Ladies get no respect.

Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it: we wished for snow, and then it snowed during the race which made things a lot slower and more grueling.... Also, pro tip, when it's obviously going to be a snowstorm, remember your glasses or visor!

Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it: the snow we so desperately needed came during the race, making things a lot slower and more grueling…. Also, pro tip, when it’s obviously going to be a snowstorm, remember your glasses or visor, dummy! It gets hard to see! (Photo: AlphaFoto)

This weekend my race was in Lenzerheide. All in all it was a good experience – we raced four loops around the Tour de Ski trails, with one extension and the steepest ‘A’ climb cut out.

That turned out to be a good thing, because the first rough part of the race is that it was in the middle of a snowstorm. I can’t complain too much because we have been wishing and begging for snow – the race was actually supposed to be a point-to-point but there wasn’t enough cover, hence the loops of the World Cup course – but it slowed things down considerably. Whereas the weekend before I had felt like I was flying, this weekend not so much. In the slow conditions I guarantee I would have been single-sticking up that ‘A’ climb by the fourth go-round. At least on the long grinding climb out of the stadium, which lasts for 2/3 of a kilometer, I felt like I was moving.

I struggled with the start, where skiers were packed shoulder-to-shoulder and then trying to skate all over each other’s skis, and immediately lost a lot of ground (though luckily no poles or baskets!). The few women were scattered throughout this pack and the others, having done these races before, seem to have figured out something about how to deal with the start that I have just totally missed. I caught and passed one woman after five kilometers and wanted to shout as I went by, “how did you manage that!?”

Overall it was a fun racing experience. Crossing the finish line and feeling like you have given it your all, no matter how fast or slow that ended up being, is such a great feeling. Going home feeling like you have really worked yourself over and earned your dinner is I guess what keeps us endurance junkies going.

Another week, another "I finally made it to the finish line". (Photo: AlphaFoto)

Another week, another “I finally made it to the finish line!” wave of relief. This week it was also “This means I get to put on warm, dry clothes now! Do I have to cool down?” (Photo: AlphaFoto)

After the race though, I had a bit of a sexist experience. I was hanging out with Jackson Bloch and Tyler DeAngelis, the gentlemen from 477 Kilometers who had come for the chance to race at a World Cup venue. We enjoyed some phenomenal cake at the post-race lunch and laughed our way through the awards ceremony which was, of course, conducted all in Swiss German.

The organizers called up the women’s podium: Sereina Boner had won by five minutes and, according to the timing, outsprinted the seventh-place man at the line. Go Sereina! Fellow Olympian Bettina Gruber was second, and Claudia Schmid third. The emcee did nice little interviews with each of them after handing out the awards.

Then it was time for the men’s prize ceremony. Remo Fischer had beaten Valerio Leccardi by a minute; as in the women’s race, both were Olympians. Leccardi outsprinted two others to earn second.

But… after calling up the third-place guy, the organizer just kept going. Where the women’s ceremony had featured the top three, the men’s featured the top eight.

What!? We looked at each other like, hmm, that definitely doesn’t seem right.

It’s true that many fewer women entered the race: 42 compared to 285. That is something I see every weekend and it always makes me sad.

And it’s true, full disclosure, that if they had called up eight women I would have been up there. But as I think you will see, this is definitely not why I’m mad.

Even if the women’s field is so much less deep, there is such an incredibly obvious value judgement going on when more men are recognized as prize-worthy than women.

Switzerland is a country which has already shown me all I need to know about its attitude towards women’s sports. There are many fewer female athletes at almost any co-ed sport event.

“Practising a sport in a voluntary club does not seem to be a very popular approach with women, particularly older women,” a 2011 report by the Council of Europe stated. “In Switzerland, many more men are members of clubs than women (30.6% compared to 18.9%)…. women account for only 36% of trainers and managers. This proportion decreases the higher up the sports hierarchy one goes, reaching 19% in elite sports. It is very likely that this situation has an impact on the development of women’s sport although we do not yet have any precise data on this link. On the one hand, the under-representation of women in sport’s managing bodies may mean that it is considered less necessary to implement policies designed specifically to increase women’s and girls’ involvement in sport (Koca & al., 2010). Secondly, the woman trainer represents a model with which many girls identify when they take up organised sports such as football, basketball or rugby. As a result, the over-representation of men among trainers may prevent girls from starting such activities.”

The women’s soccer team is called the Nati-Girls, which seems insulting to full-grown, elite, full-time athletes like Fabienne Humm who scored a hat-trick in just five minutes against Ecuador in this summer’s World Cup, setting a new record.

As in many places, professional athletes who are women get paid much less than their male counterparts. Their teams get less attention from the media and sponsors.

This lack of female participation or recognition extends outward from the playing field. As of 2011, although there were more and more female journalists in Switzerland, not a single newspaper had a woman running its sports section, for example.

This is not to say that there are no female athletes. Of course there are. Boner won the Ski Classics series three different years; Switzerland’s alpine skiers are phenomenal; the ice hockey team won bronze in Sochi and the curling team won 2015 World Championships; Nicola Spirig won triathlon gold in London 2012. That’s just to name a few, and there are obviously many more. These women are adored and admired by their fans.

But there’s no denying that women’s sports are generally underdeveloped and underemphasized in the country.

So when you go to a weekend race and twice as many men get recognized at the prize ceremony as women, what message does that send? Does it send a message that people are trying to fix the problem?

Not really.

That’s all.

Having said all that and complained, I have to say thank you to the men I ski with in these races - they are great. They step on my poles no more than they would step on a dude's poles, and they are nice. On the last time up the long hill I pushed really hard and passed a long train of guys. On the long downhill into the stadium, most of them went flying past me, their bank- and insurance-funded wax jobs being a bit speedier than my grand-student-salary-funded HF6. But when we crossed the line, one turned around and told me, 'wow, that was a good push' (loose translation of the Swiss German...). (Photo: AlphaFoto)

Having said all that and complained, I have to say thank you to the men I ski with in these races – they are great. They step on my poles no more than they would step on a dude’s poles, and they are nice. On the last time up the long hill I pushed really hard and passed a long train of guys. On the long downhill into the stadium, most of them went flying past me, their bank- and insurance-funded wax jobs being a bit speedier than my grand-student-salary-funded HF6. But when we crossed the line, one turned around and told me, ‘wow, that was a good push’ (loose translation of the Swiss German…). (Photo: AlphaFoto)

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more sports commentary.

I spent a lot of the weekend working on a story about the International Olympic Committee bidding process that led to Beijing being awarded the 2022 Winter Olympics. I think it might be the best thing I’ve written! But I think that’s the exhaustion and euphoria speaking. (Update: I also published a different version at the Valley News, which greatly benefitted from some editorial help by Greg Fennell. Thanks Greg, I definitely need editing, and gives me a glimpse of how much better my stuff could be!)

You always feel that way after you deliver a big piece: unsure if it’s correct, terrified of small mistakes, but sure it’s awesome. That feeling fades. But right now I have the journalism hangover. I even wrote multiple drafts of this, which I am ashamed to admit I don’t usually do.

Please go read the piece, “IOC Membership and Regulations Combined to Reliably Hand Beijing 2022 Games,” here.

Here are some fun infographics I made to promote it.

Beijing infographic 2

Beijing vote infographic 1

female bodies in motion.

The New York Times recently ran an article about body image in female athletes. Its title: “Tennis’s Top Women Balance Body Image With Ambition“.

I hated it from the start. I know a lot of female athletes, and I can’t think of a discussion I have ever had with any of them about balancing body image with ambition. Do they have ambition? Yes. Do they have issues with body image? Sometimes. But never have I heard an elite athlete say that they were not doing x thing that would probably make them more competitive, because it would make them feel less attractive or less feminine. Ambition and insecurity can coexist. After all, humans are complex.

The article got a lot of hate immediately, mostly because it focused particularly on Serena Williams. Williams is the greatest female player currently on tour, and likely of all time. She’s also incredibly strong. Throughout her career, people have labeled her as a big scary black woman. I am not actually a huge Serena fan, but regardless of whether you are a fangirl or not, it’s plain to see that the racism she has faced is atrocious.

(And besides, she’s not that big. Look at a picture of her off the tennis court and see if you can even tell what all the fuss is about.)

I’m not going to talk about how race was featured in the most recent NYT article. Others have done that much more intelligently and eloquently than I possibly could. Here’s a few examples: Huffington Post; A Tribe Called News; The Daily Beast; I am sure there are other better essays, too.

At first, I couldn’t even articulate why the article disgusted me so much, but the general reason was that I thought it was extremely unfair and disrespectful of female athletes. An article about conforming to conventional standards of attractiveness would very seldom be written about male athletes.

After mulling it over, I’ve come up with some more concrete and specific reasons that I was so enraged by the author’s treatment of female athletes. Here’s a rundown.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All. First of all, the article implies that any female tennis player could have a body like Serena’s if she wanted to. That isn’t true… at least not without performance-enhancing drugs. Some of us put on weight and muscle more easily, while others do not.

This is not to say that Serena didn’t achieve her physique by a lot of hard work (although she’s quoted as saying that it is simply her body type, and she doesn’t lift weights). But for some people – men and women, not just white female tennis players! – a body like that would be difficult if not impossible to achieve naturally, without being a full-time job requiring major cuts to other training time, and might even result in injury. Not to mention, making drastic changes to one’s body requires parallel changes in technique/skill at the same time in order to be able to take advantage of added power.

Furthermore, it might not even be a good idea.

There is more than one way to be an excellent athlete, more than one body type you can have. I read and loved David Epstein’s book The Sports Gene, and in it he writes about how certain length ratios or body attributes are more or less required to be the best at certain sports. He’s not wrong.

And yet… take a look at this image, from the women’s 800 meter run at the 2012 London Olympics. None of these women have a lot of fat on their bodies. The are all lean, but with varying amounts of muscle.

I saw at least one person on twitter draw a parallel to my sport, cross-country skiing. One commenter said that in multiple sports women are now winning “with more strength” and showed a picture of Marit Bjørgen. Yep, she’s strong. But the second-best woman in the world, Therese Johaug, is tiny. Muscular, but much tinier. And some days, she kicks Marit’s ass. Here’s a picture of them running together; here’s a picture of them skiing together. Nobody’s saying that it’s impossible to be the best skier without having Bjørgen’s body, or that Johaug is a copout for not trying.

Like Williams, Bjørgen is not as big as she’s made out to be. Having met her in person, she’s still small – something that people lose track of when watching sports on television because the focus is always to fill the same, making tall and short people sometimes seem the same size. I bet she weighs less than I do.

Agnieszka Radwanska’s coach said in the NYT article that “It’s our decision to keep her as the smallest player in the top 10.” That may very well be because her play is adapted to being light. She’s one of the ten best tennis players in the world, right? Should we really be questioning her decisions about her body composition? It obviously works!

Correlation, Not Causation. I’m impressed that the author got as many top athletes to talk, on the record, about their insecurities with their bodies. I remember another article published in NYT, at the Sochi Olympics, about biathlon’s penalty loop. I thought it was a great article. It had a different author, but I imagine the strategy was the same: go to a lot of top athletes and ask them the same relatively short set of questions about a single topic. See what interesting responses you get.

I’m not surprised that female athletes have body image challenges. Every woman does. The standards we are held to by the media, advertising, and entertainment industries are ridiculous. It’s hard not to end up ashamed of some part(s) of your body.

But just because some of the women said this much, does not mean that the reason they are not bigger and bulkier is in fact because of those insecurities. For instance: Maria Sharapova, who was quoted as saying she doesn’t like the gym and doesn’t want to be bigger, also said that “for my sport, I just feel like it’s unnecessary.”

Sharapova is currently the second-ranked woman on the tennis tour. She has multiple Grand Slam victories. She talks about wanting to be slim and wishing she had less cellulite; she also talks about how it’s not necessary for her to gain more muscle for competition. Why focus only on the former? Why not also the latter?

In fact, the only person in the article quoted as directly linking weight/muscle with femininity is Radwanska’s coach, who said that he wants to keep Radwanska “a woman”. Ouch.

It wasn’t Radwanska herself who said it. No, Radwanska noted that gaining muscle might hurt her speed, and anyway that would be tough to do: “I also have the genes where I don’t know what I have to do to get bigger, because it’s just not going anywhere.”

So, did the players even make this connection between wanting to be feminine and being unable to beat Serena? Or did the author take quotes about body image, and tie them into a piece about how nobody is trying to be like Serena? I am genuinely curious what the reaction of the quoted athletes is to this piece, and whether they feel like they were misrepresented.

And, also, the newspaper didn’t treat these insecurities with very much respect. A German player, Andrea Petkovic, confided that she hates seeing photos of herself hitting two-handed backhands because she thinks her arms look so sinewy and grotesque. The NYT helpfully printed just such a photo below the quote.

(Petkovic was not quoted as saying anything about whether she is still trying to add muscle or not, and if not, why not. She only commented on her current body image and insecurities.)

The Steroid Era, And The Current Era. This is really a side note but… the article seems to frame Serena’s body as something new and crazy in women’s sports, that other women are just too scared to emulate. Newsflash: we have seen big, muscle-bound women before. It was called the steroid era. Does nobody remember the East Germans? The Soviets? Heck, the Americans? Then, stronger anti-doping policy and improved testing came along. Athletes slimmed down again to some extent.

But only to some extent. Currently many track and field athletes, of all races and ethnicities, are bulked up. In some cases (maybe in a lot of cases, depending on how cynical you are) this is because of doping. In some cases it’s because of hard work. Serena is not the only successful female athlete out there with a lot of muscle. She’s not an alien, she’s not a revelation (well, she’s a revelation on the tennis court though!). Why are we talking about this again?

Disrespect for Serena’s Other Strengths. This ties more into the racism issues that have been brought up around this article, but it’s worth noting that it’s not merely muscle that wins Williams titles. It’s her tennis game. She has had periods where she is less fit; typically she does not win as consistently then. Her fitness, skills, and, perhaps above all, her incredible mental strength, also power her to wins. A physically strong Serena without the mental edge doesn’t win.

Body is not the only thing that makes an athlete. Just because people like to ogle women’s bodies, let’s not forget that when we talk about female athletes. Women have to have the complete package to the same extent that male athletes do.

Lack of Dedication. Finally, and perhaps this is where I feel female athletes were most disrespected, by framing the issue in this way – that any female athlete could achieve Serena’s body type if she wanted, but most choose not to – it paints those “other” athletes as less dedicated or less hard-working. They are skipping gym time because they don’t want to be too muscle-bound, and the author implies that they are lazy. There’s an unflattering quote from Maria Sharapova saying that she hates lifting and it’s hard work.

But time in the gym is not the only kind of training there is. I can’t speak for every single athlete, of course, but I’m certain that most of the women quoted, and in fact most on the women’s tennis tour, train just as much and just as hard as Serena. They just might not do it in the gym. There are multiple ways to get good. Some might do more cardio work; others speed workouts or agility and footwork; still others might spend even more hours on court perfecting their skills.

Writing that they choose not to lift weights because they want to remain feminine is not only wrong for all of the reasons listed above, but makes women seem lazy instead of pointing out that rather than going to the spa in that extra time, they likely sink it into some other form of training.

Wrapping up… Back to the issue of why we are even talking about female athletes’ bodies. The NYT editorial staff backpedaled the article hard, with an opinion piece by the public editor, Margaret Sullivan, stating that she was concerned with the piece.

It contained this nugget:

“Well aware of the criticism, Mr. Stallman said he still found the topic worthwhile: ‘In covering sports, we can’t not write about women’s bodies.’ And, he said, male athletes come in for scrutiny, too, citing a front-page article just last week on Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon, focused on his 285-pound body, up about 100 pounds from 1997 when he joined the major leagues.”

Um…. two things here. Is it unfortunate that Colón (and speaking of being sensitive, there NYT, I added the accent back on his name for you) is being shamed for being a large man on the front page of a newspaper? Yes. If Colón is good at baseball, then his weight shouldn’t matter to his team. And outside of people who are paying him a salary to be an excellent athlete, it shouldn’t matter to the universe in general if Colón is a gaining weight.

But… weighing 285 pounds is a little different than being Serena Williams, who is an extremely cut, lean, muscular woman. Criticizing a baseball player for being fat when, actually, he is fat (there, I said it) is totally different than calling a lean, muscular athlete “too big”.

And furthermore, the Colon article is an outlier. Women’s bodies face far more scrutiny and discussion in the sports media than men’s bodies do. Citing one article about Bartolo Colón does not change that.

And secondly, oh really? We can’t not write about women’s bodies? Is that so?

I revisited the article that the NYT wrote about the Women’s World Cup final: the most-watched soccer game, men’s or women’s, ever in the United States, and likely one of the top 30 or so most-watched sporting events of the year. So, a big deal.

It did not contain a single description of the bodies of any of the U.S. or Japanese players. (It did contain a reference to the iconic Brandi Chastain photo from the 1999 World Cup).

Instead, it described what those bodies did. One body sliced a shot, ran onto a pass, and launched a shot. Another backpedaled and reached.

This is how we should talk about female athletes’ bodies.

Times They Are A-Changin’.

Notes: First of all: I’m sorry. I owe you a post about Oslo. It might come, someday. I’m so scared to post a crappy post about an amazing trip that I haven’t posted anything at all. I regret it. Second: Rather than make that mistake twice, here’s a hasty post about leaving Craftsbury. So at least you have something long and self-pitying to read while you wait. Third: And no, just because I’m quitting ski racing doesn’t mean that Make It Someday will disappear. Like everything else in my life, it will simply change.


I am not a crier. I would say that on average, I cry perhaps two or three times a year. I’m sure that in my 23 years of life here, there have been some years when I didn’t cry at all.

But so far in 2011, I have already cried twice. I’ve used up my quota of tears, and I’m at risk of regressing to the days when I was a small child throwing fits in the grocery store.

The first time was on January 25th. It’s not like I wrote down the date; I remember it because it was the Tuesday before the Craftsbury Marathon.

For a long, long time, I had been wondering if I would keep ski racing after this season. I’d discussed it with a few of my teammates and in every conversation, I had said that I thought I would know when the time came to leave. What I meant is that my results would bad enough or good enough to guide my decision. But so far, that time hadn’t come. My results so far had been far from strong, but I’d also had very few races where I felt good. I was sure that if I felt good, I could ski faster.

But I finally realized that I didn’t want this question to dominate my season. I had to choose one way or another and get it over with. So after thinking for two days, I decided: I wasn’t going to keep on.

(So to Anders, who said he was “mad at the people who fired me”: I guess you can be mad at me. I fired myself.)

In my season and a half with the GRP up to that point, I hadn’t had a single result that had jumped out and grabbed anyone’s attention, especially not my own. I was fitter, stronger, and a better technical skier than when I graduated from Dartmouth. I trained better: longer on distance days and faster on intensity days. I was more coordinated and I had developed fast-twitch muscles for the first time in my life. But when I got in races, for whatever reason, the promise shown in training didn’t pan out. It’s something that Pepa and I have never figured out – I just should have been racing much faster than I ever did.

If I hadn’t improved with the GRP in two years, I didn’t think a third year would do the trick. Plus, I felt guilty taking up the incredible resources that this team had to offer when someone else – someone who was developing and improving – potentially had to leave skiing because they couldn’t find support for their racing career.

I toyed with applying to a different program because I was confident that I hadn’t reached my potential as a racer. But in the end, I felt that my time was up. When I became part of the GRP, I felt like I held a winning lottery ticket in my hand. I didn’t want to become addicted to gambling, so to speak; I didn’t want to be one of those racers who hangs around forever, racing to mediocrity and always hoping for the mythical result that would justify their ever-lengthening commitment to skiing.

In some ways it was like a huge weight was lifted. I could race for the rest of the season just for racing’s sake, for the fun of it all, without worrying about how my results or my FIS points would set me up for next year. I could really enjoy skiing in a way that I hadn’t before, not since high school, before the days when I put pressure on myself.

But I cried, too. I love skiing, and I love racing. Even though I had made my decision and I knew it was time to move on, it was hard to give up something that I loved so much. That’s where the tears came from, a realization that simply loving racing wasn’t enough to let me stay.

I decided to make the next eight weeks the best weeks of my life as a skier. I planned out some races I was excited about. I wasn’t going to mess around, now that these were my last chances.

That very weekend – the weekend of the Craftsbury Marathon – I competed in a mini-tour in Orford, Quebec. While I certainly wasn’t winning or setting any records, they were the best races of my career with the GRP. I felt like I was skiing well. I was “in” each race, responding to what was happening around me, attacking, making things happen. I had a ton of fun. I immediately wondered if I had made the right decision. What if every race could be like this? Wouldn’t that make it worth staying?

But I think that part of the reason I skied well was that I wasn’t worrying about anything. I didn’t change my mind – instead the races reinforced my commitment to leaving the sport.

After races in Stowe, Vermont, and then in Gatineau, Canada – both of which were fun but unspectacular, results-wise – my season veered away from its planned course.

I headed to the Midwest, where the SuperTour races I was signed up for in Madison were canceled due to political protests. After an unexpected training weekend, I raced the American Birkebeiner, which was supposed to be something for fun – I’m not a strong marathon skier – but had suddenly become the focal point of the trip.

I also got the opportunity to travel to Oslo, Norway, to help FasterSkier cover World Championships, most-expenses-paid. With few races in New England in early March, it seemed like a no-brainer to go. And it turned out to be the best trip I’ve ever been on.

But I didn’t really train while I was there. I skied, but it was the opposite of training; practically all of my skiing was in that grey zone where you are going hard, but it’s not a quality workout.

Then I came back to the U.S. and got a cold. Too many late nights, too little eating, too much drinking, and that not-training all added up to poor health.

By the time the Spring Tour rolled around – the last races of my career – I was in a bad spot, athletically. In the last month, I had done one race, which was a marathon, one set of max intervals in late February, one aborted threshold workout in which I felt terrible, and a set of thirty-second intervals to wake up.

I was not in shape to go hard. And it showed in the first two races. Yikes.

I had had this idea that I would finish my career with a bang. I think, somehow, I had believed that all the karma from anything good I had ever done as a skier would come back to me, and I would go out in a blaze of glory; maybe I’d even win a race.

Obviously, this is not how things work. Especially when you haven’t been training.

The last race of the tour was the best, in a number of ways. I just went out and skied. I caught a few girls in the pursuit, I raced as hard as I could, and I basked in the sun. Then I continued to bask in the sun during the men’s race, and during the post-race barbecue, and during the second ski that I made myself go on through the fields on Sam’s Run, and as we sat around in the yard drinking beer, our last activity as a team before Matt and I left. By that night, I had a vicious sunburn.

It was the best way I could have ended my career as a “serious” racer – even better than if I had won. On a perfect spring day, I was reminded of the best things about the ski world: camaraderie, community, and fun.

And when I left the assembled chairs, crates, and logs where my teammates were sitting in the sun, still drinking beers to celebrate a season well-done, I was sad to go pack up my few remaining belongings.

I had thought that since I had decided to leave two months ago, I would have had time to sort out these feelings. I didn’t think it would hit me all of a sudden as I left my now-empty room and carried the last box out to my car. But it did hit me, and I started crying for the second time in 2011.

Craftsbury has been my home for two years. Not since high school have I lived in a single house for as long as I lived at Elinor’s. Nor have I lived with the same people for so long, or felt as much part of a single place. For all the ups and downs, the adventures and bonfires, the frustrations and disagreements, the good races and the bad, this had been my place, where I belonged.

Saying goodbye to a place that has affected you so much is impossible, even if you’re excited about what comes next.

I kept crying as I gave my teammates hugs, wished them luck, and promised that I’d see them again. After briefly putting myself together, I cried as I drove by the Common for a last time, and then shed my final tears – perhaps for the year – as I turned off of South Craftsbury Road, onto Route 14, and towards the future.