Steamboat’s Malacinski steps into role as the face of US women’s Nordic combined
FINLAND — Last weekend, Annika Malacinski of Steamboat Springs won the women’s Nordic combined competition at Finnish Nationals. The victory was her most recent result in a string of successes in Europe this summer. She finished in the top 10 at three of the four summer Grand Prix events.
Malacinski traveled to Europe in early August to take part in the women’s Nordic combined Summer Grand Prix. She was at her second home in Rovaniemi, Finland, for a few weeks before traveling to Slovenia to meet up with the U.S. women’s national team head coach Tomas Matura.
“I have been jumping a lot, skiing really hard,” Malacinski said. “I think all my results have come from really hard work and hard training. I think it’s finally paying off.”
Malacinski was admittedly surprised at how well the work paid off.
“We were thinking together that a top 15 would be something good to strive for,” Malacinski said. “And I remember taking some of my first jumps in Oberhof, and I was in the top 10 easily, even with (provisional) jumps. It was super shocking. I was like wait, ‘Are these results even right?’”
During the provisional round of the first Summer Grand Prix in Oberhof, Germany, she was seventh. In the official round, she finished ninth. A few days later, in Oberwiesenthal, Germany, Malacinski proved the top-10 finish wasn’t a fluke. She took seventh.
At the final two Grand Prix events in Villach, Austria, she continued to perform well, earning seventh and 11th.
“The training, she’s following the plan a little bit better than in the past,” Matura said. “She’s finally getting a little bit more base because she’s still kind of new in the sport. It’s all together, small steps, but she’s improving a lot. It’s awesome.”
Malacinski has been training alone with Matura all summer.
Vermonter Tara Geraghty-Moats switched from Nordic combined to biathlon after winning the inaugural women’s Nordic combined World Cup last year. Malacinski’s teammates and fellow Steamboat Springs skiers Tess Arnone and Alexa Brabec are still in high school and spent the summer training in the Yampa Valley with Karl Denney, their coach at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
“I can focus on her and her needs. It’s special to her,” Matura said. “But other times, it’s a little bit boring for her. It’s just one athlete, just two of us. She has to train most of the time by herself. … It’s challenging for everyone, but it looks like it works.”
To break up the one-on-one time, Matura and Malacinski have been spending some time with the U.S. men’s Nordic combined team.
“It’s been super hard without Tara,” Malacinski said. “I love her so much, and she was such an inspiration and such an amazing role model to train and ski with. Honestly, I think this is the next best thing for me, training with the boys. They’re all super awesome. All of them have such a positive energy. Basically, I get a private coach right now, so I’m really not complaining too much.”
The success is giving Malacinski a lot of confidence moving into the upcoming World Cup season, just the second for women’s Nordic combined. She will likely be the best performing American woman.
Between Geraghty-Moats’ move to biathlon and the top-10 results, Malacinski has firmly taken the spot as the face of U.S. women’s Nordic combined. She doesn’t look at it that way, though.
“I don’t think I’ve thought about it that way at all,” she said. “I have been doing super well with not putting too much pressure on myself and just doing my best and having fun with it. I was definitely struggling with that last season, especially with the other girls competing and wanting to be the best American behind Tara.
“Right now I’m really focusing on the mental side,” Malacinski explained. “What I’ve been doing has been working amazingly. Right now, I’m trying to have fun in a sport that I love.”
Reuniting the U.S. women’s team
Soon enough, the entire U.S. women’s Nordic combined team will be reunited. At 20, Malacinski has more time and opportunity to spend abroad and training with the national team. Meanwhile, Arnone and Brabec have been in Steamboat training with Denney this summer.
Arnone is enrolled at Steamboat Springs High School again after taking online classes in previous years. She’ll graduate from her hometown high school in December, freeing her up to focus on the Nordic combined season.
Brabec has been incorporating soccer into her training, and the pair have been doing a lot of hiking and running with Denney.
“There’s that one road that takes off to the west as you’re going through Phippsburg, and it’s our new favorite spot for distance workouts because there’s no traffic, and we can roller ski to our hearts’ content,” Denney said.
Arnone and Brabec haven’t finalized their schedules yet but will definitely travel to Europe for Junior Worlds and the World Cup event in Val di Fiemme, Italy, where there will be a combined male and female Nordic combined event. They will also travel to Lake Placid in New York around the holidays in late December and early January to compete in a Junior Worlds tryout.
“They’ve been on the up and up for quite a while now,” Denney said. “And they’ve gotten so much recognition for that — that’s sometimes easy to forget that they’re still high schoolers.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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