After 30 hours of traveling I finally arrived in Almaty, Kazakhstan for the U23 and Junior World Ski Championships. The races start on Monday, and up until then we will all be prepping and adjusting to the new time zone, course, and smoke! There is a pretty intense inversion in Almaty, and that combined with coal burning leaves the city and the venue in a bit of a smokey cloud. Due to the travel I didn’t have a chance to do a lot of interviewing for this week’s Birkie countdown, so below I copied a piece I wrote for the National Nordic Foundation on what these championships entail, and how US Skiing fits into the world. I’m particularly proud to be wearing my Birkie logo on all of my hats. I’ve already had some of the volunteers (who are plentiful and wonderful) ask what it is, and I do my best to explain the Birkie in my simplest english (Big race, lots of skiers, lots of fun, a great organization). Anyways I hope you enjoy my piece, and I’ll be back next week with “V”!
The hard part is behind us. After 12 days of blustery, cold, snowy, cold, snowy, and cold (did I mention snowy?) racing in Houghton, 12 Junior and 11 U23 athletes met the criteria for this year’s World Junior and U23 Championships to be held in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Furthermore after a month of athlete driven fundraising through the National Nordic Foundation’s Drive for 25, an entire country of Junior, U23, U26 and Senior athletes made the trip possible.
Now all we have to do is race. And race fast. That’s the fun part. After a hard summer and intense fall of training all the pieces have come together. We don’t have to worry about funding, we don’t have to worry about qualifying. Once we’ve arrived we have a clean slate. We have new spandex, new teammates, new opportunities, and a new country.
Simultaneously some things will not change once we arrive in Almaty. As our new spandex proudly displays we have the entire nation of stars and stripes backing us. When we get to the line our goal remains the same. New course, same tactics. The competition has changed but we have not. We will continue trusting our coaches, techs, and teammates. We will remember that a Team USA success is comprised of individual efforts. Not just of the individuals in Almaty, but of everyone who has contributed. And I mean everyone. Our competitors who pushed us to go faster. Our supporters who donated to the NNF or our ski clubs. Our fans who offer endless support. And even our critics who we simply want to prove wrong.
I am prouder than I’ve ever been to be an American skier. Lindsey Vonn just set the record for the most alpine wins for a woman ever and Liz Stephen just finished 5th in the Tour de Ski, another best for an American ever. Beyond amazing results (of which there are too many to list) ski culture in the US is taking off. We are making progress as a country, and I am so excited and honored to help push our progress further in the upcoming U23 World Championships and beyond.
Every day won’t be a success, I can promise you that. But I can also promise you that every loss brings with it a newfound, deeper, and more visceral urgency to win. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. We might be the underdogs, but everyone loves a Cinderella story.Our first ski was in the afternoon, and the smoke was pretty bad. To help save our lungs a lot of us have pollution filtering masks. Might not look the best, but lungs are more important than looks!