When asked to write this piece I didn’t have any idea where to begin, this past week was so full of emotions and experiences it was hard to find one that rises above the rest. For myself this U23 World Championship was my first taste of racing internationally. However, being on a team such as the one we had this year made this new experience much more approachable and manageable due to the wide breath of experience and professionalism that my fellow athletes carried with them. For those that know me it is no surprise to hear that I had had my sights locked onto the 30k mass start race for the last year, I am somewhat of a distance skate specialist, but not for a lack of effort in classic.
It was humbling to start bib 39 after having started every mass start in the past few years on the front row or somewhere much closer to it. This speaks to the elevated level of competition that is drawn to this event, and is a key factor as to why having the opportunity to come to these races was such a big deal for me, as these races are a whole other level of racing than compared to domestic races on many levels. I had to adapt how I approached the race and what my expectations for myself would be, as looking at the names at the top of the start list proved these competitors were no joke.
With Oberwiesenthal providing one of the more grueling 5k courses I have ever raced on (there were 3 climbs that I, on a given day, would consider a suitable “A Climb”) I felt that I was set up well as I love the grind that cross country skiing can become. With a quick start, a few early pinch points, and a dropped pole, I found myself in a now classic position for myself, which was skiing alone right in the middle of the field. Luckily, I was able to bridge up to my teammate Hunter Wonders and lead a 25k charge back to the chase group, that didn’t necessarily fail but wasn’t necessarily successful either. Hunter and I didn’t lose or gain time to this pack that held positions 9-117ish, until the last lap where the field decided to show their stuff. Hunter and I ended up skiing essentially the entire race together and finished 22nd (myself) and 24th (Hunter) respectively.
While it would have been nice to be top 20 or top 10 as I had been seeing my teammates achieve throughout the week this race was still a great victory for me. In this sport it is all too easy to get sick or injured at just the wrong time. I believe having not only qualified for this event, but then being healthy enough to go out and give it my all is a victory that I and all my teammates sometimes take for granted at times.
Thank you to all of you that make this opportunity possible for myself and everyone else on this trip. NNF plays a crucial role in getting us onto the starting line and giving us the chance to test ourselves against the best in the world.
Zane (right) and Hunter Wonders finish 22nd and 24th in the 30km @flyingpoint
Hailey Swirbul, Zane Fields, Hunter Wonders, and Julia Kern earn 5th place in the U23 mixed 4x5km relay @flyingpoint
Zane and Hunter work together in the 30km mass start @flyingpoint
Team U.S.A. celebrate their final race and 5th place at the U23 World Championships @flyingpoint
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“To the NNF: The assistance has been an absolute necessity for me and the increased level of support played a role in the performance levels that U.S. skiers produced last year.”- Holly Brooks