The first World Cup event of the season in cross country skiing is scheduled to start this Friday in northern Finland. Four Alaska Pacific University skiers will race, Kikkan Randall, Holly Brooks and Sadie Bjornsen and Rosie Brennan. This will be an eventful season for the team, building up to the winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia in February.
Holly Brooks kneels on the floor of her living room and digs into a grocery bag, looking for a jar of cheap peanut butter.
“You can buy it some places in Europe, but it’s just not the same.”
Brooks also has a Costco size bottle of Cholula to stuff into her World Cup bag, along with everything else she needs for the next four months. Four years ago, Brooks was a World Cup newbie. But now she is familiar with the routine of living on the road in Europe for months at a time. She says she’s ready to start racing:
“This time of year it’s like this mixture of excitement and anxiousness and a little bit of stress and everything all rolled into one,” Brooks says.
Brooks teammate, Kikkan Randall, feels the same way.
“It just helps to kind of get there. Start focusing on the things you need to do to get ready for the first race,” Randall says. “It’s like all of the sudden you get to go into autopilot. So there’s always anxiousness. You always have butterflies in your stomach, but once you get there and kind of get in the routine, then I think, it always just gets better and better for me.”
Randall is starting off this season as the world champion. If that isn’t enough pressure, she is the clear favorite to win gold in the skate sprint in Sochi. But Randall has proven again and again that she thrives under intense pressure. And she says she feels like her whole career has been heading in one direction- up:
“Well we’ve definitely built the season around the best performance at the Olympics. And the World Cup is basically just a bunch of dress rehearsals leading into the Olympics.” Randall says. “If it was only about the Olympics that would be riding an awful lot on a couple races. So I’m excited about the World Cup and I definitely hope to perform well all season, but with the best performance coming at the Olympics.”
Randall is a veteran on the World Cup and is preparing for her fourth Olympics. On the other hand, her APU teammate Sadie Bjornsen is getting ready for her first full season on the World Cup, along with her first Christmas away from home. Last season, Bjornsen was plagued by injuries. She says she’s looking forward to seeing what she can do this year.
“I’m really excited to see what can happen racing weekend after weekend,” Bjornsen says. “Having ups and downs but knowing you have a whole season ahead of you to have a better or worse result, so that will be nice.”
APU head coach Erik Flora designed the training program that has quickly vaulted the APU women’s team into the international spotlight. He says most of the difficult work of preparing for the season is over now and he expects his skiers to do really well.
“There’s still lots of training from here to the Olympics. But the bulk of the training is done,” Flora says. “Now it’s time to kind of refine and hone race skills and kind of get into the racing groove.”
Flora says four years ago, the U.S. women’s cross country team basically had no chance to bring home an Olympic medal from Vancouver. This February though in Sochi, the team could medal in at least three races, the skate sprint, the classic sprint relay and the 4×5 relay. Holly Brooks is looking forward to the challenge:
“Something really exciting is going to happen. And there’s all kinds of possibilities of what that could be,” Brooks says. “You know, we’re going to have some stories, when we come back to Anchorage at the end of March and we look forward to making everyone here in Alaska proud.”