Nordic skier Leah Lange clinches big honor
Seventeen-year-old Park City resident Leah Lange went to the U.S. Cross Country National Championships in Houghton, Michigan, earlier this month to try to qualify for some races over in Europe.
After all was said and done, however, the Nordic skier and recent graduate of the Winter Sports School had accomplished more than she’d expected and clinched a spot at the 2016 Cross Country World Junior Championships in Rasnov, Romania.
Lange qualified for the World Junior Championships, which will be held Feb. 18-29, by finishing 20th in the junior women’s 10-kilometer classic race, 21st in the women’s freestyle sprints and 26th in the women’s 5K freestyle race.
When she learned she had been selected for the competitions in Romania, she said she was thrilled.
"It means so much to me," she said. "Every day I’m training, that’s what I’m thinking about. It’s huge. Qualifying for World Juniors is so much bigger of a deal than what I was hoping for."
In many cases, training at altitude in Park City helps athletes when they travel to lower elevations for races. But Lange said that wasn’t necessarily true in her case.
"I wouldn’t say we have an advantage," she said. "We have to train for sea level. When you train for sea level, you have to be quicker. It’s a lot of intervals and short skis."
The hard training work paid off, though, and Lange was able to exceed her expectations.
"The first races went really well," she said. "I did really well against the juniors, which is what I was looking for. I was skiing strong and quick."
In Romania, Lange will try to stay focused on her racing and not the festivities surrounding the event.
"My goals are to have a solid race and not get too caught up in how it’s such a big deal," she said. "I just want to race at my level and do what I can do. I want to focus on the races and not the people around me. I’ve heard that it’s a wild event and that it’s a lot of fun. There’s a lot more competition and the Scandinavian countries are so fast."
Lange will join the University of Utah Ski Team next year. She said qualifying for the Junior World Championships will help her feel like she belongs on the Utes’ powerhouse Nordic squad.
"They’re an incredible team — so strong and so fast," she said. "This gives me a teeny bit more confidence."
For now, though, Lange’s sights are firmly set on Romania and doing all she can to finish as high as she can in the standings.
"It’s definitely rest and recovery right now," she said. "Then I’ll start to build up some long distances and put in a lot of hours. Then I’ll work on some sprints and try to peak for the race."
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