Sunday, April 14, 2024

Representing Team USA in Sweden a lifelong memory

by Maeve Ingelfinger
| March 6, 2024 12:00 AM

[Editor's note: Maeve Ingelfinger is a senior at Whitefish High School and a world-class Nordic skier. This is her story of a recent international race in Sweden, where she placed fourth.]

During the month of January this year, I attended two major Nordic racing events. The first event was held in Soldier Hollow, Utah, and was composed of four races that were a part of the United States Senior National Championships. Racers above age 15 race this event in hopes of qualifying for trips that range from the U18 Nordic Nations Cup Trip, which I qualified for, to a spot on the World Cup Circuit — the highest level of nordic racing internationally.

This year’s Nordic Nations Trip, sponsored by the National Nordic Foundation, traveled to Falun, Sweden to compete in Swedish Nationals to be held at the venue of the 2027 World Championships. The trip included 12 athletes aged 16-18 and four coaches from across the U.S. 

Arriving in Falun involved multiple long flights and a three hour drive but was well worth it.

We stayed at a hotel less than a 10-minute walk from the venue. After a few incredible days of training and race preparation on the world-class courses of Falun, the races began with a skate sprint. Temperatures were extremely cold but luckily we were able to compete in the qualifying round of the sprint. 

In the finishing pen after my qualifier, a curious Swedish reporter attempted to ask me questions about my team and experience at the races. Shivering, out of breath and finding it hard to understand his accented English, I found myself in a situation comically relatable to European skiers interviewed by English-speaking reporters on the World Cup, only I didn’t have to answer him in Swedish. 

An hour or so after the conclusion of the qualifier, three other athletes and I, who had qualified in the top 30 racers for heats, were informed that the Junior heats had been canceled due to the cold. The Swedish rules set a temperature limit of minus 17 degrees Celsius for junior races. These rules are in place to protect the delicate lung tissue of athletes in order to preserve our long term health.

Similarly, cold temperatures also prevented us from racing the following day in the skate 10km individual start. 

Despite this being extremely disappointing, the team took advantage of the free time to tour an old copper mine UNESCO site in Falun that sits at a constant temperature of 40F even when the outdoor temperatures are far below zero. 

In the mine, we wound our way to a depth of 67 meters, nowhere near the mine’s total depth of 610 meters. In the dimly lit tunnels beneath the earth, the local tour guide offered us insight into what nearly 1,000 mine workers experienced each day over the 10 centuries the mine was in operation. 

After this walk through history, the team went to enjoy some authentic Swedish pastries and coincidentally met a famous Swedish cyclist who kindly agreed to take a picture with the women's team.

Thankfully, the weather warmed up for Sunday’s 10K individual classic race. 

During the race, the boys team that had raced before us, gathered on course to offer the loudest, most encouraging cheering I have ever experienced. The energy they gave me propelled me up the long, grueling climbs of the World Cup level course. 

Overall, Team USA put together an amazing performance, placing five women in the top 12 and four men in the top 15 for the U18 category. 

I felt honored to stand on the podium in fourth place representing Team USA among my teammates and Swedish racers.

This trip will always be extremely memorable for me because of the support that many amazing people offered me, including Glacier Nordic Club and its amazing coaches, the US development coaches, the community in the Flathead Valley and my teammates. The U.S. Nordic Ski Team does a phenomenal job creating an exciting and team-focused trip experience. I am extremely thankful to have been a part of it. 

This trip not only exposed me to Swedish culture and offered me invaluable race experience, but it also allowed me to meet many amazing people and new teammates who I will never forget.

    Whitefish high school senior Maeve Ingelfinger competed in Sweden in January. (Photo provided)