I recently read an article about Stephen Curry, a stud of a basketball player for the Golden Gate Warriors. In addition to being a commentary on Curry’s ridiculous athletic ability, the article focused on Curry’s artistry. The director of the Oakland Ballet Company Graham Lustig became fascinated by Curry, and not just for his post-game stats but instead for the elegance and grace with which he handles both his body and the basketball. The New York Times quotes Lustig saying, “There’s a certain sense of musicality to the way his body works. It looks like he’s moving in a slightly different dimension as everyone else, and I think that ties into his sheer speed and power and control — incredible, unbelievable control.”
Lustig views Curry’s performance as an art form. He understands the hours and hours of training Curry puts in to his chosen ‘art’ (while lamenting Curry’s profession as a basketball player instead of a dancer), but marvels at his ability to make it all look effortless. “Steph doesn’t really look like he’s putting in a lot effort, does he? I’m not suggesting at all that he doesn’t use effort. It’s just that he doesn’t display it, and I think that’s probably at the core of what this is about.”
During the first two weekends of racing, I definitely would not have been recruited by a ballet company. I was working hard, and it showed. Not that working hard is a bad thing- to do well in anything requires an extraordinary amount of discipline, limit-pushing, and open mouth breathing. But the best skiers in the world make going really fast look really easy. They exude calm, and are the real life, working definition of finesse.
The internet defines finesse as “doing (something) in a subtle and delicate manner.” Like performing a slam dunk in a way that reminds a seasoned dancer of a jeté. Or skiing up a hill with with a lightness and intent that can only be described as impeccable. Using muscles you’ve spent literally hundreds of hours building in an efficient, discrete, yet indubitably effective, powerful, and graceful manner.
My muscles did some serious work the last two weekends of racing. If I’m being totally honest (and honesty is the best policy), I didn’t reach my goals or meet my expectations during the first two weekends of racing. That said, my improvement from last year can only be described as silly. In the two distance races I was quite literally 100% closer to the winner than the year before. I ran into some unfortunate luck in the sprint races (a 360 at the end of my quarterfinal in West Yellowstone, and a fall at the beginning of my semifinal in Sun Valley that led to my most epic comeback ever-I managed to ski myself back up to the pack after finding myself on my butt, and came within a toe of moving on to the ‘A’ final).
What my focused off season training did for me was give me all the tools. I now know I can really muscle out a 10K, hammer up a hill, and force my body into repeated intense efforts. But to make the next leap- to go from 100% improvement to 200% improvement (from 8th to winning)- I’ve gotta find the really hard but effortless effort. As a wise man recently told me, translating my gains from road to snow will be “tricky and subtle,” and it won’t happen right away. And it will be frustrating as all hell, but it will happen.
With that in mind, my goals for the period leading up to US Nationals in January are three-fold.
1. Recover from the first two weeks of racing
2. Put the finishing touches on my top end speed and racing gear
3. Find my Finesse
4. Get the attention of the Minnesota Ballet Company with my skiing
The first two are relatively easy and straight forward- a combination of easy days, good intensity, and race starts should do the trick. But finding my finesse will be a trickier art, and new territory for me. Last year I wasn’t so much worried about the finesse factor as I was about my overall state of athletic fitness. Getting more fit is text book stuff, but finding finesse will be personal, and as much mental as physical.
Knowing my goals, I decided to make a week long trip across the border to Canada. I think that for me the best way to find the finesse is to log some quality one-on-one time with the snow. I’ve been approaching sessions with goals like, perfect the V1 to V2 transition, or stride with no wasted energy, or go down this hill as fast as possible. These purposeful sessions aren’t physically exhausting, but I think will give me the edge I need to race to my full potential at US Nationals.
I’ll be popping on a race bib this weekend for some North American Cup racing, and then after a big ski on Monday will fly back to the Midwest for some hamster-wheel skiing alongside the rest of Minnesota.