Cross-Country talk: Liz Stephen, USA

29 January 2015 15:43
Liz Stephen
Liz Stephen -

Liz Stephen recorded her first individual World Cup podium last weekend in Rybinsk. FIS Cross-Country News talked to the 28-year-old U.S. skier about the World Cup podium experience, good vibe in the team heading into the World Championship and much more. 

January has been a great month for you with a 5th place finish overall in the Tour de Ski and your first individual World Cup podium with 2nd place in the 10 km F in Rybinsk. Both results are best-ever results for a U.S. female in cross-country skiing. Were both results pre-season targets for you?

Thanks! January has been a fun month, for sure, especially since I celebrated my birthday too, which I spent in Seiser Alm. That has to be one of the more beautiful places you can hope to spend your birthday, so I feel pretty lucky. I had set a Top-Five goal for the Tour de Ski this year, so I was really happy to achieve the result. Rybinsk I knew would be a good opportunity to have a strong race, as the races suited me quite well, and as it drew nearer and I felt like my shape was in the right place to have a good race, I set a podium goal.

How was the World Cup podium experience for you? As you had hoped?

I still can’t quite believe that I stood on that step, especially with the girls who kept me company up there. I was quite emotional in the finish area. I have spent the last twosummers training a bit with Astrid and we have a close friendship, so to be on my first podium with her was really special, and Stefi is one of the happiest on the World Cup, so I have always been drawn to her personality and find myself cheering for her in the races. It was made even more special that both of them had their first podiums or wins here in 2007 and 2009.

After the World Cup weekend in Rybinsk, it would appear the U.S. women’s team is on the way up with strong performances from yourself, Jessie Diggins, Sadie Bjornsen and newcomer Rosie Brennan. There must be a good vibe in the team heading into the World Championship?

Yes, we certainly have good feelings with the team heading into the World Championship. We are spread out a bit between a few different places, but the majority of the team is training in Davos, which has been our base for much of this year, and feels like our European home. Going into the season, we had a slower start than usual, and we had to be patient, as it had been our team plan to come in a bit less “hot” than we have in past seasons. Our focus has been on being fast and ready for the Championships, and I believe we are ready to accomplish the goals we have set. That goes for our individual goals, as well as our team goals. One of our strongest assets in this team is being able to ride the highs of one another’s successes as if they were our own. I believe that this aspect of our team is one of our strongest and it is what keeps us hungry, clawing and fighting our way to the results we want to achieve.

What do the next few weeks look like for you as you prepare for Falun 2015? What competitions in Falun are you most focused on?

I will only race the 10k skate, so that is my focus, and as it is the final race before the World Championships, it will be a good test race to deal with the nerves that tend to elevate a bit during a championship.

At 28 years of age you are coming into your peak years for distance athletes in cross-country. At the age of 34, Marit Bjoergen is having one of her most dominant seasons. Is it motivating to you having achieved personal bests this season that it can continue to climb the World rankings and add to your podium count?

Marit is an incredible role model for any aspect of sport. She is a strong, caring, kind, extremely hard working, fun loving woman, from all that I have seen and experienced of her. Throughout the ups and downs of her career, the thing that stands out the most to me is that she never gave up. I think she is more dominant now perhaps than ever, because she has experienced the roller coaster of sport and learned how to weather the downs, and how to get back on the track she wants to be on. That is not an easy thing to figure out, but she has done it and it makes her extremely hard to beat, not to mention, quite an admirable role model.

As for me, I do feel like I have learned a lot in the last year. I feel like a more mature athlete in a lot of ways, and I can feel the end of my career creeping closer, which has been a good added pressure. The time is now, and time, as it turns out, has a way of slipping right through our fingers, so I have been doing my best to seize the opportunities where I have them. This wonderful, frustrating, all-consuming life of skiing is not a forever thing, though at points I wish it were, but rather a time period that is extremely special and finite. I am realizing this and finally able to figure out what I really want from it. I can tell you, the podiums are only a small part of it, but they are a fun part and an important part as well. The real fun for me lies in trying to improve, working really hard on something and seeing it get better. To mentally jump over hurdles that make the hurdles that come up in daily life feel a bit more like bumps. This team that we have right now, these people, this feeling that we all have together, this will be hard to find again in whatever the next part of life brings. So, I am taking it all in, soaking it all up, and I’m going to ride the highs and survive the lows for as long as I have these people surfing the seas next to me.

If you hung up your skis tomorrow what would you see yourself doing?

Become a nurse. For sure. I can’t wait.