He almost didn't attend last weekend's U.S. Telemark National Championships in Steamboat Springs, and by the time it was over, Breckenridge's Tommy Gogolen found himself on the podium.
"I really, really surprised myself. The other competition was really tough. I wasn't planning on skiing that well," Gogolen said, adding, "It was a competitive vibe. We have some young guys coming up, and they're fast."
Last week, he said he was going to treat it as a training opportunity, because he felt out of shape and was near to not participating due to an injury that turned out to be a bone bruise. Gogolen originally thought it was something more serious, and given his two knee surgeries, he has a right to be spooked.
Still, after getting the good word from the doctors at The Steadman Clinic in Vail, Gogolen jetted north for the competition. He placed second in both races Friday. Saturday's first race, the sprint classic, is Gogolen's weakest race because it's shorter than the classic event. He landed second.
A racer's overall place is derived from the best three scores of four races. Headed into Saturday's final race, the parallel sprint, Gogolen was satisfied with his results, so to pull back and avoid contact was the wiser of two decisions in his eyes.
The new parallel event is designed to enhance the sport's chances of being an Olympic sport by making it more exciting. The racers go head-to-head, go over a jump, return to head-to-head racing and end up in a wrap that funnels them down 10 feet and 360 degrees, spitting them out into a skate section that ends the contest in a competitive race that permits contact.
"It's pretty crazy, it can be pretty wild. There can be contact. Who would have thought contact on skis would have ever happened?" Gogolen said. "It's a pretty risky event."
He fell in qualifiers and then, seeded far back in the next race, he pulled out to avoid the contact.
"At that point, I was just pleased with my results," Gogolen said.
Last year, Gogolen finished fifth overall.
"That means I'm improving and getting better. And my training is paying off," he said, giving credit to Axis Sports Medicine, whose physical therapists have been helping him get ready for races following surgery.
The World Championships are coming up on March 12-18 in Spain, and Gogolen is looking forward to being one of the eight telemark skiers headed to the competition.