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.
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.