Basalt’s Swirbul reflects on first world championships ahead of season’s end
Now a full-time World Cup racer, Basalt’s Hailey Swirbul has gotten used to competing against the best. But last week, the 22-year-old cross-country skier was able to experience her first world championship and found out how grueling those big, standalone events can be.
“Honestly, my first world champs was more stressful than I had expected,” Swirbul wrote in an email to The Aspen Times. “With some surprising performances for me in the early season, I had high expectations for myself, and assumed others would have those expectations, too. It’s a bit of a different environment because each nation is allowed only four starts per race, so you have to be racing well to earn one of those start spots, especially being part of such a strong women’s team.”
The highlight of Swirbul’s season up to worlds had been her first career World Cup podium, a third-place finish in a 10-kilometer freestyle on Dec. 13 in Davos, Switzerland. She also had a successful showing in her first Tour de Ski, a grueling multi-stage affair that mostly takes place in Italy, finishing 18th overall.
The past month has also been busy for Swirbul, beginning with the U23 world championships in Finland, her best finish being fifth as part of a 20k relay team. From there it was onto Oberstdorf, Germany, for the main world championships, where she competed in three races, including a strong fourth-place finish in another 20k relay.
This year’s world championships were the final races in the career of Washington native and longtime Alaskan Sadie Maubet Bjornsen, 31, as the two-time Olympian is retiring.
“The relay was such an amazing experience. I got to race on a team with three of the best women’s Nordic skiers our country has produced,” said Swirbul, who also trains and studies in Alaska. “I was honored to be part of that team and Sadie Bjornsen’s last world champs and give everything I had on that day. The whole team skied so tough.”
Swirbul is currently with the team in the Engadin Valley of Switzerland for the final World Cup races of the season this weekend. She’s had a solid season and currently sits in 22nd place in the overall standings with only Rosie Brennan (third) and Jessie Diggins ahead of her among Americans. Diggins has already clinched the overall title, becoming the first American woman to ever do so.
Diggins, who along with Kikkan Randall won the U.S. its first Olympic gold medal in the sport at the 2018 Games in South Korea, has reset the bar for American women’s cross-country skiing. Swirbul, after experiencing her first worlds, will now look toward the 2022 Olympics, a U.S. team she has a high likelihood of making.
“It was special to be able to experience my first world championships this year accompanied by so many skiers that I admire and get to call my friends, and an incredible waxing and coaching staff to help behind the scenes,” Swirbul said. “It’s felt like a long season for me, so I am actually really looking forward to springtime in Alaska, though I’m doing my best to channel focus into these last two races! I hope to end this season knowing I gave my best, and feeling motivated to improve for next year.”
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