Back at my first regional elite group (REG) camp in 2009, I distinctly remember Bryan Fish’s powerpoint on being adaptable. The best and most successful ski racers were the ones who figured out how to adapt to changing competition, races, skis, and venues. They were ready and willing to throw caution to the wind, go to plan B (or C or D) and still make the most of it.
So when we arrived for our first race in Italy- a 10K classic in some sloppy and slow klister conditions on a course none of us had skied before- only to be greeted with a power outage and no ability to test skis (or the course for that matter)…Bryan’s 2009 slide show saved me.
We arrived in Glurns, Italy on Wednesday, giving us both Thursday and Friday to prepare for the weekend races. We used these days to narrow down our ski selections and to ski the sections of the course that were open to us. Given that this was Italy’s National Championships, the race course was closed for competition Friday to Sunday starting at 9 am. Therefore we only had access to a 200-meter test loop for ski warm up and testing. The combination of not getting a thorough evaluation of the race course and a power outage the morning of the race required us to be flexible with our pre-race routines.
I quickly abandoned my original and traditional pre-race warm up, laced up the running shoes and ran up and down the winding mountain access road. All four of us (Hannah Halvorson, Ben Saxton, and Logan Hanneman) put our faith in the coaches and went in totally blind for a 10/15K classic. And while there were certainly some surprises out on that first lap (some unexpected downhill 180 degree turns, a fair amount of headwind, and for Ben a broken pole) everybody competed and came away competitive with the rest of Italy. We also carried away some valuable racing experience. Even if it was only a few strides, we had the opportunity to ski behind some of Italy’s top seniors, some of who have competed in World Cup races earlier this season.
The next day brought a 10/15K skate pursuit race, and with better knowledge of the course and power in the wax cabins, we didn’t need to do as much adapting. We navigated the five-kilometer winding course with more confidence and ease, moving up the field as the race progressed. Gaps were closed, some falls were had (penguin slides, while fun, aren’t a good way to keep momentum I learned), but mostly there was high-quality skiing coming out of the USA. Everybody improved their standings, and we all had the chance to race side by side with the Italians near us in the pursuit.
Adapting to new cultures, food, time zones, elevations, and standards can be tricky business. It can be pretty easy to be discouraged or freaked out when you can’t test your skis, or when Giorgio Di Centa (an Olympic gold medalist) starts just ahead of you. But I think that’s the whole reason why it is so valuable to leave the comfort of the US every once and awhile. If you ski the same places over and over, you can forget how to adapt. So when something does go wrong, instead of shifting to plan B, you just panic.
Hopefully, everything runs perfectly smooth at OPA Cup Finals (the races we are here to focus on), but I’m willing to bet there will be some curveballs- maybe the 70-degree weather forecasted for Friday. With one weekend of racing and adapting behind us, I’m confident in our ability to compete this upcoming weekend. Thank you to the National Nordic Foundation for helping us learn to adapt, and for all of the US fans cheering us on virtually.
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Thank you so much! I am here at the U23 World Championships in Val di Femme, Italy. It would not be possible to be here without the support of the NNF.- Ben Lustgarten