By Andrew Hood
Carl Swenson traded in his knobby tires for cross-country skis Saturday in a run for a gold medal at the XIX Winter Olympic Games.
The professional mountain-bike racer came up short of the medal podium – he finished 37th in the men’s 30km freestyle mass start – after he said his legs “tightened up.”
”It was a disappointing day. I just seized up and I couldn’t recover,” Swenson said after racing on the challenging, high-altitude course in the shadow of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains south of Park City. “My muscles were tight and I ran out of energy.”
More than 15,000 fans packed the course as the world’s fastest cross-country skiers roared over the 7.5-km course. The Euro-heavy crowded lined the steep climbs, making parts of the course resemble the climb to Alpe d’Huez, as fans spent the race cheering their countrymen, waving flags and ringing bells as the skiers flew past.
Swenson is coming off his most successful season when after finishing 11th in a World Cup race to qualify for the Salt Lake Games and had bigger hopes for Saturday’s opening men’s cross-country race.
“This is similar to a mountain bike race, when you start to lose it, it’s painful and frustrating,” Swenson said. “With this altitude and these long climbs, it’s hard to get it back together.”
Swenson will compete in at least one other event and hopes the worst is behind him.
“Hopefully I skied all the bad stuff out of me today,” Swenson said. “I’ve done this before. I’ve had awful races and then I’ve comeback and raced well. We’ll see.”