KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (Feb. 22) – Liz Stephen (East Montpelier, VT) led Team USA Saturday when she skied to 24th in the 30k mass start freestyle race, the final women’s cross country event of the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games. Spring-like temperatures settled on the Laura Cross Country Ski Center, where Norway earned a commanding sweep and Marit Bjoergen took her third gold of the Sochi Games. The event is set to air as a part of NBC’s Daytime Olympic coverage Saturday at 2:30 p.m. EST and can be replayed on NBCOlympics.com. The men race the 50k mass start freestyle event Sunday to wrap up the 2014 Games.
Liz Stephen, seen here racing in last week’s 4x5k team relay, led Team USA Saturday when she skied to 24th in the 30k mass start freestyle race, the final women’s cross country event of the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games. (Getty Images/Adam Pretty)
Today I wanted to come out here and smile as big as I could on the start line. I did that and I skied with no stress out there. I was trying to enjoy myself because that’s when I ski my best. I’m just happy to have started my fifth Olympic race ever. What a day to race, for sure. It was hot and there were tons of fans. I’m just happy to be here and to have a great team around me. Certainly I was hoping to have better results today, but what can you do? You go out and you try your hardest and that’s what I did. Some days it works and some days it doesn’t.
There was a lot of pressure going into the Games I think for us this year, and good pressure, because it means people are watching, people care and we have the chance to potentially get a podium in a lot of races here this year. That was really exciting.
I felt really good. I’m just kicking myself for switching skis at 10k. That was a disaster. We were all skiing together and our team kind of came into the day thinking that it was going to be way faster to switch skis. I don’t think that those girls were skiing that much faster than I was. When you’re skiing out there by yourself or with one or two other people, you can’t do it. I’ve been on the other side of the coin before too. In Oslo 2011 I didn’t switch skis, I skied right through the exchange zone and then everyone caught me and just flew past me. So I had that in the back of my head and I thought maybe my skis were going to make a difference today. I felt good, but I lost the pack, so I’m bummed about that.
It was a lot better than I thought out there. There were a couple sections that got a little soft, but for the most part the course was firm and it actually skied much better at race pace than it does when you’re trying to go slow. It was fun to jump in and for about 7.5k I was right there with the leaders and feeling good. It was kind of weird. All of a sudden things just started to break up and I looked up and I was on my own. Then the ski exchange really spread that apart. So I definitely struggled skiing on my own in the middle when the pace kind of settled a little bit, but then I came on strong in the last lap.
I’d certainly say it’s been a character building couple of weeks. It’s not exactly what we had imagined. We were good to come in with so much confidence. For me personally, I just didn’t quite hit the fitness right and then tried to put on a new face every race, but it was challenging. So I think we will learn a lot. Certainly we know that we are close. We’ve just got to keep fighting to get it right. I think overall we still had a successful Olympics.
The biggest thing I learned from today is that it’s a really good thing I’m not a summer Olympian because I do not perform in the heat very well. I just shut down. The first 8k felt great. I was really excited. I was skiing right where I wanted to be in the pack and just cruising. Then the first time up this really big hill–it was in the sun, it was hot –I just reached a certain temperature and shut down. It was pretty immediate.
There were some awesome, fun moments out there and I’m just proud of myself for finishing. It was a brutal race. It wasn’t my kind of temperature at all, but I stuck it out and so I’m psyched with that. How many Olympic 30k’s am I get the chance to do in my life? So I might as well give it my best shot and just enjoy the moment.