By Doug Williams | Feb. 23, 2017, 10:34 a.m. (ET)
Tania Prymak competes in women's skicross at the FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup on Dec. 13, 2016 in Arosa, Switzerland.

 

Tania Prymak entered this world cup skicross season with a new optimism. After finishing 20th in world cup points last season, she believed she was ready to make a move into the top 15 — or higher.

She had a reason to be optimistic.

Powered by three top-10 finishes — including two sevenths, the highest-ever result for an American woman in the world cup — Prymak ranks 16th in points. In a pre-Olympic year, she’s now positioned to become the first U.S. woman to compete in the Olympic Winter Games in skicross next year in PyeongChang, South Korea.

“Solid results this season have definitely given my confidence a large boost,” she said this week from Europe. In just her third season on the world cup circuit, Prymak, 24, believes she’s finally mastering the sport and its technically advanced courses.

“I now feel I belong at this level and will soon be a force to be reckoned with,” she said.

She points to her performance in the world cup event at Innichen in Italy in late December as proof of her progress. During training runs, she struggled with the icy lower portion of the hill. But when it was time to race, she attacked the course, ice and all.

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“The first round of heats I found myself sitting third going down the course, looking for any opportunity to pass and advance into the next round,” she said. “That heat I was fearless, having extremely close contact with the girl in front of me off of large jumps and high-speed sections.

“I made it to one section of the course where my coach had discussed ideal passing lanes and I executed the plan perfectly, moving into second position and advancing into semifinals. This feeling of skiing aggressively, without fear — but still smart — is why this was one of my best races so far this season.”

Prymak, from Goshen, New York, finished seventh at Innichen, matching her seventh-place finish at Arosa in Switzerland earlier in December.

Reasons For Improvement

Skicross is a sport that demands speed, courage and the ability to go fast even in a crowd. Skiers race one another down a set course, negotiating jumps, turns and natural obstacles. It’s been part of the Olympic Winter Games since 2010.

Prymak said she’s skiing better than ever this season because of a number of improvements.

First, she’s stronger and in better shape after working with personal trainer Niyan Oladipo in her offseason. Prymak followed workouts designed to increase her strength and explosiveness (for quicker starts), agility and promote quicker feet.

Also, she says former Canadian national skicross coach Eric Archer, now coaching the U.S. team, has helped her plan her way through courses and fine-tune her mechanics.

“I now have a better understanding of the proper techniques to proactively attack features and the race course in general, rather than reactively,” she said.

Archer and Oladipo helped her improve her starts. That’s the weakest part of her skiing, she said. Now, she’s not so often starting behind the lead pack.

Plus, Prymak said she has changed her mental approach. In the past, she often had training times among the top five or 10 in the field. Yet in races she wasn’t able to match those times. So, she began work midway through this season with a sports psychologist. He’s helped her use mental techniques that help her focus or relax at different points on the course to increase her performance. She said her thought process was an “overlooked” part of the sport she now understands is vital.

Based on what she’s done this season, she believes more than ever she has a shot of competing in the 2018 Games. During the Olympic test event last year in PyeongChang, she finished 10th on the Olympic course.

“I felt that I skied that Olympic track extremely well and know that if I got another chance to run it I would ski it with even more confidence and aggression,” she said.

Prymak began racing skicross in 2011, while at the University of New Hampshire. She already was a fine alpine skier, but when she saw skicross for the first time, she had to do it. When she tried it she was hooked. She’s believed ever since that it’s the sport for her. Now she’s working to consistently be a podium threat — and an Olympian.

“It’s an extreme adrenaline rush hitting large jumps and flying in the air while trying to maintain a level of high speed,” she said. “Other racers next to you also contribute to the intensity of the sport and bring out that competitive spirit.

“Instead of racing against a clock, I am physically racing with the girls right next to me. I see who I need to beat, where I will take risks and increase aggressiveness to get to that finish line first.”

Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.