Behind the Gold: Persevering as a sport pioneer | ParkRecord.com

Behind the Gold: Persevering as a sport pioneer

Tom Kelly Park Record columnist

pi·o·neer, noun

1. a person who is among the first to explore or settle a new country or area.

Synonyms: settler, colonist, colonizer, frontiersman, frontierswoman, explorer, trailblazer,

"the pioneers of the Wild West"

Vermont ski jumper Tara Geraghty-Moats is a pioneer. Like Park City's Lindsey Van, who pioneered the way for women's ski jumping a decade ago, Geraghty-Moats is doing that for women's Nordic combined – the one remaining winter Olympic sport where women are still seeking representation.

This past weekend in Oberwiesenthal, Germany, a former mining town in Saxony near the Czech border, she put her stamp on her sport in the first ever elite-level international Nordic combined Summer Grand Prix. She won!

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"I have been looking forward to my first international Nordic combined competition since I was a young girl," she said. "It has been a game of patience and persistence to even get to the start."

It has been a long trail for Geraghty-Moats, now 25. At age nine, she started ski jumping. An injury knocked her out of the sport so she shifted to biathlon, even training in Sweden. Then she found ski jumping again, knocking out top-10 international finishes. Her passion swung back to the unusual combination of ski jumping and cross country skiing that is Nordic combined.

Three years ago at the U.S. Championships in Utah, she wanted to ski combined. But there was no women's class. She talked officials into letting her ski, skiing essentially by herself. But she had a point to prove.

Many took notice that day. She wasn't skiing for a medal. She wasn't even skiing for a result sheet. She was skiing for herself. And she was fierce! She attacked the roller ski course at the Olympic venue of Soldier Hollow. This was about pride. And it was about the future.

The past season was rugged. Three elbow surgeries – the latest in March – held her back. But she persevered. In July, she came back to the U.S. Championships in Utah. This time there was a women's class. And she won her first title.

But her dreams were bigger.

Every August the International Ski Federation's Nordic Grand Prix tour spans Europe with huge summer crowds and live television. For the first time, women were added.

In Saturday's opener, Geraghty-Moats was challenged in her first time on the jump hill, finding herself in fourth and 1 minute, 13 seconds behind Russian jump leader Stefaniya Nadymova. In the cross country portion, the American stormed through the field, falling just three seconds behind the Russian in the finish to take second.

On Sunday, Geraghty-Moats saw firsthand the advantages of strong jumping in Nordic combined. She soared to second in the jump, starting the cross country just four seconds behind Germany's Jenny Nowak. She spanned the short gap quickly, winning by over a minute.

It was a modest field of 11 athletes from six nations. But there was a special atmosphere in Oberwiesenthal. A cadre of dedicated women had seen their sport to a new level. And the men were supportive to finally have women on their tour.

"To finally race in a women's international race was a dream come true," said Geraghty-Moats. "But then hearing the national anthem for the first time on an international podium, looking out at my coaches, Martin Bayer and Jan Matura, and the passionate group of competitors, made it an unforgettable weekend."

There is still a long road ahead. Last weekend was the first time at the Summer Grand Prix level. Two Continental Cups were held last winter. More are planned this year. It will be a medal event this year at Junior Worlds. A World Cup tour is being discussed. It will be on the program for the World Championships in 2021. But the Olympic piece is still in the future.

"I'm excited for a long Nordic combined career with an awesome team," said Geraghty-Moats, still constantly aware of the need for her sport to persevere. "The patience of waiting over the years really paid off this weekend.

"And I just have to say to all the little girls out there, don't give up on your dreams."