Last week, a crew of 9 women and 4 men took a trip to Sappada, Italy to compete in the Europa (OPA) Cup Finals. After spending a week in Toblach, Italy training in the sunny and beautiful Dolomites, we somehow found ourselves in a more magical place.
Sappada is a cozy mountain town tucked away at the center of a mountain bowl, with gorgeous views no matter which direction you turn. Thanks to the hard work that Bryan Fish and Greta Anderson put into planning the trip, the week was a huge success! We arrived six days before the first race with plenty of time to train from our ski-in-and-out hotel, learn the courses, work on our tans and drink endless cappuccinos. We spent our mornings focused on our training, prepping for the races with intervals, testing skis and practicing the technical downhills. In the afternoons, we took advantage of the sunshine, delicious cuisine, and Italian gelato.
We were not on vacation, but we were about as close to the perfect work trip that one could dream of. By the time the weekend rolled around we were ready to get down to business. Our ski techs, Andy Newell, Peter Kling and Jon Filardo, prepared phenomenal skis for both races. The three took time out of their normal winter schedules to support us and ensure that team USA had competitive skis against the Europeans. The races were a 10/15k classic individual start and 10/15k skate mass start for women and men respectively.
My first OPA trip was in 2018 and I have to say that the team has come a long way since then. Four years ago, we were lucky to have a top-10 performance during the week. Going into Sappada, that was a realistic goal for every athlete. In 2018, a lot of the American skiers started in the back of the pack for a mass start, our FIS points were not competitive enough to place us higher. This year, most of us were lined up at the very front. The intimidation that the team used to feel by foreigners has been replaced with determination and confidence. This development as a nation has not happened overnight. It has required patience, resources and hard work by not only the athletes but by coaches, supporters, funders, the entire ski community in the US.
As a nation, we have stepped up our game. Four years ago, I was timid descending tight, icy downhills and skiing aggressively around corners in a classic race. However, these types of races are now the norm across the country. Bryan Fish and the USSA staff have done an incredible job at working with the local organizing committees throughout the nation to change, build and develop new courses that challenge skiers in every aspect of racing.
Team USA approached those races in Italy with every right to feel confident amongst the Europeans. We brought our A-game and showed Europe just how much we have grown as a country of competitive cross country skiers. Thank you to NNF for supporting us in this journey to Italy and future generations of international competitors.