Former AVSC standout Oldham named to junior worlds team in cross-country skiing
Kate Oldham will compete in Norway in late February where strong results could pave the way to a national team invitation
After months of doubt, Kate Oldham was finally able to put on a race bib for Middlebury College, and it came at January’s U.S. nationals, nonetheless. The long wait, as excruciating as it was, more than paid off for the former Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club standout following a three-race performance in Utah that may have catapulted her cross-country skiing career to a place she never dreamed it could go, at least out loud.
“It’s been something that I’ve thought about a lot, but it’s not necessarily something I’ve broadcast that I’ve set out to do,” Oldham said. “I’ve never really been one to say, ‘When I grow up, I want to be on the U.S. ski team.’ But now that it’s trending in that direction, it feels pretty gratifying having done a lot of work for it.”
Oldham’s success at U.S. nationals has led to her being named to the country’s team for the junior world championships, where she’ll be one of six women who gets to compete from Feb. 22-27 in Lygna, Norway. The event, which coincides with the U23 world championships, presents a significant opportunity for all the skiers, with strong results more often than not leading to a nomination to the national team for the following season.
It’s not something Oldham wants to dwell on too much at the moment, but she understands what is possibly at stake at the end of the month in Norway.
“I haven’t actually given it a ton of thought since the last two years have been so hard to plan for,” Oldham said. “I’m not going into junior worlds with any result-based goals at this time. It’s definitely the highest caliber event that I’ve ever been to. And so I’m mostly just looking forward to going and getting that exposure, and it’s going to be the most competitive field I’ve ever skied in. Definitely going to give it all that I’ve got, but having nothing to compare it to, I’m pretty open to whatever happens.”
A bumpy road
Oldham, 19, is from Carbondale and attended Colorado Rocky Mountain School. She grew up skiing with AVSC and was one of the club’s star athletes for many years. Among her greatest successes was being named to the country’s U18 team for the Scando Cup in Estonia during her junior year of high school, a byproduct of her success at U.S. nationals that winter.
However, like so many, her upward trajectory took a bit of a hit with the onset of the pandemic. Despite a disappointing showing at U.S. nationals her senior year, she landed at Middlebury College in Vermont — a school known for producing Olympic skiers, including Aspen’s own Simi Hamilton — but the pandemic canceled the entire competitive ski season her freshman year, including last year’s U.S. nationals.
“I was pretty excited to come ski for them. They had a really good women’s team when I was looking around at colleges, so that was definitely a huge draw for me,” Oldham said. “It was kind of weird having such a long period with no races, because people were doing such different things during that time.”
Oldham took a leave of absence from Middlebury last spring semester before returning this fall, but that didn’t mean she took a step back in training. If anything, her most productive stretch of training came this past year and included getting to take part in the National Elite Group (NEG) camp in October in Park City, Utah, which is largely put on by the U.S. ski team.
Her first race with Middlebury? Yep, the U.S. nationals, held the first week of January at Soldier Hollow.
“She had a phenomenal summer of training,” said August Teague, AVSC’s Nordic program director and one of Oldham’s primary coaches. “She showed up on the day, which was the hardest part of all. You can do all those other things right, but then you’ve got to deal with the pressure and deal with the moment, and she showed up.”
Teague called Oldham’s first race at U.S. nationals the “best race of her career to date.” It was a qualifier for the 1.3-kilometer skate sprint, where she finished third before eventually taking seventh in finals. Four days later, Oldham finished 23rd in the 10K classic race, and fifth among junior racers. Both races were won by Caitlin Patterson, who will represent the U.S. at her second Olympic Games this month in Beijing.
Between the two races, Oldham won a 7.5K freestyle mass start that included only the junior athletes.
“It was the first mass start I had done since U.S. nationals two years ago. And in that race I went into it with no expectations. I was just nervous and excited to do it,” Oldham said. “I remember crossing the line and went straight and hugged my mom, and it was the best feeling in the world. It was a very rewarding moment and a new feeling I happened to like a lot, so hopefully there is more to come.”
Oldham’s teammates for junior worlds include Sydney Palmer-Leger (Park City), Nina Seemann (Vermont), Nina Schamberger (Leadville via the Summit Nordic Ski Club), Samantha Smith (Idaho) and Annie McColgan (Oregon). Among the six-person men’s team for junior worlds is current University of Colorado skier and Vermont native Will Koch, son of the famed Bill Koch, who to this day remains the only American male cross-country skier to medal at the Winter Olympics.
A major bonus for Oldham is that Teague will be part of the U.S. coaching staff for junior worlds — a position he applied for back in the fall before he knew if any local athletes would make the team — and will be tasked with working directly with Oldham while in Norway.
“It certainly is more rewarding when you get to represent the red, white and blue and support one of your hometown kids,” Teague said. “I am optimistic that she will have a better day in the skate sprints in Lygna, Norway, even yet, because what we are seeing is she is continuing on that trajectory. I think she can go over there and crush it even further.”
Among it all, these athletes are fighting for the attention of the U.S. ski team. Basalt’s own Hailey Swirbul, another former AVSC product who is getting ready to compete at the Olympics for the first time this month, made a name for herself at junior worlds, recording a pair of podiums at the 2018 event in Goms, Switzerland, before being named to the U.S. national team that spring.
Teague said Oldham’s results at U.S. nationals have already earned her start rights for overseas competitions, but a good showing at junior worlds could lead to a lot more than that, not that she is putting much thought into it. But, with the door open for her, Oldham said she’ll do whatever she can to walk through it.
“I’m really excited,” said Oldham, who leaves Feb. 14 for a U.S. pre-camp in Norway. “Assuming that things keep getting closer to normal (amid the pandemic), I definitely don’t plan on backing off at all. I’m looking for every chance I can to train with the teammates I have on this trip and the teammates I was at NEG with.”