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Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion
  Note: In the first version of my year-end analysis, I was pretty negative about a few specific things. Most of the responses I got were because of those comments. This disappointed me because, overall, I was thrilled with my season and that was the message I wanted to convey. I have edited my comments a little bit to make it more positive.
The Year In Review

It seems a bit weird to be writing down my end-of-the-year thoughts right now. For one thing, It has snowed every day so far this week. I went tele skiing at Deer Valley yesterday and was up to my knees in fresh powder in some spots! So far, April has been more like winter than February was. For another thing, it seems like just last week that I was in Fairbanks for a pre-season camp. But the calendar says "April 10, 1999" and I can't find any more races on the schedule (I didn't look that hard), so it must be time to look back and evaluate.

By all accounts, I had a very good year. A year ago I decided that if I was going to continue skiing past this year I needed to start seeing some improvement. I trained more in the spring and summer than I ever have and included much more intensity that I usually do. There were many people shaking their heads when I told them about my Intensity Plan. But I have to say that it worked very well. I realized the improvement I was hoping for this year. Last spring, I set the following goals for myself:

  1. Finish in the top ten in at least 3 races at U.S. Nationals and be a legitimate contender for the World Championship team. - Accomplished
  2. Win my age group in the American Ski Marathon series and ski with the lead pack in these races. - Accomplished
  3. End the year ranked in the top 10 in the country, with points under 65. - Just about accomplished
  4. Win more money than the amount I spend on entry fees. - Accomplished
  5. Grab the attention of the U.S. Ski Team. - NOT Accomplished
My main focus for the year was Nationals in Rumford, Maine in January. My best result at Nationals previous to this year was a 10th place in the 10K Classic race. This year, rather than squeak into the top ten once, I wanted to be there consistently, challenging for a spot on the World Championship team. I did exactly what I had hoped for. My finishes were 4th, 6th, 6th, 10th, and a forgettable 24th. In the 10K Classic I was less than 15 seconds from a medal, and going into the last race I had an outside chance of making the Worlds team. I ended up finishing 8th overall for the week. This was clearly a huge step up for me. These races confirmed that I am one of the best skiers in the country and that I am still gettine better. But I also knew that I accomplished these results almost solely on the strength of my classic skiing and that if I wanted to reach the top my skating would have to improve. When I returned to Utah after Nationals, Torbjorn and I worked intensively on my skating for a couple weeks and it paid off in the second half of the season. Which leads me to my second goal. . .

The second half of the season was almost exclusively skate marathons, which until this year had been my biggest weakness. But this year I broke through on the marathon circuit. I won my age group in EVERY marathon I entered and skied with the lead pack the whole way in each race. My success in these races was due to a couple of factors: my improving skate technique and implementing of a new strategy - "Hang on to the lead pack as if your life depends on it." I am very good at "skiing my own race" and pacing myself. But this is not a good way to ski a marathon. In the past, as soon as the lead pack would start to get away from me, I would let them go because I was afraid of going too hard too early in a long race. But what I didn't realize at that time was that it is much easier to ski in a pack. Once they got away, they were skiing easier, but still faster than I was. If you just hammer to hang on for a kilometer or two, you will have time to rest later on when the pace eases, while still pulling away from the skiers behind you. A year ago, I would have thought it impossible for me to reach the podium in a marathon race, but this year I won the Great Ski Race, was second in the Gold Rush, 4th in the West Yellowstone Rendezvous, and 10th in the Birkie. It honestly blew my mind to finish in the top ten at the Birkie. That gave me the confidence to know that I can compete in long skate races. The Birkie put me on a roll that continued for a month and a half.

I haven't seen the end-of-the-year points list yet, but in early March my points were exactly at 65 and I was ranked 11th in the country. While I did not get back into the top ten as I had hoped, I did get my points down to where I wanted them. I think I skied well enough to be in the top ten. It was bad weather, more than anything else, which kept me out. Perhaps my best race of the year came in Fairbanks, AK in November. According to my crude calculations, this would have been about a 50 point race for me. But since the snow was marginal, it did not count for official points. Then bad weather caused the cancellation of the next three FIS Continental Cup races completely. I was skiing really well early in the season and if I had points from these four races, I know I would be much higher in the standings.

Since I did not reclaim my spot in the top ten, I will have a harder time getting the attention of the U.S. Ski Team when they name the team for next year. There are certain skiers that are clearly at the top of the pecking order right now. Marcus Nash and Justin Wadsworth had successful races on the World Cup, and juniors Rob Whitney and Kris Freeman continue to show promise for the future. But then there is a group of relatively young senior skiers, including myself, who should be next in line. Besides me, Justin Freeman, Andrew Johnson, Phil Bowen, and Scott Loomis are making strides towards being the best this country has to offer for 2002 in Salt Lake City. Earlier this year, I thought my results might be good enough to earn a U.S. Development Team spot. Now that the season is over we will just have to wait and see what the Team decides to do. Either way, my long-term goal is the 2002 Olympics and I will continue to do whatever is necessary to get there.

All in all, I was very happy with my season. I accomplished all the goals that I had control over. I made the step up that I have been looking for in the past few years. I still have more progress to make, but I am right on track for 2002. Though I continue to be frustrated with the lack of support for developing skiers in this country, I am fortunate to have others who believe in me and support what I am doing. The support I have received this year has been overwhelming. I am still living the poor ski racer lifestyle, but for the first time in recent memory, I will probably not have to enter next season still trying to pay off this season's expenses. In light of this, it is time to thank some people.

A world of thanks to:
*First of all, my Mom and Dad, who are still waiting for their investment in a Dartmouth education to start paying dividends, but continue to encourage me to follow my dreams anyway. My Dad always gives me good advice, but the best piece of ski advice I got this year was from my Mom. Usually her advice is more along the lines of "Don't forget your mittens." (Good advice in its own right.) But a few weeks ago she told me that I was too itimidated by my competition and that I shouldn't be afraid to beat them. She was right, and I won my next race.
*My brother, for keeping me in line whenever I get too wrapped up in my little ski world.
*Grampy, for making this whole website possible and for always being so proud of everything I accomplished. I hadn't told anyone this before now, but this season was for you Grampy.
*Torbjorn Karlsen and Nordic Equipment, for the Solda wax, ProSki rollerskis, expert coaching, and guidance towards my goals.
*Peter Camann, for his relentless promotion of me, and ski racing in general, in the North Country.
*John Hanson, for organizing my most successful fundraising campaign ever.
* A Glaring Omission in my first draft - Lori Gates, TUNA Secretary, for processing all my donations and keeping track of them.
*Everyone at Rockywold - Deephaven Camps, my second home, who donated to that campaign.
*Everyone else who donated to my skiing fund. I would love to list everyone who has helped, but I'm not sure if you would all feel comfortable with that. So I will just give one huge group thanks.
*Rick Halling at Atomic, Tom Rogers at Exel, and John Yarrington at Salomon, for providing me with the best equipment available.
*Kevin Fillion and the Littleton Courier for making sure that Littleton doesn't forget about me just yet.
*Ruff Patterson, Fred Griffin, and Dave McGraw for helping me get to this point and continuing to be there for me.
*Jeffrey Mann for allowing me into his home for two weeks in Fairbanks.
*John Downing at Cross Country Ski World and Bob Haydock at Nordic Skiing in New England for promoting my website.
*And, of course, everyone who faithfully reads my website and newspaper articles. A year ago, this website thing was just a crazy idea in the back of my head. I never imagined that it would get this big so soon. I'm still a far cry from Truman Show or EdTV notoriety, but I have my fleeting moments of fame. Just knowing that hundreds of people actually care about what I am doing gives me extra motivation to keep it up and work even harder.

Thanks again to everyone. For the coming year, I plan to continue updating the website year-round with dryland training adventures and goals for next year. I hope that you will tune in and also send me your thoughts and suggestions for improvement(email me). Its been an incredible year and I'm happy I was able to share it with you.

© 2003 Cory Smith. All Rights Reserved.