SkiTrax - - Contents - by J.D. Down­ing

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.

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