Outside the United States for the first time in almost a year, senior Renae Anderson’s experience in Finland has largely been confined to exploring her hotel room. But for a spot on the American Nordic skiing team at the U23 World Championships, sacrificing some sightseeing at the edge of the Arctic circle is more than worth it.
Anderson is one of just five women representing the United States at the U23 World Championships this week in Vuokatti, Finland. While scores of Bowdoin athletes have gone on to compete in their sport internationally after graduation, Anderson, who will be competing in the 10K skate race, is cementing her place as one of Bowdoin’s highest-achieving active student-athletes.
Anderson, who has been on a personal leave of absence for this academic year, has been living at home in Minneapolis and training twice a day with Loppet Nordic Racing, a club team. While Anderson is also working full-time with the Loppet Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes access to the outdoors in the Minneapolis metro area, her schedule has left her with extra time to commit to training and recovery.
“She’s been able to train a lot,” said Bowdoin’s Nordic skiing Head Coach Nathan Alsobrook. “She’s training more both in volume and quality. Not being in school has given her a much more predictable rhythm.”
Because the vast majority of races around the world were canceled in 2020, the selection criteria for this year’s world championships were partly discretionary—largely based on results from last winter—and partly based on a weekend of qualifier races in early January. Anderson knew that her strong results from last winter, including a 37th-place finish in the 5K skate at the NCAA Championship, were still not quite good enough on their own to make the team.
So she and her dad got in the car and drove over 1,200 miles to the Park City, Utah, area for her only chance at qualifying—a two-day event that pitted her against the very best skiers in the nation. Anderson finished eighth in the 10k classic race, earning her a spot on the World Championship team.
“[Qualifying] was a stretch goal that always felt a little unrealistic, but [it] kept me motivated,” Anderson said.
Anderson is solidifying her place on the growing list of Bowdoin Nordic skiers who have competed at the international level in the past decade. In recent years, Kaitlynn Miller ’14 qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in 2018, Jake Adicoff ’18 has skied in the Paralympics, and Walt Shepard ’11 competed in numerous international events in biathlon. But no Bowdoin athlete, skier or not, has ever competed on this stage while still a student.
The U23 division consisted of 37 nations and 656 athletes. Despite the fact that no fans are allowed at the venue and the structure of the races has been stripped down to accommodate COVID-19 protocols, Anderson said that the event still feels like what she would expect of one of the world’s premier races.
“It’s pretty cool for me to see all these teams from different places speaking different languages and wearing their country’s uniforms,” said Anderson. “We’re all wearing the same uniforms they wear at the World Cup and Olympic races. It’s really fun to be a part of that atmosphere.”
Like many of the other athletes competing, this is Anderson’s first time out of her home country in nearly a year. Finland agreed to host the athletes on the condition of a strict testing regimen and self-isolation once the athletes arrived. All of the skiers have been subject to a comprehensive testing program before and during their travels, and Anderson said that she is only able to spend a few hours each day out of her room to ski and run.
“Finland is so beautiful, and I feel so lucky to be able to be here,” said Anderson, who arrived in the country on January 30. “It’s definitely an alternative experience to just being on vacation, though. There are very strict rules … the reason the race is in Finland is because their government volunteered to host it when other places cancelled, and their restrictions are very tough. But that’s a good thing.”
Anderson’s participation in and of itself is a crowning achievement, both for her and for Bowdoin Nordic skiing. But beyond this race, she and Alsobrook are already looking ahead towards how her performance this week will dictate her final college season next winter.
“This will really set her up for next year,” said Alsobrook. “Being part of such an elite crew of skiers will be a huge confidence boost—she will not face anyone faster than at this race at NCAAs. She will know that she is absolutely one of the best skiers in the country, and it’s exciting and empowering for the whole team to see one of our people performing at this level. We’re really proud of her.”
Anderson raced in the 10K classic this morning at 6:00 a.m. EDT. No matter the result, her mere participation in the event sets high expectations for her return to collegiate skiing next fall.
“I’m really excited to get back to the team—that’s one of the things I’ve missed most over the past year,” said Anderson. “Bowdoin Nordic is what got me here. Having total faith in [Alsobrook]’s training and being excited about what we have at Bowdoin is a good mark of confidence in how good our team dynamics are and what our process is. It’ll be fun to return with some confidence that what we’ve all been doing has been really working.”
— to bowdoinorient.com