Aaron Pike poses for a photo at the Team USA Media Summit on Sept. 25, 2017 in Park City, Utah.
Nordic skier Aaron Pike has gotten so close to medaling at top international events in recent years, but finished just off the podium at both the 2017 World Para Nordic Skiing Championships and the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
He’s hoping that changes this year at the world championships in Prince George, British Columbia, beginning Saturday.
“I’ve continued to progress year to year,” said Pike, 32, who competes in the men’s sitting category. “Once you get to this high level, the progression is much more painfully slow and a lot more work just to get a small gain. I just have to try to be as patient as possible and focus on day-to-day training, let the competitions be fun and see where I end up.”
Pike is a veteran of four Paralympic Games with two trips each to the summer and winter editions. In addition to snow sports, Pike is also a wheelchair racer who competed in marathon at both Rio 2016 and London 2012.
He finished sixth in the 15km biathlon and seventh in the 12.5km biathlon in PyeongChang last March, took a week off, then headed straight into the wheelchair racing season.
With the next Games coming up in Tokyo in 2020, he reserved most of the summer for the track and enjoyed a strong season. The Park Rapids, Minnesota, native was sixth in the Chicago Marathon and fourth in the New York Marathon in the fall but was worried the lack of attention given to preparing for the winter season might result in a slow start.
“I didn’t have high expectations for early in the season,” Pike said. “I was just hoping I could ramp it up and get ready for world championships.”
He did better than expected, however, with results including a fourth-place finish in the cross-country sprint, fifth place in the middle-distance biathlon and fifth place in the classic start biathlon in Finland to open the season in December.
Then in January, Pike not only won the silver medal in biathlon sprint but also took silver in middle-distance cross-country at the world cup stop in Ostersund, Sweden. It was his first-ever world cup podium finish in cross-country.
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“It was exciting,” Pike said, “I was definitely thinking the course was a good fit for me. When the snow’s fast and there’s a lot of maneuvering involved, I tend to thrive on that kind of course. There were a lot of areas where you could lose speed or gain a lot of speed and that suits me. I like a lot of speed and I think I’m able to manage corners well and keep speed through them. I was pretty psyched. I knew I was doing fairly well based on where people were around me, but I wasn’t sure until the last lap when it was me and my teammate Dan [Cnossen] fighting for first place.”
He’s hoping to carry the momentum from that weekend, plus the progress he’s made in training since then, into the world championships.
Two years ago, he finished fourth at the world championships in individual biathlon and fifth in sprint-distance biathlon and was eighth in middle-distance cross-country and ninth in cross-country sprint.
He isn’t sure how many events he’ll enter this year, one of several unknowns heading into the competition.
He knows he’ll do all three biathlon events, but cross-country is up in the air because of the schedule. Saturday is the middle-distance biathlon, Sunday is the middle-distance cross-country race and Sunday is the cross-country sprint. Although middle-distance cross-country is where he earned his silver medal last month, the cross-country sprint is his favorite race and the one in which he usually gets the best result, Pike said. Typically, there are races back to back followed by a rest day, so he hasn’t decided if he’ll race on day two or rest up to have a strong sprint.
Another unknown is the course.
“The course is still a mystery,” he said. “That’s the cool part is none of the nations have ever competed at this venue so it’s new to everyone. It’ll be cool to get there and check it out.”
This will be the first of two world championships in which Pike will compete in a span of two months. Once he leaves the world championships, he’ll skip the last Nordic world cup event of the season in order to get back to wheelchair track. He’ll race in the New York City Half-Marathon in mid-March, the Boston Marathon on April 15 and the London Marathon, which will serve as this year’s Para marathon world championships, on April 28.
But for now, he still has hopes to accomplish on the snow what he was so close to accomplishing the past two years.
“PyeongChang went pretty well but I was right at the cusp of what I hoped to do and didn’t quite get there,” he said. “It definitely kept me hungry for this season.”
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.