Saturday, January 7, 2012

JNQ Classic Sprints: You know… Age & Treachery… Auburn Ski Club, CA

December 28, 2011

Rik Eckert

Mammoth High School Nordic Coach Alana Levin was giving her boys a good ribbing as they milled around the start line before our head-to-head sprint heat. “You boys are racing against an OLD guy!” “I can say that…” she addressed me with a smile. “We’re about the same age.” Well, we established that I’m 46 and she’s, uh, a few years younger. Anyway, I took her cue: “Yeah, I can honestly say I’ve been ski racin’ before any of you boys were BORN… So… let’s GO!” I think that sufficiently riled them up! “Yeah, well,” one of them puffed… “We’ve been ski racin’ since before we could WALK! So… let’s GO!” Alana, the natural born coach, said to me under her breath: “Race your race. Don’t concede anything.”

So what was I doing racing in Junior National Qualifier Classic Sprint? In our Western winter of scant snow and racing opportunities, I think I was just blowing off a little mid-Christmas week steam. I showed up in the morning, thinking of more of volunteering, and asked the race organizers if there were any other Masters athletes signed in. “Sure!” Laura Clark told me. “A couple. Their coaches. Wanna jump in?” So, OK… I was in! I consulted with team manager Roger Chaney on ski and wax combinations. Things were warming up fast. The coaches were buzzing about the new Toko Red klister & dang if they weren’t spot on! I settled on a pretty stiff ski with that stuff and a Finite 'Flush’ structure and away I went…

I’m an OLD guy! I’ve never done a 1km Classic sprint before! I’m a clinician and a Biathlete… I started Nordic racing twenty years ago to kill time before bike racing season – a distance guy! A skate skier!

Imbibing the energy of these young Nordic racers was a reward in itself… When I was their age, I was into music and swimming. I was the staff photographer for the Reno High alpine ski team. I wasn’t racing. I skied halfway down the hill at races and took pictures. The amount of time and focus these athletes devote to Nordic racing is likely unfathomable to most kids. On this day, Elias Bucher, Matt Gelso, and Austin Meng stood on the Men’s podium – Katrin Larruson, Laurel Fiddler, and Cassidy Cichowicz on the Women’s.

I won that head-to-head heat. I led from the start, and when I stole a glance back at the top of the one climb, those boys were at the bottom! I knew I had it! It was a consolation heat, for those not advancing from the top 20 to the semifinals… Still, it was a win, and well… I’ll take it! Crossing the finish line, I caught a knowing glance from Alana… “All right,” I thought, “You’re and old guy. Sure. But you’re a pretty FAST old guy!”

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