BEND, Ore. - Nordic skiing has a rich history, not just in the Olympics, but right here in Central Oregon.
And there are several former Olympic athletes living in Bend who have seen the sport grow and change since they competed years ago.
Dating back to 1924, cross-county skiing has always been about the athletes vs. the elements.
Dan Simoneau, a coach with the Mount Bachelor Sports Education Foundation, competed in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Winter Games.
Simoneau has been involved in the sport for years now and has seen the changes in the sport since he made the transition to coaching.
“The sport has changed. It’s changing -- you know, it’s a very different sport, and it’s going to change more,” Simoneau said. “If you look at the things being considered for the future, it’s shorter, it’s very television-oriented, it’s more speed-oriented. And part of this is being forced on us by the weather. You can’t ski a 25K loop in a lot of places any more.”
As he helps usher in the the next generation of cross-country skiers, he’s open to the changes that may come.
“As a kid that came from a small town and a way smaller program than this, and got to that level, it’s a pretty cool process, where every step of the way it's like this discovery of -- ‘Oh hey! Here I am!’ And it’s really cool, and it’s enlightening.”
Bend’s Suzanne King was an Olympic competitor in the 1994 and 1998 Games, and now spends her days teaching French at High Desert Middle School.
She said her experience at the Olympics was a blur.
“Excitement, and pressure, and wonder of what’s going on, so a bit of a whirlwind.”
King said she loves the sport, and the challenges and opportunities that it has provided.
“Just a lot of the mental toughness builds upon having survived,” King said. “I realize if I have actually skied through a phase feeling like I wanted to quit and come out the other side, and the next time I’ve got that confidence that I can go through that again.”
Even now, King goes out and skis as often as possible with her husband, and has realized her true love of the sport, after she gave up skiing competitively.
“When competition was always at the forefront, more in the background was the enjoyment of the sport,” King said. “The feeling of that free glide, the feeling of just that cold air, the views, the sunshine.”
And even though the competition has changed, these former Olympians still appreciate the sport for what it will always be -- an athlete and the elements.