The UAA Ski Team finished off US Nationals week on Sunday with a 30k mass-start classic race for the men, 20K for the women, 10k for the junior boys and 5k for the junior girls. It was a day of mixed results for our skiers, but some really good results in the mix, and some good learning experiences as well. The men raced first and it was an exciting one, with Viktor leading the race in its early stages before eventually fading back into the middle of the pack. Meanwhile, Lasse and Lucky were moving in the opposite direction, and skied most of the middle part of the race in the lead pack of twenty, until the pack broke up and Lasse ended up seventeenth and Lukas eighteenth. Ski selection and altitude experience seemed to have something to do with the results, as Lasse and Lukas opted for a little stickier skis (especially Lasse), while Viktor chose skis with a little harder kick wax, requiring him to use his arms more to make up for his slightly slick skis. In addition, it was Lasse and Lucky's third year of Rocky Mountain racing, while Viktor experienced his first weekend at altitude. In the end, Lasse skied the best race of his entire life, which is especially nice since he had had a disappointing skate race just two days before which had left him dazed and confused. Soldier Hollow has historically been quite good to Lucky and Lasse. A couple years ago, Lucky was the RMISA Western Region Champion here, and Lasse was second. Viktor, for his part, is perhaps following the path of the great Bjorn Daehlie. Early in his career, Daehlie could be counted on to start aggressively and take the early lead in World Cup races, only to fade in the later stages of the races. But with more World Cup experience he got closer and closer to the finish line before fading, and eventually started winning them regularly, becoming the greatest cross-country skier ever. It’s fun to coach a skier who’s always eager to charge into battle, even if he sometimes pays for it in the later stages of the race. I think it’s a fun and exciting coach/athlete relationship in which the coach says “You need to be more patient and conservative at the start,” and though the athlete tries, he just can’t help himself and comes charging out of the starting gate like a lab puppy. Eventually, through trial and error, the athlete can temper his own eagerness to meet the demands of the topography and atmospheric pressure. It's a lot more fun way to go through the process than if the coach is always having to tell the athlete, "For the fifth time - get your ass off the couch and onto your rollerskis!"
On the women's side, Marine spent the race learning how to classic ski. We had a bit of a scare early in the first lap when she had to get instructions from some of her competitors on how to use "classic" technique to climb a short, steep hill, but the skiers around her were kind enough to tell her how it's done, and by the end of the race Marine was in eleventh place overall - better than her skating result from two days before. Not bad, considering that she comes to Alaska with a biathlon (skating) background. Marine told me after the race, "I learned a lot by watching the girls around me and trying to ski behind the smoothest skiers. By the end of the race I was a lot better classic skier than I was at the beginning." Karina had a good race, too, especially considering that she had only been back in the USA for about 48 hours prior to her race, after going through a difficult patch with the US Customs Service in Chicago.
And in the final race of the day, Sarah raced in the junior girls’ mass start. This was the most physically brutal race of the day, with about a hundred girls making a mad dash for a finish line that was only a scant 5,000 meters away from the starting line. It looked like a Nordic version of “American Gladiators” as the field charged up the first long uphill to a soundtrack of ski poles snapping in every direction. Sarah made it through the first kilometer with no problem and had worked herself into around tenth place until someone stumbled on a short bump of an uphill at the 1km mark, and then couldn’t get up on account of all the other girls stepping on her as they scrambled past. Sarah estimated she was stuck there for around ten seconds, which dropped her back to around 30th place. She spent the next few kilometers climbing back to twentieth, and came to the 4km mark just before the biggest, steepest climb of the race, in nineteenth. But climbing is Sarah’s strong suit, and 500 meters later she was in eighth. Sarah finished the race seventh and in so doing (I assume) has pre-qualified herself for the junior national championships so she won’t have to compete in any more Alaska junior qualifier races, which she would not have been able to do anyway due to her college racing schedule. This leaves the door open for her to compete at Junior Nationals, should it fit in her schedule in March. It was pretty funny to overhear the stories of various junior girls after their race, discussing how many crashes they’d been in and how many skiers they’d skied over, while nursing facial lacerations and bloody noses. For next year’s national championships, I vote for a senior men’s 5km mass start!
On Monday, the team packed the van and moved on to Steamboat Springs, Colorado for the next weekend of racing while I boarded a plane back to Alaska and then on to Kodiak Island where I am tonight. I always love returning home to Anchorage from wherever I've been traveling. I love seeing the city from the plane window during the descent over the Chugach mountains on the glide path into the airport. But I've been involved with the UAA Ski Team for about ten years now, and each year I enjoy it more and more. I thoroughly enjoyed spending this past week with the team, getting to know them better, and I'm already looking forward to the NCAA Championships in Middlebury, Vermont in March!
From here in Alaska, I can't keep the blog updated as regularly as I could if I were with the team. But you can follow them more closely on the blogs of three of the team members. Viktor says he plans to update his blog each day while on the road. If he doesn't update it often enough, just write "Dags at uppdatera!" in the comment section of his blog. That's what his mom does. He knows what it means. Lasse writes his blog in Danish. It's easy - anyone can read Danish. And Lucky writes his blog in English so that his Mom can practice her english by reading what he writes. From these blogs, you can get an inside perspective from some of our skiers
|Marine. We need to work on her skating to bring it up to the level of her classic skiing.|