The long-awaited second installment of Myriad Questions features cross-country skier Holly Brooks, who has the typical Olympic story: College athlete who never attracted much attention, then found work coaching in Alaska after graduation. Then after a couple of years, she suddenly realizes she’s starting to get pretty good and ends up in the Olympics, then finishing in the top five in a World Cup and third in a relay a couple of seasons later.
Wait … maybe that’s not so typical. That’s the winter-sports equivalent of The Rookie.
She keeps up a lively blog of the World Cup travel grind, and she answered a few questions for us from somewhere along the road.
(This weekend, though, the World Cup circuit comes back to North America for sprints in Quebec City — USSA will broadcast online at 2 p.m. ET Friday and 1:15 p.m. ET Saturday. The Friday race is a team sprint; Brooks will be paired with Ida Sargent. Next week, the World Cup moved to Canmore, Alberta, which will feature some of the distance races — Brooks’ strength.)
ABSOLUTELY NOT. Three years ago I was coaching junior skiers…. I had no real race aspirations of my own and I certainly wasn’t a member of the USST, attending World Cups, etc. Three years ago I was just starting to compete nationally. I was a regular in the Anchorage Cup Town Series. The opening weekend in Gallivare blew my mind. If I can be fifth in a World Cup then I’m pretty sure it can happen to anyone!
2. Can you describe the “reindeer chair” in which you were sitting while you had the lead?
It’s basically a chair, covered in blankets and furs….. it’s stationed right at the finish line so you can have a view of all the current splits, see different shots from around the race course and get an idea of whether your time will hold up or not. I’ve never sat in that chair before and the night before the race when I heard I was bib #6 I made it a priority to land there! I thought I would be there for five minutes… not 25 minutes so I didn’t change out of my wet race clothes or anything. It was one of the more exhilarating moments of my career as a skier!
3. Who came up with the mismatched striped socks for the relay?
Our team picked them up at a convenience store in Germany in the middle of the Tour de Ski last year. Our team was actually stopped in a small town in order for me to get a removable cast (I broke my wrist on Christmas four days before Tour de Ski – then finished 9 races with broken bone!) ….. We wore them for the first time in the Czech Republic relay when we had our “best ever” 5th place….. after that, they became a staple. We like to spruce up the relays with face paint, face glitter & socks. There is certainly a correlation between having fun and skiing fast – both of which are priorities for our team.
4. You had a lot of banners supporting you at the Olympics. Have you had some support on the World Cup circuit this season?
The Olympics were awesome because Vancouver was half way between where I live – Alaska – and where I grew up – Seattle. I had friends, family & people that I coached… I must have had 40 people specifically cheering for me in the 30k. The World Cup isn’t quite the same because it’s so far from home. I’m really looking forward to the World Cups coming up here in Canada because we’ll have a bunch of people specifically cheering for us. “Home Course” advantage!
5. Aside from fans and family with banners, do you have a lot more support for your career now that you’ve been in the Olympics and have World Cup experience?
I have some really supportive sponsors who have joined up to help fund me. At this point I am an entirely self-funded athlete. This winter on the World Cup is forecasted to cost me $25,000 and I couldn’t do it without help from Carlile Transport, The Rhyneer Clinic, Northern Fruit Company & Conoco Phillips. All of our European competitors are horrified when they find out that a handful of us are self funded – and that we’re away from our homes for five months, November – March.
6. What’s the dirtiest tactic a fellow skier has used in competition?
For the most part cross country skiers have great sportsmanship. Perhaps my favorite part of the sitting in the Reindeer Chair in Gallivare was the fact that most competitors came up to shake my hand and congratulate me on my good race. It was an incredible experience and I was really impressed! As far as dirty tactics, cutting you off, blocking, shoving….. it can get aggressive out there!
7. Which cross-country skier would be best in roller derby?
I would put my money on Ida Ingemarsdotter of Sweden. She’s really big and really, really aggressive.
8. Brussel sprouts? Really? You like Brussel sprouts?
Yes – NO JOKE. I LOVE brussel sprouts to the extent that I actually bought some at the grocery in Sweden and hauled them to Finland where we had a cabin and I could cook them up. Having a “little taste of home” can do wonders for making you feel more comfortable on the road. Plus, brussel sprouts are an amazing source of iron which is important for energy levels.
9. What’s the worst food you’ve had on your travels?
The food was horrendous last year in Rybinsk, Russia. I like to call the buffet on the world cup the “food trough.” It’s kind of like pigs coming to feed…. sometimes you just entirely lose your appetite. I’m not a big fan of raw beef… that was rough.
10. You actually update your website, unlike a lot of athletes I could mention. Do you get a lot of feedback on it?
Yeah, I do. It’s my way of keeping in touch with friends and family back home. I don’t have a phone or anything that works in Europe so things like Facebook and my blog are really important for not dropping off the face of the earth. I try really hard to update my site but internet can be scare. I’m hoping that someday a big sponsor will drop out of the sky and fund an international, world wide cell phone. I’m married and five months away from my husband is a bit rough at times.
11. Are the ads on European television funnier than the ads on American television?
I absolutely LOVE seeing my fellow World Cup competitors on TV in ads. Sometimes they’re funnier or maybe even cooler, partially because you can’t understand what they’re saying. I really wish that I spoke German or Swedish because we really miss out on a lot of the “media stuff” not being able to understand.
12. What was the most inconvenient timing you’ve ever experienced on a drug test?
Two minutes after you’re peed in the morning is pretty darn inconvenient. I’ve shared entire pots of coffee with testers trying to drum up a sample… This fall in Park City USADA came for urine and blood for at least 10 athletes on the team. That equated to a wasted morning of training delays.
13. Who’s the best athlete in Alaska history?
That’s a really difficult question. I suppose it depends on what sports you value and what accomplishments you think are most notable. We have incredible dog mushers in Alaska…. but I’d be tempted to say that my teammate Kikkan is high on the list. I admire people who set big goals and attain them – especially when they do things that have never been done before.
Follow Holly Brooks on Twitter at @brooksha1