Fighting for their right: Women’s Nordic athletes make statement at winter start competition

Steamboat's Ella Wilson, left, and Lake Placid's Kai McKinnon begin their ascent up a hill behind the rodeo grounds in the five-kilometer cross country race during the winter start on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. Both Wilson and McKinnon wore an "X" on their cheeks to show support of all women in Nordic combined.
Tom Skulski/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Kicking off the Nordic combined winter competition season, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club hosted its winter start on Saturday, Dec. 10. This annual event is always marked on the calendar but it meant a little more this year for 12 of the competing athletes. 

In June, the International Olympic Committee made the decision to exclude women’s Nordic combined from the 2026 Winter Olympic Games. 

Women Nordic combined athletes from around the world were crushed to hear the news, but they did not let their passions fade away. Instead, the top women’s athletes in North America gathered at Howelsen Hill for winter start and put on a show.

Finishing with both the top jump and fastest race time among U20 females, SSWSC’s Alexa Brabec earned a first-place finish at the event. While she was proud of her win, Brabec was more proud to see all the women who came to compete. 

“I’m super excited to see all of the women that are sticking with Nordic combined and really showing up and putting their best foot forward,” Brabec said. “I hope that we can continue to carry that momentum up to the international level and get the IOC’s attention and show them what we have.”

To make a statement, nearly every competitor at the event, both male and female, wore a sparkly “X” on their cheeks to show support for all women in Nordic combined.

SSWSC Nordic combined coach Karl Denney said it was a big heartbreak for him to see his female athletes have to go through something like this but he is excited to see everyone making a statement. 

SSWSC U20 athlete Alexa Brabec hustles to the finish line to win the winter start Nordic combined event for the U20 female division on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022.
Tom Skulski/Steamboat Pilot & Today

“Now that this is kind of a trend going around, It’s a good way for our athletes to stand up and say we’re with it and part of the movement,” Denney said. 

The original idea of the “X” came from Norwegian athlete Gyda Westvold Hansen, who also donned a fake beard at a Nordic combined event in November. Since then, more Nordic athletes have picked up the trend and hope to make a big splash with it in the months ahead. 

The women’s U20 second place finisher Kai McKinnon of the New York Ski Educational Foundation said she almost cried when she first heard the news in June and was super disappointed to have her dreams crushed. 

With that being said, McKinnon’s love for the sport only grew stronger and she was beyond excited to be competing again. It meant a lot to her to see all competitors advocating for women. 

“It really feels good to know that people support your cause and that people actually care and they are pushing for you to go,” McKinnon said. “It just feels great knowing everyone else is supporting you even when the people at the top are not.”

Denney explained that after the official announcement was made, he was nervous to see women’s motivation in the sport drop. However, the coach says he has only seen the girls become closer and more powerful in the fight toward a common goal. 

He says it is unbelievable to see his athletes and so many others take action, and he looks forward to seeing their voices be heard. 

“This is just the first step and we’re going to be talking more about what the next steps are to fight for your right to compete.”


(Place, Name, Club, Ski Jump Score, Finish Time)

U16 male Nordic combined 5-Kilometer race: 1. Arthur Tirone, SSWSC, 226.1, 16:46.0. 2. Anders Giese, CEN/Norge, 189.4, 18:57.0. 3. Ian Carmack, PCSS, 123.8, 20:22. 4. Augie Roepke, PCSS, 140.6, 21:30. 5. Jack Kroll, EAST/NYSEF, 188.3, 22:06.0. 

U20 female Nordic combined 5-Kilometer race: 1. Alexa Brabec, USANS NC/SSWSC, 107.0, 16:31.0. 2. Kai McKinnon, EAST/NYSEF, 76.0, 20:34. 3. Ella Wilson, SSWSC, 76.0, 20:47.0. 4. Tess Arnone, USANS NC/SSWSC, 61.5, 21:31.0. 5. Eva Minotto, SSWSC, 43.5, 22:30.0. 

U20 male Nordic combined 10-Kilometer race: 1. Niklas Malacinski, USANS NC/SSWSC, 128.0, 28:57.0. 2. Evan Nichols, USANS NC/Ford Sayre, 93.0, 31:52.0. 3. Caleb Zuckerman, USANS NC/Ford, 114.0, 33:19. 4. Skyler Amy, Team AK, 72.0, 35:31.0. 5. Max Glyvka, CEN/Norge, 102.5, 37:21.0. 

Senior male Nordic combined 10-Kilometer race: 1. Erik Lynch, SSWSC, 107.0, 30:02.0. 2. Aidan Ripp, EAST/Paul Smith’s College, 76.5, 31:15. 3. Timothy Ziegler, EAST/Paul Smith’s College, 46.0, 37:57.0.

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