Monday, March 25, 2013

Finally.... Finals in Falun!

This only means one thing... that is: SPRING IS NEAR! (or here?)

We just did THIS:
.... our last World Cup of the season... 

The dust has settled and the 2013-2013 World Cup season has come to a rest.  It's been a marathon - with the culmination here in Falun, Sweden.  World Cup Finals began with a city sprint circumnavigating the Royal Palace in downtown Stockholm -very cool indeed. After the race we jumped on a tour bus (un-showered) and drove three hours north to Falun, home to the 2015 Nordic World Championships.  Here we raced three races - although we almost raced no races due to the threat of an athlete strike.  After training on the courses there was significant concern about the safety of the athletes on one of the course's downhills, especially for the classic mass start race.  In Eldar Ronning's words: "This is cross country, not skier cross."  Thus, the athletes organized and held 3 "emergency" meetings in the span of 17 short hours; even one the morning of the first race.  It was great to see skiers from Sweden, Norway, France, Italy, Ukraine and more band together for a unified cause.  Our action ultimately resulted in a revised course, one that the athletes and FIS agreed on together.  I am certainly glad we raced because the start gave me the opportunity to have the second best result of my season, a 7th place in the 2.5k skate prologue!!!!  

 Germans and Americans cheering on the men! (Nordic Focus photo) 

 Liz, post race with old school camera and tutu! (Nordic Focus photo) 

 Drinking hot blueberry soup, a Swedish tradition at the royal palace sprint! 

 Hoff mixing it up in the men's 15k classic mass start

Rosie, Maria Grafnings & Me! 

 A tribute to my "Farmor" (or grandmas in Swedish... I am 1/4 Swedish after all!) 

I got a new suit for my international collection! A great trade with French skier, Aurora Jean! 

Time to wear something other than spandex! 

Liz & Newell 

It's been a milestone year, one where most people on the team have had a "personal best" moment.  Since November I've raced 30 World Cups in 8 or 9 different countries.  I've been away from home, without a single step in the US for going on 5 months now. We've previewed the 2014 Olympic courses in Sochi, suffered through another Alpes Cermis, dined on fondue in France, and danced underneath the stars in Italy. It's been a long season and I've learned a ton; both what works for me as a professional athlete and for me as a person.  I can't wait to initiate some new ideas into my training for next year.  This afternoon the USST ladies are staying to help out with Fast and Female Sweden. Then, Tuesday morning, flights to the great US of A! It's safe to say I'm exhausted and really looking forward to some well deserved R&R! 

Apparently we aren't the only tired ones.... Justyna opted to watch the last race rather than participate... (Nordic Focus photo)

Thanks to everyone for their support, encouragement & enthusiasm! 
Holly :) 

Thanks to Cory, my world cup wax tech for a great year... and to Bryan Fish who helped me with skis for Falun! 

Falun skate prologue! 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lahti, Norway & the home stretch

 Oh World Cup… you can be so gratifying but more often that not, you are a heart-breaker.  It’s true.  Consider me and yesterday (Lahti Sprint).  Little mistakes cost big time and before I knew it, I found myself in an embarrassing 65th place.  I’ll repeat that – 65th place!  Something happened to my skis between when I tested them and when I clipped in to race.  I felt like Bill Koch skiing on the sandy beaches of Hawaii – only without the Koch or Hawaii parts; just sand.  I have some theories about what happened but I'll spare you the details.... Point is, here, on the World Cup, the margins are so small.  To “make a good race” (Euro skier terminology) everything has to line up.  You need a “good body,” nearly perfect skis…. And it doesn’t stand a chance of being really good unless it’s your best technique, ideal racing format (mass start versus interval) fitting terrain & perfect snow type.  Yes, it is just that touchy, that specific, that important. 

One of the food for purchase at the Lahti races were these pan-fried mackerels.... Not too appetizing to me but they were everywhere

When I was racing domestically it’s funny – I didn’t really know what I was truly good at or what types of races suited me more than others.  In the US if you’re fast, you’re most likely fast at everything and vise versa.  I can think specifically back to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver…. It was the day before the classic sprint. The course and the snow was a goopey red klister mess.  Growing up in the Pacific Northwest I’ve grown to love skiing goopey wet klister.  The best was using straight orange and racing in the rain in Leavenworth Washington for a bushel of apples. 

The day before the race I felt good, I was comfortable.  The snow type and conditions fit me.  In fact, I distinctly remember a 10-second burst of speed on the first left hand turn of the course where I felt amazing, unstoppable.  It was a kind of speed and quickness that I had never felt before.  I thought optimistically, “tomorrow could be good!” 

With Caitlin Compton/Gregg wearing rain ponchos and plastic surgical gloves it was so wet out.... 

I think it got cold overnight and there were undoubtedly numerous complaints about the state of the course.  The next morning when I arrived at the Olympic venue the conditions were 180 degrees different.  The groomers had salted the S*** out of the course and consequently, I found the hardest ice-rail tracks I’ve ever seen or put a ski in in my entire life. Think concrete hard, if you fall you will shatter your bones.  Needless to say, I was out of luck and although I did my best, the end result didn't reflect that.  The conditions weren't ideal for me. 

While my personal racing was lack-luster perhaps the highlight of Lahti was getting to go to Aino Kaisa Saarinen's house - twice.  I guess what goes around comes around because we had her, as our guest in Alaska this past summer to train in Anchorage and up on Eagle Glacier.  It's always fabulous visiting a "real home" while on the World Cup (yes, it really is that much of a novelty when you live out of a suitcase and eat from the "World Cup troff", aka a buffet for five months).  We ate homemade food compliments of her mother, checked out her new house (which was gorgeous) and after the race, tried out her sauna(s) which is a Finnish staple.  (Sorry... no sauna pictures!!!!)

 I can't remember what these are called but it's rice pudding inside of a rye-bread like shell.  They are absolutely amazing! 

Aikku has her own personal gym in the basement of her new house. On the wall are pictures of her racing & podium shots - as well as pictures of her husband Tom who was a professional basketball player in Finland. One day I would LOVE to have my own gym too! 

 Ida and Sadie leaning up against the tulikivi, a traditional Finnish stove that holds and emanates heat for a long time... 

 Aikku's parents spent half of the year, every year picking lingonberries.  Her mother made this beautiful tart for us! 

Group shot! Left to right - Me, Rosie, Kikkan, Jessie, Sophie, Sadie, Liz, Aikku & Ida 

After Sunday's distance race we had visit number 2.  Here we are again eating lunch at Aikku's table.  Funny enough, the three most decorated skiers at the table hadn't even changed out of their race suits or race bibs!  (In the middle is Charlotte Kalla of Sweden who joined us) 

For visit number 2 Aikku's mother made us a "bread cake." 

As I write this we are in Drammen, Norway for today's classic city sprint.  The sun is shining and it promises to be a fun, action packed day. There are allegedly 22 Norwegian girls on the start list today so the competition is going to be really, really tough. That said, I'll go out and do my best and who knows what could happen.  More soon! Thanks for checking in.... 

Holly ;) 

PS.  A big shout out to all the athletes at JOs in Fairbanks!  Go Team Alaska!!!!!! 

Monday, March 4, 2013

For the Joy of the Sport!

 Tad Elliot after skiing an awesome anchor leg in the men's 4x10k relay (Thanks to NNF for helping us be here!)

 Newell and the full spirit of Italy.... eating pasta road side, waiting for a ride after the men's relay

After a week and a half of grey skies the Italian sun finally showed it’s face for arguably the most popular World Championship events; the team relays and the 30 & 50k.  These races are possibly the most fun to watch and if you win, the most prestigious medals to have on your awards shelf.  This time around I watched the races as a teammate & spectator rather than racing myself. While I prefer to be the one laying down a lung-busting effort sometimes the timing just isn’t right. 

We had four super strong girls who laced together an impressive fourth place finish in the relay (huge improvement over the last World Champs where we came in 8th) and a brave crew that took on possibly the hardest courses in history for the long distance events. 

With Ida getting my cheer on for the women's relay! 

With an Italian fan! 

Each race morning I clipped into my skis and had incredibly training sessions with awesome grooming… then I’d change my clothes, drink a couple shots of espresso (thanks Italy!), dawn my cheering attire and watch the races with expectation and excitement.  It was fun to be a sports fan… .a Nordic skiing sports fan… the anticipation was palpable and the cheers deafening.  This was the Super Bowl of skinny ski skiing, the World Series of the men in tights(!)  There was an immense spirit to the crowd and after a bit of rest, watching these events helped re-invigorate my love and passion for the sport.


Steph & Joey

Overall, our team is growing more and more competitive on the World stage.  We’ve proved this weekend after weekend on the World Cup and here, at Val di Fiemme, Italy.  Personally it hasn’t been the banner week that I had hoped for but I think more good racing is just around the corner.  In the meantime, thank you Italy for hosting a fabulous event, thanks to the coaches & staff for working so hard, thanks to my teammates for throwing down news-worthy results and thanks to NNF and the larger North American ski community for your support. We wouldn’t be doing this without you!  Next up, Lahti, Finland!

Ciao & Grazie,
Holly :)

Norwegian fan in full reindeer regalia! 

Erik Flora, always working hard! (Post men's 50k)