Ava Thurston, Waverly Gebhart, and Nina Seemann:

Greetings from Vuokatti, Finland. Today was an exciting day packed full with races. The postponement (from some colder than cold weather) of the U23 classic sprints on Wednesday resulted in all of the skate individual distance races being held today. It was a relatively warm day here in Vuokatti, some went so far as to even call it “downright balmy” with a high of 14 degrees.

The first race of the day was the junior women, who competed in a fast paced 5k. Ava Thurston placed 14th, Waverly Gebhart was 51st, and Nina Seemann was 62nd. The junior men were next, racing 3 laps of the 3.3k course for a total of 10k. Zanden McMullen lead the charge with an impressive 5th place finish, followed by Johnny Hagenbuch in 17th, Will Koch in 36th, and Wally Magill in 64th after doing some mid race mechanical adjustments when his ski skied away from him. The third race of the day was the U23 women who skied the same 10k course as the junior men. The US women had two in the top 10, with Sophia Laukli finishing in 5th, and Hailey Swirlburl in 8th. Alex Lawson raced to a 23rd place finish, and Renae Anderson was 45th. The U23 boys finished out the day’s racing with two US skiers placing in the top 15. Gus Schumacher skied to 8th place, and Hunter Wonders finished in 13th. Ben Ogden was 33rd and JC Schoonmaker was 39th.

Four distance races made for a long day, so we want to give a HUGE thank you to all the coaches and wax techs who helped us get out there and race our best today. The sprint hill in the stadium is a key but tough part of the course and having coaches on the upper half helps you find that extra motivation to push over the top. And where would we be without our speedy skis? The wax techs have spent many (I don’t even want to guess how many) hours working on giving us the best skis out there and luckily for us they are very good at what they do. There are still a few US athletes on the team that are in quarantine and because of that are unable to race. Being over here and having to miss the races is about as hard as it gets, but these athletes have been super supportive and have helped with ski testing and cheered teammates on from the path alongside the stadium. It’s a huge bummer that they can’t be out there on the race course but we know these athletes are going to crush the rest of their seasons and will be back next year to destroy the competition.

Things are going well from an off the race course standpoint too. Junior Worlds definitely looks very different this year, but the unique circumstances have allowed for opportunities we might not usually have. For one, I think we can all say we’ve gotten to know our roommates quite well since almost all our time off the ski trails is spent relaxing (and maybe doing a little homework) in our rooms. For the competition week we have switched from eating meals in our rooms to eating at the dining hall with the other teams. The dining hall is split into separate rooms and we only eat at tables with our roommates, but it’s nice to see familiar faces nearby. The meals have been pretty exciting too, although the sardines weren’t met with much enthusiasm from the US team. The desserts on the other hand have received much higher reviews.

Tomorrow is relay day, and we’re so excited to see Team USA get out there and lay down some awesome races! Each race is an opportunity to learn something new, and it’s an opportunity we’re thankful to get. The financial support NNF provides for this trip helps make it possible for us athletes to get the chance to race at such a competitive level. We’re excited to see what additional successes the next few days and the rest of the season will bring!

Andy Newell, Bryan Fish, and Chris Mallory in the stadium.

Ava Thurston heads into the downhill.

Sophia Laukli races up the hill.

Photos: @tomimakipaa1, U.S. Ski & Snowboard, Bryan Fish, Alex Jospe

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