U.S. Ski Team’s Winning Formula Includes Plenty Of Fun

On the Cross Country Skiing World Cup scene, the U.S. Women are known as the team that has the most fun. And you can bet they’ll have more glitter, face paint and fancy socks than any other Olympic team in Sochi. The accessories may seem silly, but they’ve also become an important element in the phenomenal success of the team. 

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When Holly Brooks was packing to head out on the World Cup last fall, she had to make some tough choices. She could only bring one 50 pound bag for four months in Europe and Russia. But one thing was a must have:

“I have these really funny pink glitter suspenders. And you know I really have to pare down the packing, but this… has to come.”

Racing internationally is generally a serious pursuit. There are long hours of grueling training, shorter hours of extremely tough competition, and many lonely weeks away from home. But Brooks says the U.S. women’s team finds ways to add as much fun as possible to the mix:

Photo by Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski Team.
Photo by Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski Team.

“On relay day we get really excited. We have the glitter, the face paint, the relay socks, the cheering suspenders the flags and the tutus.”

And then there’s the YouTube music video.

Last year, the U.S. Ski Team produced a video to Taylor Swift’s “I knew you were trouble.” It shows the athletes strumming guitars, dancing and of course skiing, while crooning to the lyrics.

The antics may be silly, but they are also getting results. In 2011 in Sweden, the American women made the World Cup podium in a four person relay for the first time. Brooks says teammate Ida Sargent was on the sidelines, wearing the pink suspenders.

“She was running up and down the hill next to us like a mad woman, just cheering her head off. And just when you think you’re tired, when you think there’s nothing left in your body and you see your teammate who isn’t skiing on the team that day, but expending every ounce of energy she can, cheering you up a hill, that gives you that extra push, that extra motivation.”

A lot of the credit for the fun team atmosphere goes to Kikkan Randall. She found the striped knee high relay socks at a convenience store in Germany:

“And thought oh, I’ll get four pairs of these, they might be kind of fun for relays. And then we started wearing them and started being very successful. So now they kind of became the lucky socks.”

The team members train during the off season at separate clubs across the country. And Randall says the camaraderie when they initially came together during the World Cup season didn’t just happen on its own:

“At first with our team, we definitely had to make an effort to do things together and create a team identity. But now it’s just kind of something that feeds off of itself. We’ve really just become a family so now it’s just naturally what we do.”

Alaska Pacific University’s Erik Flora coaches Randall, Brooks and Sadie Bjornsen and works with other U.S. Ski Team women. He says energy radiates from the group. And other teams in the world are taking notice:

“One of the top male sprinters in the world, he’s from Sweden, and he had an interview last year where he talked about it. He said his preparations have been really good… and then with an unsolicited comment he said, ‘but what we could learn from the Americans is to have more fun to bring it all together.’ And that was really cool to see.”

Still, Flora isn’t ready to wear any glitter himself. He’s happy to leave that part of the job to the athletes.

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Annie Feidt is the Managing Editor for Alaska's Energy Desk, a collaboration between Alaska Public Media in Anchorage, KTOO Public Media in Juneau and KUCB in Unalaska. Her reporting has taken her searching for polar bears on the Chukchi Sea ice, out to remote checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail, and up on the Eklutna Glacier with scientists studying its retreat. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and Marketplace. Annie’s career in radio journalism began in 1998 at Minnesota Public Radio, where she produced the regional edition of All Things Considered. She moved to Anchorage in 2004 with her husband, intending to stay in the 49th state just a few years. She has no plans to leave anytime soon. afeidt (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8443 | About Annie

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