Cover of Shinn’s new book “World Class” released this week.
By Karen D. Lorentz
In the era of women’s marches that continue the struggles against inequality, glass ceilings, and sexual exploitation, it’s particularly timely to see the publication of a book on women achieving success.
While “World Class” is the story of the making of the successful U.S. Women’s Cross-Country Team, it is also an enlightening read about how American women overcame obstacles and what really happens when true teamwork prevails.
Written by journalist Peggy Shinn of Rutland, the story details the turnaround of the fortunes of the Women’s X-C Team, starting in 2011-2012. With the guidance of their own coach Matt Whitcomb (from Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont) and the example set by the selfless leadership of team veteran Kikkan Randolph, the team joined the World Cup tour in Europe and entered team sprint and relay events as well as individual races. With the spirit, fun, and mutual respect Randolph and Whitcomb engendered, they began to podium in team sprints and moved up from fifth in a 4 x 5 relay (four women each race 5 km) and in February 2012 to third in November, a podium first for an American team.
The watershed events started a series of higher placements and podiums (first, second, third place winners) for the team as individuals and in team events, leading to eight medals at three world championships over the past five years.
Prior to this Scandinavian countries, Germany, Italy, and Russia had dominated cross-country World Championships and Olympic women’s events for 60 years. Witnessing the rise of the U.S. Team as a powerhouse over the next few years, Shinn was intrigued by what was happening and what made it possible.
A former contributor to Ski Racing magazine and currently senior contributor to the U.S. Olympic Committee’s website, TeamUSA.org, Shinn secured a book contract and two weeks later was in Alaska attending the women’s summer training camp in 2016. She also visited the team in Park City and attended 2017 Finland events. Along the way she got to know the women and interview dozens of coaches, administrators, and family members who gave further insights as to the history of the team and the tenacity of the athletes themselves.
Her opportunities to talk with the women and see them in trainings and competition impressed Shinn and gave her insights as to the value of teamwork in action. Most impressive, Shinn said, was that Randolph, an Olympian and World Cup competitor, did not abandon her teammates once she began winning at World Cups and Championships. “She didn’t go off and train on her own with her own coach” as stars often do, but rather stayed with her team and served as inspiration and a cheerleader. Shinn credits her dedication to the team and the personal connections she engendered as positives that “lifted up the entire team.”
In turn, individuals feeling their team connection refused to let teammates down and outdid themselves to help win races. They supported each other as the usually quiet 24-year-old Vermonter Ida Sargent illustrated, by vociferously cheering her teammates on even though she had not been chosen for that winning relay team.
With an historical perspective on the obstacles women have overcome in this power endurance sport of individual sprints, team sprints, distance races, pursuits, and relays, Nordic coaches, competitors, female athletes in general, and parents of competitors will find this a good read. It’s also timely background for the upcoming Olympics with many of the women chosen for the Olympic Team.
“World Class, The Making of the U.S. Women’s Cross-Country Ski Team” is available at Phoenix Books in Rutland, Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, and online. The 248-page paperback with 38 color photographs is $19.95; the e-book is $14.99.