We sprinted down the stairs and along the track to the starting pen. We were rattled, of course, and the techs were trying to help us as best they could. Like wild animals, clothing was changing bodies. I did not have my race bib with me (in the bus with all my other gear) so I asked around for a Sharpie marker and simply turned my training bib inside-out and wrote the number “22” on both sides, which was my starting position in the Pursuit (yes, we got fined for that and other “infractions” [such as] racing without a race suit, etc.,).
It almost didn’t seem real until Alex broke his starting wand – the fourth man out. A minute or two later, and with Ivan was starting directly in front of me, I was laughing uncontrollably looking at him in a pair of training tights two sizes too big and a oversized, sweaty long-underwear top covering his upper body.
We all raced. We were all freezing up there on the top of the plateau. In the end, Alex managed to finish sixth, I moved up surprisingly from 22nd to 12th, and Ivan finished where he started – 21st. Lenny got really cold – having no layers under his thin suit and fell from 13th to 23rd, but still finished.
Paul, meanwhile, was in a cafe 600 metres from the bus, enjoying an espresso and reading the newspaper. He had forgotten to leave the bus open, and all the while was within a few minutes of us the whole time.
Do I remember the race itself? Perhaps slightly, but do I remember those 15 minutes before the race? Oh yes, like it was yesterday.
With over 30 World Cups in over 13 countries, we are bound to have some crazy travel stories from each season. My most memorable travel tales involve something going epically wrong. In 2007, I tried to talk the airlines out of $10K in baggage charges coming back from the Sapporo World Championship. After long negotiations in a language that nobody could understand, they downgraded the charge to a few thousand dollars.
Traveling by train around Europe is great, but not with more baggage than you can carry when trying to make a two-minute connection. If you can’t carry everything at once, it can turn into the most stressful bag shuttle imaginable.
Food on the road can be interesting. Hands down the worst food would be in Russia. We were served trays of sliced cow tongue for one of the in- flight meals while en route to Sochi for the pre-olympic World Cup. The best food in my opinion was in Lillehammer, Norway.
My birthday always falls when we are at the World Cup in Kuusamo, Finland, and when I was turning 30, Ingvild [Flugstad Oestberg] and some of the Norwegian girls came into our condo holding candles and singing a traditional Norwegian birthday song. It was a funny, memorable moment.
Sometimes we face tough conditions on the World Cup. We once raced a freestyle city sprint in Prague at the 2008 Tour de Ski where the organizers salted with the wrong salt. The snow was so deep in one section of the course that athletes were double-poling to get through the soup.
One race we’ll be talking about for a long time was during this year’s Tour de Ski. The Classic sprint was canceled in Oberstorf, Germany. Thunder, lighting, wind, pouring rain, collapsed towers and banners torn from the fences and flying across the course were all part of the scene.
Life on the road can be pretty crazy. Here are some of the silliest “behind the scenes” experiences I’ve survived. 1. Living out of one 50-pound suitcase for four months is impossible. Throughout the season, we slowly accumulate more possessions, and we quite literally look like bag ladies as we move in and out of our hotel rooms. 2. Laundry is like war, uncovering a place to clean our clothes once a week. Once we do discover a machine, there is a collection of 15 athletes and 10 staff fighting over it. Once in Norway, the cheapest option we could find was approximately $80 . . . sink laundry won that battle. 3. We are obsessed with feng shui. In Europe, most of the bed configurations are twin beds put together that can be separated, so as soon as we walk into the room, we find a way to separate them and create the most “open space.” 4. Every once in a while, you receive a mid-february miracle, like a forgetten treasure that was packed into a small pocket somewhere in your bag. I recently found a friend’s birthday card with a little gift inside. My birthday was back in November. 5. You lose track of time. Our main focus is on the races, so everything revolves around recovering and preparing for the next battle. Sometimes you forget the world around you – I feel as if I can’t even tell what month or what day of the week it is.
We asked some top North American skiers about the craziest/funniest things that have ever happened to them as a cross-country-ski racer.