First ever women’s Nordic combined World Cup season is on the chopping block
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The 2020-21 Nordic combined season was supposed to be historic. This winter was going to be the first ever with women’s Nordic combined World Cup events, the first scheduled for Dec. 3-6 in Lillehammer, Norway.
However, it was announced earlier this month that the event was postponed to later in the season due to the uncertainty around COVID-19.
On Friday, the only other women’s World Cup event was canceled. The event in Otepaa Estonia, scheduled for Jan. 1-3, was canceled due to the recent rise in cases in the country.
“It’s a little bit of a bummer, but I still get to spend some time in Norway training,” said Steamboat Springs Nordic combined skier Tess Arnone. “I mean, a lot of things have been canceled and changed because of COVID. It’s kind of just what we’re gonna have to deal with right now.”
Now, the future of women’s Nordic combined hangs in the balance as the Lillehammer event hopes to find a new date to host the competition. Until then, the women at the forefront of the sport will have to settle for the Continental Cup, a circuit they’ve competed in for years while waiting for the next level to arrive.
“I have no idea which competition will be our first,” said Steamboat Springs women’s Nordic combined athlete Annika Malacinski. “It’s really up in the air and no one knows how the season’s going to turn out. It’s really hard to keep myself motivated and keep pushing myself because I don’t know what I’m pushing myself too yet.”
Additionally, the Park City Continental Cup competition scheduled for mid-December has also been canceled due to the lack of athletes traveling to the United States. Meanwhile, the men’s Nordic combined athletes still have a jam-packed schedule, starting with a World Cup event in Ruka, Finland, on Nov. 26.
“I’m really disappointed to see the segregation between men and women as World Cups and competition,” Malacinski said. “Other than that, I’m trying to keep my head up.”
There hasn’t been any talk of adding women to any of the men’s events to make up for the canceled events, but the International Ski Federation said it’s working to replace the events.
Steamboat Springs athletes and USA Nordic national team members Alexa Brabec, Arnone and Malacinski have been carving a route for young women in the sport for years. While all are still young, they are part of the reason why women’s Nordic combined is on its way to becoming an Olympic sport. In order to become an Olympic sport, womens’ Nordic combined must exhibit participation across the globe at a high level, something this year’s women’s World Cup could have helped prove.
“When I first heard they were going to hold some world cups in the 2020-21 season, I was really excited,” Malacinski said. “This is a big step for women and going into the right direction of having Nordic combined for women be an Olympic sport. This was a huge milestone and I was really excited and happy they decided to do something like this.”
Even if women’s World Cup events don’t happen this year, Arnone doesn’t think it’ll set the sport back at all.
“I feel like it made that step and I don’t think it can really take it backwards,” she said. “We don’t really know what’s going to happen for qualifications for world champs, but … I hope we’d have World Cup events next year.”
Arnone and Brabec are both in Norway training with their coach Tomas Matura and fellow USA Nordic national team member Tara Geraghty-Moats. They’ll spend the next few weeks there training, hoping the future of the season gets clearer.
Malacinski spent six weeks training with Matura and Geraghty-Moats. Now, she’s training alone in Finland so she’s had trouble figuring out where she stands compared to other athletes.
She said skiing alone after spending six weeks with Geraghty-Moats has been difficult.
“I try to keep in mind my whole season isn’t canceled yet,” Malacinski said. “I’m really hoping that in January they will have competitions for women. … I’ve really been, honestly, trying to keep a positive mindset.”
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Had Hailey Swirbul decided against going to Europe, she would not have finished with a career-best result in Friday’s World Cup opener. Yes, there was a time, and not long ago, when the U.S. ski team member and Roaring Fork Valley native questioned her desire to put on a race bib.