Swirbul finds perspective after busy World Cup season, is all in on Olympic push
The biggest takeaway from the season for Hailey Swirbul was about perspective. Whether it meant making the repetitive European breakfasts more enjoyable or being a better teammate, there was something to be gained from not focusing on the greater successes.
“The most important thing I learned throughout this whole year is to focus on the small victories. I’ve been thinking about this a lot actually, because it’s really easy to get caught up in a big result,” Swirbul said. “It’s easy to lose perspective about the small victories and the small motivations along the way and wondering why you’re not winning world juniors, like some of these people around us are. I think that was really important for me and I was able to focus on something small.”
Swirbul, a 2016 Basalt High School graduate, recently wrapped up her second season with the U.S. cross-country ski team. The 2019-20 winter came with a lot more challenges, including many more World Cup starts. Swirbul started four World Cup races in her rookie campaign last winter, three coming in the Quebec finals.
This winter, she added 10 more World Cup starts to her name, including her first points. The very first point came when she finished 30th in a sprint in Davos, Switzerland, a day she said she “will remember forever.”
The extra grind also meant even more time in Europe, and she wasn’t overly disappointed when the tail end of the season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It honestly has been a long season. I have never started the season so early, like as early as I did this year … I was kind of ready for some play time,” Swirbul said. “It’s definitely an adjustment. I think it was a more stressful year than I really realized. Just figuring out how everything works and the dynamic and the lifestyle.”
Overall, the results and experience Swirbul gained this winter show a productive season for the 21-year-old distance specialist. She finished 77th in the overall women’s World Cup standings with 24 points, 17 of those coming in distance events.
She also won three races at the U.S. national championships in Michigan back in January, and had a strong showing at the U23 World Ski Championships in early March in Oberwiesenthal, Germany.
“It was different to go into U23’s this year after being on the World Cup most of the year, because I had a different perspective on how intense it was,” Swirbul said. “It changed the dynamic of the races for me there, but I’m happy with my efforts.”
At U23, Swirbul’s highlight was a seventh-place finish in the 10-kilometer classic, as well as a fifth-place finish in a mixed team relay.
“Hailey was on the road a bunch with us this winter, which was really fun for me,” said Sophie Caldwell, who led the U.S. women by finishing sixth in the season-long sprint standings. “I knew Hailey a little, but hadn’t gotten to really spend too much time with her on the road, so I feel I got to know her quite a bit better this year and I really enjoy her as both a person and a skier. So it was a blast for me to have that whole crew of girls on the road.”
Caldwell — who is married to Aspen’s Simi Hamilton, a three-time Olympian on the men’s side — has twice represented the U.S. at the Winter Games. A return to a third Olympics is up in the air, but she’s among the veteran skiers who could help get someone like Swirbul to her first.
Swirbul’s first two seasons on the World Cup stage came at a good time, as this season especially was arguably the easiest in the four-year Olympic cycle. Next season the world championships return, with the shadow of the 2022 Olympics in Beijing becoming ever present.
Swirbul has both events firmly on her radar.
“I’m not trying to do this as a sprint. I’m hoping to be in it for the long run and if I want to do that I need to make sure it’s sustainable for me,” Swirbul said of her skiing career. “Definitely the Olympics is a big focus and I’m in it 100% until then and hopefully beyond. But I don’t know, it’s such a demanding sport and lifestyle that it’s something you have to reevaluate year to year.”
Fully aware he was in the midst of the mountain bike race of his life, Aspen’s John Gaston said he “tried to not think too far ahead” to prevent the magnitude of the moment from getting to him. He eventually finished runner-up in the iconic race.
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