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Tale from Scandinavia 2006

Tue, Jan  2, 2007 - By Phil Bowen for

...some do, what about you?

Story and Photos by Phil Bowen

I am in Gardermoen airport in Oslo. A few tables away, Christian Zorzi and friend are relaxing with cups of coffee. It's a bit of a pinch myself to see if I'm dreaming moment. Not in the sense that I'm in awe of this recent Olympic gold medalist or that I have some love affair with being in Norway, but more in the sense that just two weeks ago I was home in Minnesota, watching this guy on TV. He was on the other side of the world. At the time I had no idea that I would be here, in this country, surrounded by these athletes. It freaks me out sometimes how small the world is.

I'm here for two reasons. One is because of all the haters out there. I wanted to support the US Ski Team in the face of all the negativity that seems to surround everything they do – their decisions, their risks, their failures, even their successes. One fan might not be much, but it seems like one more than they're used to. Two, I'm here to watch Beckie Scott. I read that she skipped the Olympic 30k to concentrate on winning the overall World Cup title. If I had the choice to see Bob Beamon's long jump in 1968, Tiger's 12-shot win at the Masters in 2002, Lance on L'Alpe d'Huez in 2001, Michael doing anything…you get the idea. Well, I'd rather say I was there when Beckie won the overall.

So I cashed in my frequent flyer miles and scrambled to get a car reserved, press accreditation acquired and logistics figured out. My plan was to bring my cameras and get my photojournalism on. I would take pictures to put up on Team Today and give Pete a break from that part of his job; maybe write daily race reports to go with the photos. I had thoughts of interviewing some athletes, getting some behind-the-scenes flavor that the US skiing public doesn't get to see every day. Well, as it turns out I don't have the guts to walk up to Per Elofsson and ask him how retirement is treating him, nor do I have the pushiness to intrude on Beckie's time and get her take on how satisfying it must be to know that she's leaving the sport having worked to level the playing field as well as having paved the way for a 22 year-old teammate to win an Olympic gold medal, all while becoming a favorite to *win * every World Cup race she enters. I want to know, but I'm not the one to ask. My initial optimism got the best of me and I underestimated the amount of energy it takes to follow this circuit. So instead of the real story, you get to read a little about me and my week in Scandinavia.

Here's what I know. Flying into Oslo is cool. You can see classic tracks set around the perimeter of farms as you approach.

The current style is definitely tight jeans tucked into calf-high leather boots. Men and women.

22 hours a day, it's not about the athletes.  It's about the coaches.  I know what it takes to be an athlete at this level. But the commitment required to be a coach…  It is ruthless.

But when it's game time, it's all about the athletes. They are all business for real. We arrive at the wax cabin for testing and they are on the course executing their training plan before I am even done searching the van for my forgotten gloves. At no point in their day are they loitering.

Swedes love headlights. Some of the cars have six or eight Hella lamps and it looks like a small sun is approaching from around the corner in the road.  Apparently Swedes also like not hitting reindeer.

The athletes don't overreact to the good or the bad. Kikkan is STOKED at her 5th place but I get the sense that she's not surprised, knows that she deserves it and knows that she'll continue to contend in every race.

By any citizen racer's standards, kick waxing for the classic sprints in Drammen is a nightmare. Seems to be just another day for these guys. The athletes and coaches are totally chill, communicate really well, and know how to test.

Newell's double-pole is ridiculous. It looks effortless, natural, fluid. You could conduct an orchestra with it. And I imagine that it looks that way because of an unbelievable amount of unseen hard work.

Carl is in his element. He is a career elite endurance athlete. He is always happy. He is also a good example of someone who puts in the unseen hard work so that it looks like he isn't working at all when he's stringing together 50 consecutive 2:18 kilometers. I've seen him skate without poles for 4 hours on -20 fahrenheit Alaskan snow that is almost sticky enough to stride on without kick wax.

Bodensteiner would be a good person to have on your side. He talked his way in to Europe without a passport. And now he's going to talk Pete and Vidar and Newell into China without visas. China has recently informed them that unlike the rest of the FIS contingent, the Americans will not be receiving visas. Pete and Vidar and Newell do get in to China and they leave China with the most US hardware in over 20 years. Hell, yeah.

Beckie does not disappoint. She is getting after it in every race, including the Mora Vasaloppet. "Have you ever raced longer than 30k? Nope. Are you ever going to again? Hell, no." Paraphrasing there, but it was an emphatic no and I believe her. Unfortunately, Bjorgen is getting back to form and Beckie's string of podium finishes is unable to put enough distance on the defending overall champ.

So here I am in Gardermoen the day after Holmenkollen, on my way back to MN, wishing I could stow away on the FIS charter to China and Japan, but knowing that I'll have to be content sitting at my computer in the middle of the night hitting the refresh button on the FIS live site. Beckie is 46 points behind Marit with two races left.

Beckie vs Bjorgen comes down to the last race, a pursuit in Sapporo, Japan. Beckie has to finish better than third for a chance. She doesn't just win, she dominates. My neighbors are probably wondering what the screaming is all about. Now Marit needs to finish 8th or worse. Three refresh clicks and 42 seconds later, she is across the line in 4th, 16 points the winner in the overall World Cup. Damn. In the last 11 consecutive races of the season over a two month span when she was down by as many as 285 points, Beckie goes 1, 5, 5, 4, 11, 10, 3, 2, 4, 2, 1 to close the gap to 16 points. And I was psyched to be there.

We will have skiers in the same position. Not sometime in the unknown future, but soon. Real soon. Newell, Koos, Cook, Kikkan, Lindsay, Freeman and Johnson aren't just knocking on the door. They've been inside and have eaten off the damn table. And there are some sick juniors in the pipeline.

Juniors who are getting used to seeing American skiers succeed. Unlike our current WC skiers who with every success are proving someone wrong. It's real easy to be a hater. Don't. It is also easy to be a fan, a supporter, a coach, a student of the sport, a spectator, whatever. It's your team and you should say "I was there when…"

(Editor: Thanks Phil.  Phil is currently in Africa working with his fiancee Page in humanitarian efforts.  Phil put together the NCCSEF Calendar this year.  It is awesome.  Please order one, no order 10.  It is for a great XC cause... check it out at it occurs to me while writing that Phil is working in humanitarian efforts in Africa that people who involve themselves in non-profit work for one thing generally do so for many things - it is the case that people who give to something which is not that important on a grand scale, like cross country ski racing, also tend to give to other causes which on any scale are vitally important.  As Phil hints at above - there are people who do, and people who do not do.  What kind of person are you?)

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