SEEFELD, AUSTRIA — What is the primary objective of any race? If I’m to put it most simply, it’s to win. So far in my ski career, I have won some races, and I have also lost some races. However, the overwhelming majority of races I have finished somewhere in between the two extremes. And because every race can only have one winner, the rest of the racers get to take home a seemingly random place number like 17th, 41st, 8th, etc. I believe that the goal of any race for any racer is to win, but it takes many smaller and less obvious goals to get there, and for me, that is the fun part.
This year’s OPA trip brought home two wins for the U.S. by Caitlin Gregg: the skate prologue and the fastest time in the pursuit, which were awesome! But these 1st places aren’t the only things coming home with the U.S. skiers. In a closing meeting, [U.S. Ski Team development coach] Bryan Fish remarked that this was possibly the most successful year for the U.S. at OPA finals. As a whole, America skied strong, turned some European heads, and posted some impressive results. What I’m getting at is, even a race not won will almost always be a valuable experience for the racer, and this year I feel confident that the U.S. is leaving OPA finals better skiers than when they came.
Not only did some of us walk away excited about result-based improvements, such as Annie Hart, who was closer to the leaders than the year before, but the U.S. skiers also remarked on the valuable experience of racing with some of the top Europeans in the world. We got to ski behind them, in front of them, and sometimes in a big pack with them. Learning how to be relaxed and use energy most efficiently is hugely important, and this trip gave us an incredible opportunity to do so.
Something I personally take away from this trip that will bring me confidence in future racing is the experience of racing in tough conditions. I have never had to cope and overcome such a real sense of fear on downhills as I did on these ripping S-turns where the snow would change consistency every ten meters. But by the third race, when conditions were the most deteriorated, I already sensed a personal improvement, where I was able to keep my technique more open-minded and flexible for a change in snow. I was less scared tucking behind a couple of girls on ice when I knew we were about to hit several inches of water at high speed.
When Norwegian National Team skier Astrid Jacobsen gave a presentation at a camp I was at she said, “you have to change to get better. You have to constantly change to be perfect.” I don’t believe anyone is perfect, but the top skiers are constantly looking for ways to improve and I saw this passion in the Americans. Even our wax techs seemed disappointed when I said that the skis were great. [Justin] Beckwith remarked, “it’s not about making us feel good, we want to make the best skis we can.” This attitude was a theme among this group, and I believe that it is leading us towards some big wins in the future. Thank you to all the supporters of the National Nordic Foundation who made it possible for us to become better skiers!
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