The highest bar is the hardest to hurdle.

If you haven’t watched tonight’s relay yet — you should.  It’s yet another seat-of-your-pants, pedal-to-the-medal (!) Olympic ski race with drama, surprises and a razor-thin margin of victory.

But if you’re watching just to see a possible American medal — spoiler alert — it doesn’t happen.  Team USA skied a helluva race, but came up short.

The hype around this relay race got a little heavy.  Yes, we had a shot.  But the world is filled with great teams and the Olympics brings out the very best in everyone.  (Do you think that OAR didn’t have something to prove tonight?)

My only request is that you put tonight into context.  A few years ago — especially on the women’s side — the USA was strictly back of the pack.  The idea of World Cup points, nevermind a possible Olympic medal was a daydream.  Then Kikkan came along and a great coaching staff gelled.  Sophie showed up.  Jessie made herself known.  Sadie.  Ida.  People like Liz Arky finally tackled World Cup basics like a waxing truck.  (Until this year, our waxing resources were the same as the Freeport Ski Team at the Maine Class C State Meet.)

And the next thing you know, we’ve got a team fighting for podiums and medals.  It’s a remarkable achievement.  And the good news?  I photographed the World Junior/U23 Championships last year and we’ve got some kickass kids coming through the pipeline.   And this year’s WJC/U23 team performed even better than last year’s team.

So how do we clear that final bar?  It won’t happen with letters to FasterSkier about team selection, race order or criticizing this leg or that leg.  That’s a colossal waste of time and gets exactly zero accomplished.  Want to make a difference?  Donate money to the NNF.  Work with your regional division like NENSA or CXC. Sponsor an athlete (Many of our athletes spend over $25k a year on travel).  Sponsor a team.  Renew your USSA membership.  Ask the USSA about their budget priorities and nordic funding plans.  Better yet, one of the most pressing needs in the ski community is middle and high school age coaches.  Take a coaching course and convince some kids to slap ’em on.

Because that’s how we become a real skiing nation.

And clear that final bar.

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The mass start.  I picked this location because when the athletes were in the start area, you could see the Olympic rings in the biathlon stadium.  And then a giant truck drove by…
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Sophie Caldwell (USA)
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Sadie Bjornsen (USA)
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I mentioned this in a tweet earlier tonight, if Charlotte Kalla doesn’t go on the list of “greatest clutch athletes of all time” list, there’s something wrong.  WOW — what a relay leg.
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Breck’s Mom (USA)
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Jessie Diggins (USA)
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Team USA post-race hug.
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This shot was from my remote camera.  I was half-a-stadium away and the Swedish team was posing for Joel Marklund.  (Swedish photographer)  This makes up for him getting in my remote shots last year.
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Another remote shot.  My position was blocked by athletes running out to see their teammates.
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Not sure who the older gentleman is, but the Euro press went nuts.

I will never speak poorly of sprints again

Late night, great night.

I might have scoffed a few years ago when Sprints were introduced onto the FIS circuit (“Meh. What is happening to this sport?”), but it’s turned into one of my favorite events.

From a photographer’s perspective, the qualifying round gives you the very rare chance to get clean shots of all the athletes.  And the heats are a blast to shoot — especially when you’re given the “golden ticket” and told you can stand next to the tv cameras at the finish line if you behave yourself.

And for spectators, it’s fantastic.  Sure there’s a bit of interest in the “Final 30” drama, (eh, Erik Bjornsen?) and the new lane selection process is entertaining, but the real action is skier vs. skier racing.  The top two move on, but the field (and viewers) stay engaged via the Lucky Loser slots.  A little suspense, a little drama — just all around good, clean fun.

Last night’s races didn’t disappoint.  The Americans qualified Jessie, Sophie, Sadie, Erik and Simi into the rounds.  Jessie made it to the finals (In a classic sprint, go figure…) through a photo finish lunge.  Klaebo put on a show and another Swedish woman – Stina Nilsson) came through for Gold.

Call me a convert.

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Erik Bjornsen (USA) in a heat with the eventual Gold Medal winner Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo (NOR)
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It was snowing fairly hard at times and I suspect that the swirling wind might explain some of the unusual qualifying results.
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Just a quick peek…
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Jessie Diggins (USA)

 

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Messing around with some selective blur.

 

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Sophie Caldwell (USA)
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Jessie Diggins (USA) lunging to make the final round.
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Maybe my favorite photo from the games so far and it doesn’t come close to doing justice to the moment.  Stina Nilsson (SWE) just after winning gold.
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Post Gold victory tour for Klaebo.
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I’ll bet a $1 that this is a Rossignol rep.  Alexander Bolshunov (Not from Russia) and Federico Pellegrino (ITA).

 

“Any interest in shooting the Olympics for us?”

And with that question from FasterSkier editor, Alex Kochon on June 30th, this next adventure began.

To be honest, the idea of going to South Korea had come up in an earlier conversation.  Tom Kelly, the venerable press officer of the U.S. Ski Team had mentioned earlier in the Spring that he might be able find an extra “EP” credential — the prized photo pass — if I thought I’d like to shoot the events.  The normal procedure requires an application two years prior to Opening Ceremonies, but Tom is part magician and thought he could expedite the process.  I was in the middle of a work project and never followed-up on the offer.

So it was an easy decision when Alex reached out.  Turns out it was the same pass that Tom floated earlier.  I’d be responsible for shooting all the cross-country, biathlon and nordic combined races for Fasterskier.  I’d go as part of a three person team — Jason Albert and Chelsea Little.  Jason is best known for his fantastic Nordic Nation podcast.  And Chelsea has been part of Fasterskier for as long as I can remember.  Now a doctoral candidate in Switzerland, she’s has also become one of the most knowledgeable writers on PEDs (performance enhancing drugs) and doping in sport.

On my end, I’d need to clear it with a few folks.  February is a busy time across my assorted responsibilities.  But as Stephen Kircher – the CEO of Boyne Resorts told me — “Once in a lifetime opportunities don’t come around too often.”

So it’s off to PyeongChang in February.  In the meantime, I’ll keep this blog — somehow I think this will be a process worth remembering.

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Start of Men’s 50k at 2015 U.S. Cross-Country Ski Championships