From Team Summit to Team USA
April 18, 2009
All she could do was wait and watch.
Frisco’s Mikaela Matthews came into the final day of the final North American Tour moguls competition in second place overall in the season-long standings. She needed to hold her position to earn a spot on the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team. The day before, she’d finished fifth in single moguls.
But now, everything was out of her hands. Matthews had lost her first duel in the finals and was stuck in ninth place. All she could do was hope.
“I thought that I was done and I had lost my spot,” she said.
Then, things started to fall into place.
“The right people won, and the right people lost,” Matthews said, “and I kept my spot.”
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So, at age 17, Matthews became the youngest current member of the U.S. Team.
Looking back now, Matthews realizes that its taken a lot of work leading up to that Feb. 20 NorAm finale in Calgary, Alberta.
Since the time she first strapped on skis ” one day before her second birthday ” Matthews has dedicated nearly all of her free time to the sport.
At first, she loved the speed of it and raced for the Copper Mountain Race Team from ages 4-6. Then her family moved to Denmark when she was 7, and she discovered her new passion ” bumps.
“When we lived over there (in Denmark), we did a lot of freeskiing,” Matthews said, noting that her parents are both avid skiers, “and I just realized that I liked bumps a lot better than racing.”
Upon returning to the states the following year, Matthews’ parents signed her up for the Team Summit Freestyle squad, and she began working with her coach Chris Carson. Matthews has worked with Carson ever since.
“He’s pretty much been my second dad the whole time since I was 8,” she said. “He traveled with us, we ate dinners together. I’ve spent so much time with him that he’s had a big impact on my life.”
Matthews has always dreamt of making the U.S. Team, but even a few months ago never felt it was truly within reach.
“The last couple years, I’ve wanted to make the team, but it wasn’t really realistic,” she said. “Even at the start of this year, it didn’t seem realistic at all.”
That had more to do with some shaky finishes than her ability, though.
Matthews began the season at the U.S. Team Selections qualifying event, which, for her, lasted only one day. She fell on her first run of the Day 1 finals and sprained her patellar tendon. She missed the next few weeks due to the injury.
In her second NorAm event of the season, Matthews had another hard fall.
“I made finals the first day, but the second day, I fell and had to go to the hospital,” Matthews said. “They thought I broke my hip.”
Luckily for Matthews ” and her hopes of making the U.S. Team ” the injury was only a bone bruise and muscle damage, though it did keep her on crutches for a couple weeks.
When she finally returned to action, her season began to take off.
She won the single moguls competition at Arapahoe Basin on Feb. 11 for her first-career NorAm victory, then finished fifth the next day in duels.
Then after her solid performance in Calgary, where she earned her spot on the team, Matthews finished second at the Junior Olympic Championships in New Hampshire. She then finished 11th at the U.S. Nationals in Steamboat Springs.
“It ended up being a good ending to the season, especially after that start,” she said. “The most important thing is making the team, and I was able to do that. I didn’t think that was going to happen at the start of the year.”
With a U.S. Team roster spot already in hand, Matthews has had to rearrange some of her long term goals for her skiing career. Though she will be the youngest female on the team by three years, Matthews said that her current goals are no different than anyone else’s ” earn a trip to the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.
“It’s going to be a very competitive year next year, because it’s an Olympic year,” she said of her first season racing for the USA. “They probably won’t be that welcoming for one more person to compete against, but I’m going to try hard and see if I can make the Olympics.”
Though there are a few ways to qualify for the Olympics, such as finishing well on the World Cup circuit, Matthews is focused on the Gold Cup ” a winner-take-all event that gives the top finisher a spot on the Olympic team.
“Being the newest member on the team, I doubt I’d get too many World Cup starts,” Matthews said. ” … My coach and I have been joking that all my training is going to lead up to that one event, the Gold Cup. That’s what I’m working towards.”
With age on her side, Matthews realizes that she’ll have a few shots at representing her country on her sport’s biggest stage.
For now, she’s content on just training as hard as she can and getting into the flow of her new hectic schedule. She only has a few weeks before her first U.S. Team function on May 11, and she’s looking forward to her graduation from Summit High School on May 23rd.
“It hasn’t all totally set in, yet,” she said. ” … With everything coming up, it probably will. I can’t wait to get going.”
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