Photo by Tom Ross
Emily Hannah, center, and her teammates on the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club cross-country ski team warm up before a recent interval training session. Hannah recently was named to the National Elite Group, which will give her the opportunity to train with the U.S. Ski Team.
Steamboat Springs Emily Hannah’s mix of uphill power blended with a sprinter’s speed has helped her earn a trip to Lake Placid, N.Y., next month to train with the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team.
“We won’t be able to keep up with the U.S. Team for a 90-minute workout, but we’ll train right next to them,” Hannah said.
Hannah, who turned 17 at the end of July, is among eight young women who have demonstrated the potential to become international competitors and were named to the National Elite Group that will convene in Lake Placid from Sept. 11 to 19. She will be the youngest among a group of women that includes a few college first years.
They were selected by regional and U.S. coaches following four summer training camps in the East, Central, West and Alaskan divisions of the United States Ski Association.
Six young men also were chosen to attend the camps.
Hannah made a big impression at the regional camp in Salt lake City with her speed in a roller ski skate course and her performance in a foot race up the dreaded Agony Hill that rises 1,200 feet in nine-tenths of a mile. She also showed what she could do in strength training exercises like pull-ups and bar dips.
Hannah modestly deflects praise by suggesting she actually produces better results in summer training than on snow.
Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club cross country ability head coach Josh Smullin would hear none of it.
“Emily is as coordinated on her skis as anybody,” he said. “And she showed in Salt Lake that she can run uphill very fast. Her challenge is to take her ability to sprinting ability and translate that speed to hills.”
Hannah has drawn interest from several highly rated New England colleges with Nordic ski teams. She says she takes school seriously and consequently knocks out a considerable part of her annual training goal of 500 hours before fall.
“I take a lot of naps, and I only baby-sit once or twice a week because I get a lot of my training hours in during the summer,” she said.
An annual training calendar calling for 500 hours of running, roller skiing and strength exercises in addition to work on snow is a heavy load for an athlete still in her teens. That kind of training plan leaves Nordic athletes only a few weeks off a year but is considered necessary for those who want the opportunity to compete with the best in the world.
Smullin said the motivating force behind the creation of the National Elite Group is the desire of U.S. Ski Team coaches to identify skiers whose measurable summer workouts suggest they could compete on the World Cup and expose them to current U.S. Ski Team members.
“The US ski team is making a big push right now to say, ‘In order to be the best, you have to train with the best,’” he said. For Hannah, “the big benefit is getting to ski behind and among those people who really know what they’re doing. To be able to understand what it’s like to compete at the next level, you have to see it and know what it looks like to ski really fast.”
Mingling with the U.S. Ski Team athletes who have competed in World Cups and Olympics gives the younger skiers a chance to assimilate how they conduct themselves, manage nutrition and rest, Smullin added.
Hannah had her best results ever in March at the Junior National Championships in Minneapolis, where she placed seventh in the five-kilometer skate race as a first year J1 (skiers ages 16 and 17) and qualified among the five fastest in the sprint race.
Before Junior Nationals, she hopes to make the Scandinavian Cup team, which will take young American cross-country skiers to Norway in 2012.
Hannah said she is blessed with teammates, including Haley Piske, Lucy Newman, Mary O’Connell and Michaela Frias, who push her every day and will be capable of beating her in any race on their calendar for the upcoming season.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com