AVSC’s Kate Oldham named to U18 team for Scando Cup | PostIndependent.com

AVSC’s Kate Oldham named to U18 team for Scando Cup

Austin Colbert
The Aspen Times

As with most athletes, August Teague had a plan for Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club skier Kate Oldham. However, that plan has temporarily fallen apart, and in the best way possible.

"She is one of the athletes where you sort of plan on a certain step and you go in to hit the step and she skips the step and hits the one above it," said Teague, AVSC's Nordic program director and national competition coach.

Oldham, 16, is a junior at Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale and one of the AVSC's top cross-country skiers. She was one of five current AVSC athletes to have competed in the Jan. 3-8 U.S. Cross-Country Ski Championships in Craftsbury, Vermont. The premier U.S. event of the winter season, U.S. nationals is a qualifier for a number of other events, such as possible World Cup starts, and can include numerous members of the U.S. ski team.

Oldham, competing at senior nationals for the first time, was there only for the experience. Instead, she got a little bit more than she bargained for in the form of a spot on the U.S. team for the U18 Scandinavian Championships, otherwise known as the Scando Cup, held Jan. 25-27 in Otepaa, Estonia.

"It was on my radar for a potential goal next year. … It's still so crazy to me, and unexpected," Oldham said. "I was just going to go in and see what it was about to maybe set myself up better for next year. And then I just kind of surprised myself a little bit and had some good races, and the next thing I knew I was being put onto the team to Estonia."

THE SCANDO CUP

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With Scandinavia being the center of the Nordic world, the Scando Cup is certainly a big deal. Only a handful of countries, such as the United States, have spots in the event, seen as somewhat of a bridge for the U18 skiers who aspire to reach that next level, such as world juniors. Oldham is one of 12 going for the U.S. — six men and six women — and is the lone representative from Colorado.

"This trip has been developed for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard pipeline in terms of getting our under-18 athletes experience overseas against the highest level competition possible, to ready them for world juniors," Teague said of the Scando Cup. "I am fully confident she will shock herself and shock myself with results there. But the goal is to learn how to travel overseas, learn how to travel away from AVSC, because now she is traveling under the U.S. ski team banner with slightly different support staff."

While Oldham has vacationed in Europe, she has never competed there. This will be her first time representing the U.S. on an international stage, and she is taking a similar approach to the Scando Cup as she did a U.S. nationals, which is simply to take it all in and learn what she can for the following year.

Qualification for the Scando Cup was based largely on results from U.S. nationals. Many of the skiers who initially finished in the top six among U18 athletes also received a spot in world juniors, and obviously opted for the high-level competition. This left the door open for someone like Oldham to land on the team bound for Estonia, something she didn't think was in her wheelhouse, at least this winter.

Most of the top finishers at nationals are current members of the U.S. Ski Team, including 2016 Basalt High School graduate Hailey Swirbul, who had her first World Cup start this past weekend in Germany.

"Looking at the start lists, it was 'holy cow' — so overwhelming and kind of intimidating," Oldham said of nationals. "Then you see Hailey and Hannah Halvorsen and Julia Kern, all these U.S. Ski Team girls also, and it's like, 'Well, looks like I'm just going to go out and kind of get my butt kicked a little bit.' And that's totally why I went. It was exciting and scary and fun."

Oldham's results weren't at the level of those veteran skiers, but when it came to Scando Cup qualifying, she only had to hold her own against the other U18 athletes. In Estonia, there will be three races, and each of the six women will have a starting spot in each race. There will be a 1.3-kilometer classic sprint Jan. 25, a 5k race Jan. 26 and a three-person team relay Jan. 27.

Teague hopes she can soak in the experience this year and again qualify for the 2020 race with even higher expectations in hand. She's certainly had success on U.S. soil, having twice competed at junior nationals — she also is the reigning high school state champion in Nordic skate, having won it for CRMS last winter — but is just now getting to taste the international stage.

"As it relates to Kate, we've always taken the approach of taking appropriate steps as we progress with her athletically," Teague said. "Next year, when we are back onto our plan of her qualifying for the U18 trip, she can go over there and have that next level of success."

ROLE MODELS

After the Scando Cup, the next progression is typically world juniors (a U20 event held this year from Jan. 20 to 27 in Lahti, Finland) and then the U23 world championships, which runs concurrently with world juniors. Heading to Finland next week for the U23 competition are a pair of Roaring Fork Valley locals in Swirbul and Evelina Sutro.

Sutro, also of Carbondale and briefly CRMS, finished out high school at a ski academy in Sweden before returning to the U.S. to ski for the University of Vermont. She had a fifth-place finish in the 20k mass start at U.S. nationals earlier this month.

Swirbul, a rookie on the U.S. Ski Team who is going to college in Alaska, was 41st in her first World Cup start on Saturday in Dresden. She finished fourth, one spot ahead of Sutro, in that same 20k race at nationals. Swirbul also finished sixth in a 1.5k classic sprint at nationals.

Naturally, Swirbul is someone Oldham has long looked up to, going back to her middle school days when she was struggling to find a foothold in the sport. Led by the likes of Olympic gold medalist Jessie Diggins, Swirbul is part of what is arguably the strongest era in U.S. women's cross-country skiing history, and part of a group Oldham is trying to follow in the ski tracks of.

"I don't see her tons because she is doing U.S. Ski Team things all the time, but she will text me after big races and stuff and I really enjoy having communication with her and talking about races," Oldham said of her relationship with Swirbul. "I think it's really cool that the women's team is so strong. I wish I knew some of those girls. I think it's definitely cool that it's putting Nordic on the map for a lot of other people."

acolbert@aspentimes.com