CARRABASSETT VALLEY – United States Olympian and All-American Marcus Nash of Fryeburg, a member of the NCAA Division I University of Utah national champion ski team, relaxed with his teammates at Sugarloaf-USA here Tuesday.
He was enjoying the change of pace during a hectic year that included the thrill of marching with his U.S. teammates into the Olympic stadium at Lillehammer, Norway, and the disappointment of a 65th-place finish in the 30-kilometer freestyle cross country race.
Now another challenge awaits the friendly, unassuming 22-year-old, and he is happy to be back in his home state to face it: help his team win a second straight national title and, perhaps, an individual one as well.
There is great incentive for the 1989 Fryeburg Academy graduate to do well at the Carrabassett Valley Ski Touring Center in the heart of the Maine woods. He finished second and fourth, respectively, in last year’s national championship 20K freestyle and 10K classical races. And he wants to improve upon “the record of only four American men winning NCAA individual titles since 1976.”
Nash made that statement good-naturedly, in the presence of two of his three teammates. Sten Grahn of Sweden and Havard Solbakken of Norway ackowledged it with shy, understanding smiles. The fourth Utah Nordic team member is Peter Klofutar of Slovinia.
A bit of the sting can be removed from Nash’s Olympic finish since the 30K is not his event. It was the only real opening for him in the time trials. Nash hopes to redeem himself on the Carrabassett Valley course.
Nash went West in ’89 for several reasons. First was the good snow. Not only was Maine suffering from a snow drought, but western schools had scholarships and Utah had people he knew, such as assistant coach Kevin Sweeney who works with the Nordic skiers.
Nash has reflected on his Olympic experience, after two weeks of a little rest and relaxation. The attention paid the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan affair was primarily from the U.S. media, he said. It received little notice there and did not distract the athletes from their tasks.
It appears that Nash looked at Lillehammer with his future in mind.
The urban planning major said that what will remain with him the longest “is how the Norwegians didn’t disturb Lillehammer” for the two-week duration of the Olympic games.
“They didn’t change it by making four-lane highways or anything like that,” he said. “The community remained as it was. That really impressed me.”
Nash appreciated the excellent English spoken by the host population, he said.
“One of the funniest things I heard was some Americans who went into the 7-11 (store) in Lillehammer. They said it was the first 7-11 they had been in where the people spoke perfect English.”
Nash and his teammates will compete in the first of the Nordic events on Thursday.
The young man who started this sport on a little course behind Fryeburg Academy that he and his friends groomed with a snowmobile leads his teammates in defense of their national title on a course much different from their own.
“We’re used to open fields and high altitudes,” Nash said. “In Maine, it’s through the woods. All the eastern schools complain how tough it is on them when they come West because of the altitude. A lot of people stress mentally about it, but it is the same for everyone. We all have to adjust.”
The 150,000 who cheered the Olympic cross country skiers in Lillehammer won’t be at Sugarloaf, but that doesn’t matter to Nash. He is in his home state, surrounded by friends and family. Once the nationals are over, it’s back to Utah and time to think about the future.
Will he try for an Olympic berth in four years? “The first question I must ask is, do I want to do it?” he replied.
“The second is, can I afford to do it? I learned, through the Olympics, that you must give it 100 percent or not at all.”
And then he added perhaps his most telling concern. When Americans think of Olympic skiing, he said, they think of Alpine.
“The cross country team needs money,” he said. “You can’t win the gold without money, and if you haven’t got the money, you can’t put together a team that can win the gold. We need to move to Norway and work like they do.”
That is a decision Nash will make later. He would like to train year-round as do the Alpine skiers. Cross country is a sport for all ages and, conceivably, Nash could be competing into his 40s. To continue or change course is a decision he will face after he has skied his best at Carrabassett Valley.