I planned on recapping after the championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, were over but after an amazing day for our team on Sunday I need to share.
In my last post I spoke about predominantly two things: the ability to peak at the right time and the importance of performing at the biggest events. This past Sunday both of these things came to the test and my teammates showed their mettle. We have had a solid year as a team with our youngest members, Bryan and Taylor Fletcher, earning our best results of the season. For me it has been a year that started low with a month-long battle with, of all things, whooping cough. After finally getting healthy I started skiing stronger and in January anchored our relay team to its first-ever World Cup podium in that event in Schonach, Germany. Still, as I spoke about before, what’s most important to me is to be able to find my best form at the right time and here at the World Championships. It is clear that I am at my strongest in the cross-country portion of Nordic combined than I have been all year. In the first individual event, I clocked the third fastest split for the 10-kilometer effort, a mere 2 seconds off the best time but my best ski of the year and it fueled my confidence that my “peaking” progression had again worked. On Sunday, we had our four-man team relay event and despite some success this year we knew it was going to take great efforts on both the ski jump and the cross-country course by all on our squad to find the medal stand.
We started out the day with Bryan anchoring our team on the hill and veterans Todd Lodwick and I having our best jumps of the week to keep the team in the mix but it was Taylor who delivered by maximizing his jump after getting such abysmal conditions in his first attempt that the competition jury restarted his round.
Our efforts put us in fifth place and in contention starting 1:02 behind Japan and a mere 0:12 behind Norway, with France and Austria in between. Our strategy was to put Taylor out first, as he has been the fastest skier in the field this year, to try and make up the time and he delivered by reducing the gap to the leaders by 50 seconds and putting Bryan and Todd in position to close the rest. When Todd tagged me in the final leg, we were seven seconds behind a lead group of Japan, Norway and France together with Austria. The strategy to finish the relay is different for each team but most important is that you place the fastest guy with the best ability to sprint at the end.
Basically, I was against everybody’s closers. I went out with the plan to catch the gap and then try and sit back and be ready to sprint, but it was apparent that was everybody’s plan and the pace slowed. Finally, I took the lead and knew my biggest chance was to try and go hard and wear the others out to soften their legs. Going into the final climb, which seems to decide races here in Val di Fiemme, we were still all five together and so when the Norwegian, Magnus Moan, and the Frenchman, Jason Lamy Chappuis, made their move I went as hard as I could to match the pace and luckily the work I did had tired out the Japanese and Austrian men to where I was able to open a small gap which I held to the line. It was my best race of the year and a historic first world championship relay medal for our team capping off an amazing day by all of us as well as cross-country athletes Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins, who won team sprint gold.
Upon reflecting on my last post, it is clear to me that this result is exactly what I am here for: confirmation that we know how to peak for big events and momentum in the form of medals for next year’s Olympics in Sochi! Oh, and we have discovered the magic of Stache-Tats ;)