Dakota Blackhorse von Jess has had a great season so far. He finished 2nd in the men’s 10km classic at the Bates Carnival on Saturday and he competed in his first World Cup race in Vancouver, B.C. on Jan. 16th, 2009. Here are his thoughts about the World Cup experience:
Oh the World Cup! Man – THAT is an experience. Those guys are the best in the world. I guess there was never any question in my mind before I went, but now… I can see it: the best in the world just straight up ski better than everyone else.
I guess I wasn’t really sure what pre-conceptions I had going in there, but even though this is the “real deal” in the biggest sense, at its core it’s just another ski race. The trailers are better situated, we have our own storage trailer with spin bikes, we get athlete bibs that act as all-access passes to the cordoned off (and heavily guarded) athlete-only areas, there are cameras and film crews, ten times as many volunteers are normal, inflatable finish arches, a giant screen with live in-race footage… but when you get right down to the nuts and bolts of things, it’s just a race. Everyone puts their pants on the same way, straps on the same boards they always do, and goes out there and gives it everything they have. Honestly, at the PNSA Junior Olympics trips I’ve attended I’ve seen better quality organization, wax testing and preparation, and I’ve seen kids give it more to finish in the middle of the pack than some of these World Cup guys give to finish near the top.
But hey – it’s the WORLD CUP!!
So here’s the race run-down: it’s obviously an Olympic course! Not only is it long (3:30, 1.6k as opposed to the 2:30, 1k courses we’re used to here in the states) it is a tough course. When I say “tough”, I don’t mean headwalls that you have to be an animal to herringbone over – I mean climbs that are just the right grade to separate the best from the rest. Skiing big and smooth and powerful is the key, and watching the best in the world ski, they can really get every inch of glide out of the course… and then they have the juice left to really put the hammer down when it’s time. I panicked a little bit over the first set of climbs and I wasn’t kicking very well, so I lost a lot of time I shouldn’t have. But I DID ski a complete race – I went out with a plan to ski just hard enough to make it over the first big set of climbs, ski smooth through the downhill and big corner at the bottom, and then cut loose and crank it all the way back home. Obviously at the World Cup you can’t afford to be even a little bit off (unless you’re one of the best in the world) and it cost me qualifying in the top 30, but I’ll take 34th place. It wasn’t a bad day, but it wasn’t a good day either.
Most importantly, it was an awesome experience. I didn’t psych myself out before the race and gave myself every possibility to succeed. Most athletes out there have had at least one race where they took themselves out of the race before the race even started. This year I’ve come a long way in showing up at races mentally loose and ready to race, and that showed itself at the World Cup. And knowing that I had a decent race allowed me to enjoy the rest of the trip, rather than beating myself up. This is “living the dream”. Everything is taken of for the athletes; our only job is to show up ready to race. Whistler is a pretty cool town, it was fun to hang out with some of my friends from the racing circuit, and it was definitely a learning experience to watch how the other nations operate. In the end, I realized I’m a long ways from winning a World Cup, but I don’t think I’m all that far from being able to compete with those guys. This sport takes years and years to make it to the highest level and you don’t get good in one day. I’ve got a coach that’s been there, we’ve got one of the best programs in the nation, hands down, and I’m psyched to come home this summer and put another year of solid training down in the books. But until then, it’s time to capitalize on last summer’s training! There’s a lot of racing yet to come…