Planica Preview: Rosie Brennan on New Distances, Teamwork, Different Paths to Success, and Skiing Like an American


Racing begins at 2023 FIS Cross Country World Ski Championships in Planica, Slovenia, next Thursday. Four members of the U.S. Ski Team took questions at a Zoom press conference earlier this week. Julia Kern’s thoughts were featured yesterday; here’s what Rosie Brennan had to say.

Transcript is from a press conference held on Wednesday morning via Zoom. Media questions are in bold, athlete answers are in roman. Questions and answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

For background on the question about race distances, women (and men) have contested 10- and 20-kilometer races this season for distance events, plus I guess a single 15km mass start classic during the Tour de Ski. The one skiathlon set on the schedule in Period 1 was converted to a straight classic race due to snow conditions. Of the three women’s distance races that will be held in Planica — the 10km interval-start skate, 15km skiathlon, and 30km mass start classic — the women will therefore race two of them for the first time this season at a world championships. This is, shall we say, atypical for endurance sport.

Leann Bentley, USSS press officer: Rosie, this is going to be your fifth World Champs. You were fourth overall at the Tour de Ski, your best-ever finish there; you have multiple top-10 and top-five finishes this year. What are you looking for going into Worlds?

Rosie Brennan: Honestly, my World Championships results are maybe some of my worst in my career. So I guess I set the bar low in that sense. Like, I would like to just do better than the past World Championships.

But I’ll be racing a lot, and kind of similarly to the Olympics last year, one of my goals is to actually be in the fight in all the events that I’m racing, and to be in a place where I give myself a chance at a medal. And that’s something that I’ve worked quite hard on, is to maintain some of the skills in all of the techniques and distances. So that’s kind of a big goal of mine, is just to feel like I’m in a place where I can fight in in every race I start.

Leann Bentley: Is there one race that you’re looking forward to more than others?

The 10km skate is probably my favorite event in general, so I think that’ll be one I’m eyeing for sure.

But it’s kind of odd because we’re going back to not–equal distance. So most of these races, aside from the 10km, are actually distances we haven’t done this year. So that kind of makes it interesting. So I’m hoping I remember how to do 30km’s and that sort of thing come next week.

Chad Salmela: With the new race distances that we’ve had this year, what adjustments do you think you’ve made to the tactics and your approach to pacing them, and how do you think you’re going to get back to being familiar with them in the championship event?

The 10km stayed the same with us [the women’s field], and the sprint, so some of our races have been the same. So the only one that was different for us was the 20km. And I don’t think anyone really had much experience with the 20km. Actually, in the U.S. we probably have the most experience because we do that distance at Nationals, and then men do it in NCAA. And so that may have been an advantage for the U.S. this particular year, because that was definitely an uncommon distance before this year.

But just knowing that the 20km was somewhere in that 50-minute to one-hour range of time, that kind of just became a common amount of intensity that I was shooting for in the summer, to kind of train for that.

And it’s been awesome. I’m a huge fan of 20km’s now; I’ve really enjoyed every one I’ve done. I think it’s a great — just that sub-hour distance is really a perfect distance as kind of a middle-endurance event. And so that’s been really enjoyable.

As for going back, I guess I’m just hoping my muscle memory at this point is good enough. I have raced it for a while now, so I’m hoping that kind of comes back. We did have one 15km in the Tour, so I at least had one chance to practice that. And I’m actually hoping that the number of 20km’s we’ve done has made me more prepared for the 30km than I would have been in other years, just because it is a little longer, so I feel like it should be okay going back to the old distances.

But I do wish they were equal distance. That’s been a huge improvement and I’m looking forward to seeing everything be equal distance moving forward.

This reporter, Nordic Insights: You’ve written quite eloquently about the distinction between your skiing age and your chronological age. I’m curious what you would say to someone out there who is 17 or 19, or even 23 or 25, who does want to have a future in high-level skiing and who really cares and is working really hard, but whose results don’t perfectly map onto a pathway or a pipeline that’s really easy to draw on a piece of paper. What would you say to that athlete who cares as much as anyone else and whose results just don’t exactly map on to what we might all want to see in the abstract?

It’s funny you asked that because I was literally before this call — it’s [APU coach Erik] Flora’s birthday today. And so it made me feel old because I remember celebrating a past birthday with him — I won’t reveal how old he is — on the road. And so I was like, Well, he’s been my coach for a very long time now.

And as a result of that, I was looking where we were, so I was going back to my FIS profile. And so I was looking at some of my results from back then, and, just, oh my god. Well, I’ve really come a long way; that’s nice to know.

And honestly that’s what cool about the FIS database, is that you can take any athlete that’s doing well now and go back and look at all their history and see the different trajectories. And, you know, the media tends to only focus on kind of the sensations and often those tend to be like the 18-year-olds that get a podium and things like that. But there are so many examples of athletes that have had a different trajectory or a different path, and so it is kind of fun to go back and look.

Astrid Slind is another great example that will be at this world championship, and she’s Norwegian. And so that’s maybe even more remarkable that she’s remained in the sport this long, when they’re so much more competitive and have so much more depth than our country and probably also expect results at a much younger age.

And so part of what I would tell someone is just to, like, open your eyes, look around, do that research yourself and look for those different stories, because they are out there and there’s a lot of different ways to get to the same place. And everyone’s a little different. And particularly as an American I think that’s true, just because our infrastructure is different, our country’s huge. There’s so many different paths you can take and knowledge that you can receive based on just the geography of where you live and where you grew up. And so kind of figuring out what *your* way is is always going to be the best way, because you can’t ever match what someone before you has done.

[There was a good, but long, question and answer in here about differences between athletes from different countries, which I am eliding for the sake of the overall length of this article.]

Matthew Futterman, New York Times: Can you please follow up on what it would look like to stop copying other nations, and give some examples of where this has been realized?

I think before we used to say, like, Well in Norway they do this, so we should do that. And we don’t really say that anymore. Like, I think we just own our own process a lot more than we used to.

But we also just have different things. Like, we don’t have a rollerski track in every town that we’re all living in. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have incredible terrain to rollerski on. Or maybe we’re doing a little more of a different type of training, so there’s small things like that just in terms of what we have available in our towns.

And then additionally, our team is for the most part split between Alaska and Vermont, which couldn’t be farther apart in our country. And that’s, like, further than most Europeans ever travel. So we have to get creative about the reasons we do camps, and where we do them and why we’re doing them. And so our system looks different than what a Norwegian system looks like when they meet up in in camps and stuff. So there’s things like that.

But then with the training itself, just like taking you and your coach and going in and experimenting and figuring out what your own limits are and what the kind of key workouts that build competence and fitness and strength for you look like, rather than going and reading someone’s Strava and just copying what they’re doing. I mean, Strava didn’t exist back then, so that’s not exactly what we were doing. But there was definitely a lot more of just trying to figure out what others were doing to copy it.

And part of that is just part of the process of growing and learning and becoming an expert in your field. But now it’s pretty cool because we have a lot of experts now in the U.S. And so we have so much more of a knowledge base to help the younger athletes learn these things and figure out what works best.

And then the last aspect, of course, is the fact that we have to live on the road for four or five months of the year. And so we have this whole other team aspect that we really had to take on and conquer and build that maybe other teams haven’t had to do to the same extent, and that’s obviously been a huge key to our success. If you’re all fighting for four months on the road, it’s gonna be hard to ski fast. So figuring out how to be a team, be collaborative, get along, and actually enjoy is unique to Americans. And it’s something that I think we really continue to push on in our team, and that’s helped us a ton as well.

— Gavin Kentch

Leave a Reply

Share post:



More like this

%d bloggers like this: