You don't have to be a genius to realize that Nordic combined is not a popular sport in the United States. At our National Championships this year, literally the biggest event in the country, we had a whopping 9 athletes finish the race. I have skied in races in which there are not enough skiers to fill up a complete podium, and races where the only spectators are a handful parents and coaches. It can be a bit challenging to stay excited during events when the crowds and athlete fields are so small, but that all changes when you step up to the world stage.
Over the past week I have been competing in a series of Summer Grand Prix competitions throughout Central Europe. Summer Grand Prix (SGP) is essentially the equivalent of World Cup competition, however it is not tallied into the overall ranking for the season and is treated as it's own circuit that is a bit more laid back and less high-stakes than winter World Cup competition. Nevertheless, the worlds best athletes take part in this exciting week of competition which means the level of competition is still about as high as it can get.
This is my first time competing in SGP, and at the world cup level. Needless to say, the best in the world are freakin good. After having some good, quality training at home with just myself and my other 5 teammates, coming to compete in central Europe against the world's best was a massive change of pace. In the first events in Oberwiesenthal, GER there were a total of 53 athletes on the start list, just a few more than the 9 we had at US National Championships. I jumped close to the back of the field, but even from there, racing is super exciting. Right out of the start everything is very fast paced. Athletes fight for positions and try to work together to stay in the race. I was happy to hold my own throughout the race and finish in 38th place. 38th may not sound too stellar, but I was happy with it for my first competition at this level.
Since Oberwiesenthal was my first SGP, I didn't know quite what to expect. I found out quickly how high the level of the sport is, but even more importantly I found out how fun it is to race in front of that many people. The race course goes directly through the city center, and pretty much the entire course is lined with spectators and coaches cheering on the entire race. It is super motivating to have so many people cheering you on, and definitely makes you push it a little bit harder than you would without the crowd!
The second stop of the SGP tour was in Villach, AUT, a familiar location that I have jumped and raced at many times. Once again, a huge field of 53 competitors started in the competition, which made for another exciting event. I didn't have a jump that I was very happy with, but jumped to 39th place. Having raced on the course before, I knew where I could push the pace and try to make up time. I had a pretty solid race and managed to ski up to 33rd place, finishing just 20 seconds behind the coveted top-30 (who score points). I may not have scored points, but I was happy with the way that I pushed it during the race and was able to make up a few spots, which are good signs for the winter!
After the first two stops of the Summer Grand Prix, I am pretty content with how things have gone. I have not had the best jumps in the world, but I have also never jumped at a world cup level before. The best in the world are good, like really good, at Nordic combined. It is tough to get beaten by so many people, both mentally and physically, but I look at it as a step in the process. I didn't expect to enter world cup level competitions at the top. But, to hold my own and be able to fight for every second at the finish line, I take it as a good sign that the training that I am doing is working. At the beginning of the summer, I did not think that I would ski in Summer Grand Prix, let alone be just 20 seconds away from the top-30. If I can continue to make incremental changes to my jumping and skiing, I think that I can continue to surprise myself throughout the rest of the summer and the winter competition season.
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