For all those kids out there dreaming of the Olympics and gold medals, I have some advice: keep dreaming. Please, keep dreaming. The Olympics are awesome.
After the last pre-Olympic World Cup race in Seefeld, Austria, most of the Olympic cross-country team spent a few more days there getting ready for the trip to Korea. All of us could notice the building hype of the Olympics. Media requests were regular, even for those of us somewhat out of the spotlight. Even so, it wasn’t too hard to keep the stress low as we had a great chef preparing all our meals, the weather and skiing were spectacular, and Korea seemed a long way away.
Yet suddenly, it was time to pack up and head for Frankfurt, Germany. To keep the travel simple, we drove the 5 hours north to Frankfurt for a direct flight to Seoul. When we arrived in Frankfurt, there was a dedicated check in lane at Korean Air for the Olympics. This was fortunate as our crew each had 4 bags to create a massive pile of skis, duffels, and wax boxes in the airport. Only 11 hours later we were touching down in Korea for the big show.
We spent a little over a day in the Incheon area going through processing. The gist of this was a massive amount of USA gear and some ambassador training including: don’t disrespect the flag, be a good ambassador for the US, and don’t talk about dogs. After that it was off to the village.
I have raced enough world cups to have a routine. They are a much bigger show than US nationals, regional races, and anything else in the US; however, world cups still only have cross country athletes. The attention of the world sporting media is not really on a normal world cup weekend as there are about 40 world cup races throughout the season. But that is before you add Olympic medals, tons of other sports, and only let them happen every four years. Riding the bus to Pyeongchang with biathlon and bobsled drove this point home.
Once in Pyeongchang, Village life is simple. Eating and training take up most of the day including transportation. The cross country venue is close by to the mountain village, but still it takes some time to make the circuit on the bus. In addition, most of the team USA athletes have been eating outside of the village for lunch and dinner. “The Haven” provides a quieter and supposedly healthier alternative to the general dining hall in the Village. While this does limit our interactions with other teams, we have gotten to know some of Team USA better as we ride the bus with them every day. There are a ton of other things happening around the Olympics, but for us the priority is always racing.
Once we settled into the rhythm, opening ceremonies and races were quickly upon us. I don’t know if there is a better way to get fired up for racing than the Olympic opening ceremonies. We didn’t see much of the show, but the energy just walking in was contagious. However, with races soon after, we funneled out of the stadium as soon as we had walked in. I was back at the village watching on TV by the time Poland was walking into the stadium a few minutes later.
Racing began the next day for cross country with the women’s skiathlon. It was exciting to see Jessie Diggins in the fight for the medals; however, I was also hoping for my sister, Caitlin, to finish better than 34th. With that race in the books, my first one was up the following day: the 30k skiathlon.
I have said it several times in interviews, the Olympics feel low pressure for me. Making it to Korea was a bit stressful, but now that we are here, there are not too many expectations for the US distance cross country men. Going into the race, my main thought was just to ski a good race.
From the start, the race was quite interesting. I barely avoided a crash less than 30 seconds in that took down eventual winner Simen Krueger from Norway. For one lap the full pack seemed to hold together before Iivo Niskanen, who is one of the strongest classic skiers in the field, splintered the group. I ended up further back than I wanted to be in the third chase group. Yet with the winds howling, it was much better to be in a group than alone. From this group a few others were moving well, so I latched onto them. Over the next three classic laps, we held the gap steady to the leaders as well as move through some other stragglers.
Once we switched to skating, the leaders regrouped. My little group was trying desperately to get up to the leaders, but 15k was a little too short. We picked off a few more stragglers and came within 15 seconds of the leaders, but never quite got to the group. I ended up 18th. While I am super excited with that, it is also taunting just how close I was to the top 10 or even medals.
A few days later, it was time to regroup for the 15k individual skate. After setting the 11th fastest skate time in the skiathlon, I was really looking forward to the 15k, true fitness racing. I started out strong, but halfway into the race my confidence was fading. I wasn’t catching the starter in front of me and the splits made me feel like I was battling for a top 40. However, I managed to regroup for the second half. Coming into the finish, I was second. Usually this is a decent sign as I beat most of the people who were seeded lower than me. In the end, I came out in 21st when all the best in the world had finished.
The 15k wrapped up the first half of the Olympics for me. Stay tuned for more.
One thought on “Olympic Dreams”
Congratulations Scott! You have had some outstanding results! So proud of you and it has been fun to watch. Keep living the dream -you are a part of a really outstanding team, medals or no medals. The team is better than ever and you help display the talent of the USA!