The last time the World Cup Finals were in Canada, Kikkan Randall won the individual sprint, and teamed up with Jessie Diggins to win the team sprint. (Reese Brown)
The U.S. Cross Country Ski Team is coming off a strong period 3 of the FIS Cross Country World Cup, heading to a unique World Cup Finals in North America with the eight-stage Ski Tour Canada March 1-12. The entire Tour will be streamed live on NBC Sports Live Extra. U.S. Head Coach Chris Grover took time to recap the last few weeks of the season and takes a look ahead to Ski Tour Canada in this Q&A.
Period 3 of the World Cup continued to provide some exciting results. It was really fun for us and, of course, we had some firsts - the women finishing second in the 4x5k relay in Nove Mesto and Jessie Diggins’ first individual sprint World Cup podium in Lahti. Having Jessie finish fifth and Sadie Bjornsen seventh in the 5k classic race in Falun was also a big breakthrough day for us. Over the years we haven’t had too many top-five distance classic finishes and to be able to do it in Scandinavia, the birthplace of classic skiing, is very gratifying.
We also saw SuperTour leader Caitlin Patterson break-through with her first career World Cup points in both Falun and Lahti. On the men’s side, Erik Bjornsen really started to come into some top form and start taking World Cup points. This was impressive to see given the extreme depth of field we find in the Scandinavian World Cups.
The season finale at Ski Tour Canada is quite a change for the World Cup. What’s the vibe coming to Canada among the international teams? Everyone’s very excited for something new. It’s been a few years since we’ve been to Canada and, of course, we’ve never been there for a Tour. The schedule of events and the number of venues is extremely ambitious and I think athletes are really looking forward to the challenge. On top of that, those athletes that have raced in Canmore before are stoked to return to one of the most beautiful venues on the World Cup.
For the U.S. Ski Team, it’s a time for fans to see the sport here in North America. How much does the fan support mean? The American fan turnout that we saw in Quebec City in 2012 was huge. Given the fact that we have more races in more venues this season, I expect to see a lot of Americans in the crowd. The Team definitely feeds off of their energy. As you may recall, Kikkan Randall won the individual sprint when we were last in Quebec City and then teamed up with Jessie Diggins to win the team sprint, as well. I know the American athletes are ready to give the fans more to cheer about this year.
Ski Tour Canada is actually a pretty grueling schedule with eight stages across two weeks and four different venues. How do the athletes prepare? The best preparation for a Tour of this nature is rest. If an athlete carries any residual fatigue into the Tour, they won’t make it to the end. Once the Tour begins, the name of the game is recovery. Those athletes that can stay healthy and manage to find recovery in strange places (like on a bus to the next venue) are the ones who will be successful at the end. Sleep, massage therapy, nutrition, hydration, stretching, and putting a bad race behind you (staying positive and forward looking) are all key to winning.
There are some fascinating stops on Ski Tour Canada. Can you highlight some of the key stages? We’ve never raced World Cup in Ottawa or Montreal so I don’t know exactly what to expect from those venues. We have, of course, raced in Quebec City and the backdrop of the beautiful old city makes the venue such a special stop.
With two skate sprints and a distance skate race in the first four stages in Eastern Canada, the American athletes can target some of their strongest events. When we move out to Canmore, we’ll be presented once again with some of the most awe-inspiring scenery of the season and hands-down some of the hardest trails on the World Cup. Look for our pure distance skiers, athletes like Liz Stephen and Noah Hoffman, to start to really shine when we get going in Canmore.
The USA has an expanded quota with spots being hotly contested. How does this opportunity help us for the future? We have a big team in Canada with 11 men and 13 women for a total of 24 athletes! We are all really excited to see what the USA group can do. If we have new athletes to the World Cup take some points (finish in the top-30) it can potentially increase our start quotas on World Cup for the 2016-17 season.
Despite missing Kikkan Randall this year, the women’s team is showing great depth with five in the top 30 right now. Do the women have a good opportunity to take advantage in this North American finale? We actually have five women in the top-30 lists including Ida Sargent on the sprint list. We will see some big crowd-pleasing results out of the women’s team for sure.
Any closing comments? If you have the opportunity, please come to Canada and cheer on the USA. If you can’t physically make it, you can watch every race on live streaming at NBC Sports Live Extra. The Team appreciates the support of our fans!