Friday, March 24, 2017

Maailmanmestaruuskilpailuiden Huumaa

Sorry this post is overdue. After Helsinki we proceeded to the World Championships in Lahti -- for what turned into one of our funnest trips ever -- and then even more travel got in the way. Stay tuned for England.

"What does the title of this entry mean?," you ask? World Championships Fever Feeling, of course. You can't make up these Finnish words.

And that's exactly what we felt all week on our friends' lovely pig and barley farm about 25 kilometers from Lahti. The place was even more beautiful than we imagined in our heads (and let's face it, many things aren't). In the mid-1800s, the farm was owned by the Russian governor general of the local province, or something like that. Kari's and Maijastiina's English is excellent, but one can only do so much translating of the nuances of the Russian Imperial bureaucracy ...

The farm runs down to a beautiful lake, and the feel of the place is pretty much terrific.

Normally the farm would have had about 15 kilometers of Kari-groomed ski trails on it, but climate change took care of those this year. But no problem (I mean, the lack of skiing on the farm was no problem, not climate change). Thanks to rain in February in Finland, and then freezing, and then just a skiff of snow, the lake was absolutely perfect for miles and miles of couldn't-get-your-heartrate-up-if-you-tried crust skiing.

Guess if the cabins on the Finnish lake had cool architecture and design.

Kari and Maijastiina have a "summer house" about .3 kilometers from the main farm house.

We also skied closer to Lahti (indeed, the trails eventually make their way to the stadium) on the fun rolly-polly trails of Hollola.

The farm comes with two fantastic dogs, Rocky and Romy (Americanized spellings).

And even the pigs were cute (this guy was a little alarmed because I managed to wake him).

But of course the real matter at hand was going to the races. By the time we arrived in Lahti, the Americans had already won two medals: bronze and silver in the individual sprint, and bronze in the two-person-team sprint. But still there were chances for more. The event we'd been looking forward to the most was the 4x5k women's relay, and we paid the big bucks to sit in the stadium for this one.

We were about 30 seconds behind after the first two laps, and on the third lap Liz Stephen came agonizingly close to catching the leaders. I think think this is her coming out of the stadium starting to climb with the leaders in sight, but maybe it's Diggins ...

Unfortunately we couldn't close the gap and finished 4th. It's a little unhealthy how much I wanted to medal so we could celebrate that night downtown at the medal plaza. J had certainly seen enough.

 Luckily, the Finns had an eepa perfect for the occasion.

And still, it was a good race, in part because the Americans had fast skis throughout the championships. Here's one of the American wax techs -- one of the silent heroes behind our two medals -- in the Portland airport. Suffice it to say I now know that photographs aren't allowed in the customs area. Suffice it to say this is the only picture I took in the customs area. 

One of the coolest moments of the Championships came just before the relay, when a 92-year-old Finnish Olympic gold medalist skied a lap around the stadium. She (and her technique at age 92) was completely inspiring to everyone there, not just the Finns. If you start the video at 1:40, you can clearly see our American flag for about the next ten seconds.

We ended up going to five days of racing, which at first sounded like a lot, but I would have happily gone to five more. Of course, we had to learn a few tricks of the trade. Assuming you're planning on going to Finland for ski races some time, here a few guidelines to keep in mind.

First, bring a large thermos with hot chocolate and another with "French coffee," as the Finns call coffee with cognac (wanted to get a picture of Artturi into this entry).

Next, pack lots of little sandwiches ...

... but still load up on reindeer sausage and reindeer stew.

Bring a cowbell of course.

And don't forget the reindeer cups.

And before you ever get to the stadium, load up on Shove Tuesday buns, possibly the most delicious concoction you've never heard of. If you're looking for a start-up idea, I guarantee a shop selling these cream- and jam-filled delights in Brooklyn would print money. Here's a recipe (though Artturi says to use water, not milk).

Make sure to bring a flag. This way, Kikkan Randall's dad can find you (Randall is the most decorated US World Cup skier of all-time, and she won the sprint bronze in Lahti).

Be one of the 35,000 in the stadium watching ski jumping at night, which is a complete blast. Look, you try capturing these guys in the air with a point and shoot.

The jumps are seriously high (artsy shot alert).

Allow time to hit the sauna at the stadium. (Ok, it's true, we didn't.)

And make sure to hit the after parties. You have to love a culture that labels the area one visits after watching a ski race buzzed on rum hot chocolate the "after ski bar."

This place was even better.

Vary where you sit/stand. Sitting in the stadium was great, but so were standing essentially in the end-zone, and then being right up against the boards as the racers came screaming down Indian Hill for the women's 30k on Saturday.

We had a chance here to take pictures during warmups. Here's Jessie Diggins sort of ruining what could have been a great shot.

Kari and Maijastiina, this is Krista Parmokoski, right? (actually taken the first day)

The 30k itself was an epic nail-biter. On a beautiful sunny day, Diggins stayed with the small lead group for 29k, and I honestly believe that, if she had just had the courage to break first, she could have taken down the Norwegians. In the end she was a close 5th, the best ever for an American woman in the culminating long race at Worlds. I'm pretty sure she was so close because of the encouragement we yelled at her during warm-ups ... If you start the video at 53:40, you can clearly see our flag again.

We had to get one last group shot leaving the stadium.

On Sunday, the final day of the racing, and our last in Lahti, we stayed at the farm for a blissful last afternoon of skiing, watching the men's 50K on television (in which the Finns medaled), and eating one last absurdly good meal. We had no idea why Kari and Maijastiina kept telling us that we were eating "Swedes" ... I thought it had something to do with how all non-Swedish Scandinavians poke fun of Swedish people. Turns out that the Brits call rutabagas Swedes. (Who knew?) The Finns also don't call Baked Alaska Baked Alaska.

Sorry Trump, Finland first.

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