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  • Writer's picturerganderson915

World University Games - Silver Medal Recap!

Hello, and happy Tuesday.


Well, it only feels right for this blog to give the play-by-play of one of the craziest races of my career - the mixed team sprint! I’ll give some background info, then the recap.


Background Info and Context


World University Games

This event happens every 2 years, and there is also a summer sports version. It’s for University-affiliated athletes ages 17-25 who qualify to compete for their country. In the winter games, there are athletes competing in alpine, curling, hockey, ski jumping, biathlon, figure skating, Nordic combined, snowboard, cross country skiing, freestyle & free ski, and speed skating - from over 50 countries. There are 1,500+ athletes here!


Expectations

My teammate, Finn Sweet, and I were ranked 24th out of 37 teams competing. Our ranking was based on how we have performed previously, but it’s not a perfect science when comparing across different countries. We didn’t know what to expect.


Race Format

Teammates switch off doing a 1k sprint loop, tagging off to each other for a total of 3 loops each. From a workout perspective it is essentially 3x3min max with 3 min rest in between - ouch. The top 2 teams from each heat advance to the finals, plus the next 6 fastest times. In the finals, you repeat the same format.


Finn Sweet

Finn is from Vermont, and skis for the University of Vermont. He has represented the U.S at multiple World Junior Championship events, and trains with the Craftsbury Green Racing Project in the summer. Finn is very down to earth and level headed, making him a great person for a hectic and high pressure race like the team sprint. His focused energy certainly helped me throughout the day. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner!



Recap


Finn and I woke up at the crack of dawn, did a 5 minute morning jog in the dark and pouring rain, and begrudgingly choked down some oatmeal and dry granola in silence. I was nervous. It was the first race of the week, but also was a team event and I didn’t want to let Finn down. We boarded the bus, greeted by a very enthusiastic bus driver. We had the bus to ourselves, and a quiet and peaceful ride to the venue.


Warmup. The rain promptly soaked through all of our layers, so we just tried to keep moving to stay warm. We went through multiple pairs of gloves and socks, what fun. We tested skis, and did some warm up intervals to rev the engine. It’s hard to get perfect grip under the skis when it’s raining, but our wax techs put us on the best kick/glide combo possible for the day, which was a bonus.


Wax tech Perry with his game face on, in the rain.


Semi Final Heat. Finn started us off, fighting through the mass start in our heat with 19 other racers. He stayed with the front pack, but was smart enough not to waste too much energy leading before it was important. I was not so smart, and started out skiing pretty much as fast as I could. I took the word “sprint” to heart. After my second loop, I had spent a LOT of energy and built up a ton of lactic acid. I was feeling sick at this point, but was able to eke out one more lap to finish us off. We finished 6th out of 19 in our heat, and our time qualified us for the final! It started snowing hard for the other semi final, so we were on the right side of the weather to qualify by time.


Thoughts. This was one of the hardest workouts I’ve ever done. I was going as hard as I could to keep up, with the added pressure of the team format making it unacceptable to give up. This was one of those days that I was thankful to have trained well in the months leading up to it. Repeating the race for the final sounded dreadful at the time.


In Between Races. We both skied for about 10 minutes to cool down, changed into dry clothes, put our feet up in the wax cabin, and started to relax - just as Perry walked in to notify us we’d be starting again in 30 minutes - quick turnaround!


We got ready again, and re-tested our skis as the rain had turned to snow. We chose “zeroes,”' or skis that don’t use kick wax. They are specific for 32F or 0C, with new snow. This is one of the most challenging temperature/weather combos to wax for.


The Final. My plan for this race was to conserve as much energy as possible until the last lap, while still staying in a good position. I had learned the hard way in our semi final that going all-out early was a painful strategy.


Finn was composed through another hectic mass start, worked his way into the top 5, and was skiing well. We had smooth tag-offs, and stayed in the top group. For Finn’s 3rd and final lap, he decisively stuck to Japan and Norway as they put the hammer down. (The skier from Japan is an Olympian, and the skier from Norway won US Nationals last week - strong skiers!!) As the three of them let loose, they made a gap to the rest of the field. I was watching the big screen, realizing that Finn had just put us on the podium. All I had to do was not ruin that - no pressure.


Finn (bib 12) skiing into podium position


Finn tagged off to me, and I decided to save some energy and try to hold my position until the last big hill. We had chosen the right skis (zeroes), and they were extremely fast. On the last hill, I was feeling good and ran as hard as I could to move into 2nd. Spectators and coaches lined the hill, screaming like medals were on the line (they were!). I skied the final steep and sketchy, rutted downhill on tired legs, knowing that the only way to ruin it at this point would be to fall, and PRAYing not to fall. I made it, crossed the finish line, and was buzzing with relief and excitement, and some disbelief. That felt good.

Did not get the memo to lay in the snow


We were surrounded with our US teammates who had come to cheer, our support team beaming, and friendly spectators and volunteers yelling congratulations, all making it a special moment. We had a quick medal ceremony and got a stuffed-animal moose prize, and had a few interviews! I was tired and giddy and probably said something incoherent.



Japan, USA, and Norway



Final Thoughts

This was one of those days that a lot of things came together. It is a rare day that the skis, body, mind, weather, and race circumstances (x2 for a team sprint!) all work out - but today was one of those days. I really basked in it. I’ve had a decently long racing career at this point, and I am happy to say I have gotten pretty good at appreciating the great days because they can be few and far between. Luckily, I don’t compete in skiing just for medals, but it sure is a fun bonus when it happens.


Some things that helped: sticking to my routines and treating it like a normal race day, going in with few expectations, making a conscious effort to relax when I could, and caring deeply about the parts I could control.


This was no Olympics, but to me, it felt like it might as well have been. Maybe that sounds a little ridiculous, but it really was a career highlight race. Thank you to everyone who shared the love and made this day so special, and for everyone who supports me in all other times of life. I feel it and appreciate it.


And to you, thanks for reading!


-Renae


After the medal ceremony in downtown Lake Placid. The US crew was on cloud 9!

Medal ceremony


Here is the full replay of the final that we found on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37GagRbMR4E

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Finn Sweet
Finn Sweet
Jan 25, 2023

that was a forever walk

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