Fort Kent Native takes top spot in event, eyes slot on U.S. Olympic nordic ski team
FORT KENT, Maine — St. John Valley Native Nick Michaud kicked off his nordic ski season and his bid for a spot on the U.S. Ski Team with a bang on Saturday when he raced to a first place finish in the men’s skate sprint at the SuperTour event in West Yellowstone, Montana.
Michaud edged out second place skier Logan Hanneman by less than half a second Saturday on the 1.6-kilometer long course, coming in at just over two minutes and 29 seconds. The Fort Kent Native holds the Super Tour’s leader bib for the men, following his win.
The tour, which kicked off in West Yellowstone, is a series of seven International Ski Federation-sanctioned cross country events across the United States and Canada organized by the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association and local clubs.
Michaud, 25, currently skis with the Bridger Ski Foundation, a nonprofit community ski organization based in Bozeman, Montana.
“I’m speechless,” Michaud’s mother Lena Michaud sad on Monday. “I watched the (post-race) interview online. I was in tears.”
“That was amazing,” Nick Michaud said Monday. “My only goal was to win the qualifier.”
Most sprint cross country meets start with a qualifier round, where each skier races the course on their own. Athletes then compete in subsequent quarter- and semifinal heats, and eventually, if they make it that far, the final heat.
Points toward a possible Olympic team spot, however, are only awarded based on how well skiers do in that first qualifier heat. For Michaud, the rest of the day on Saturday was icing on the cake.
“After the qualifier I was just so excited,” he said. “I met my goal. The rest of the day I wanted to have fun and enjoy it.”
Not only did he earn top points toward his Olympic goal, Michaud went on to take the top spot in each of his remaining heats the rest of the day.
“It felt surreal,” said the full-time athlete. Although he had done relatively well in qualifiers in the past, Michaud, said he has made mistakes and had less than ideal performances in many subsequent rounds. Saturday in West Yellowstone was his first time standing at the top of the podium.
The venue was just 90 miles from where he lives in Bozeman and Michaud had many friends on hand to cheer him on.
“My father (Roy Michaud) was in Montana too,” he said. “It was special to have so many people there.”
“He was dominant throughout the day,” Roy Michaud,, a former nordic ski coach, said Monday. “ I was his coach and coached for 20 plus years. I am very proud of him.”
In between training with the BSF team, Nick Michaud works at a brewery in Bozeman. His free time, though, is limited.
“We train 20-30 hours a week. Then there is 20 hours or so of physical therapy and recovery,” he said.
For athletes focused on earning a spot on the national team, maintaining a full time job is difficult, but the financial support of local clubs only goes so far, he said. Winning on Saturday not only meant a medal and points toward a spot on the U.S. team, but also some extra prize money for Michaud.
“Now I can pay some bills,” he said with a chuckle.
Michaud said he is planning to start a goFundMe page and is also seeking business sponsorships to continue his pursuit of a spot on the Olympic team and to compete in other events, possibly in Europe, this season. Unfortunately, Michaud said, there is little support from the national teams for athletes while they are trying to earn a place on the team, and costs for things such as race registrations, licensing fees and travel add up quickly.
Making the U.S. nordic squad will require Michaud to accumulate enough points in the remaining three events that the team uses to determine spots.
The last of those events is the U.S. Nationals, Jan. 3-8, in Anchorage, Alaska. The competition is tough, though. The United States is far behind the Europeans when it comes to nordic skiing, and there are often only one or two American nordic sprint skiers good enough to qualify or make it very far in the Olympics.
Michaud, though, has started off this season in style and with his goal even closer in sight, he is looking forward to his upcoming races, he said.
Michaud said his growing up in Fort Kent taught him the value of hard work and also demonstrated how important teamwork and support are. Although he has not been back to Maine in more than two years, a tattoo of his home state reminds Michaud of his beginnings.
“So many people (from Maine) have reached out to me since Saturday,” Michaud said. “It’s been great.”
People can follow Michaud at his Instagram account, @nicholasmichaud.
Although Michaud skied all through high school and while he was at Bates College in Lewiston, he rarely had an opportunity to take part in sprint races, as most events were distance cross country skiing, with distances anywhere from 15 to 30 kilometers or more. These were not his strong suite.
In his last year at Bates, though, one of his coaches encouraged him to specialize and focus on sprint events, where Michaud often finished among the top skiers. He graduated from Bates in 2015 with a degree in sociology.
After college, Michaud had an opportunity to train with the Maine Winter Sports program.
That, however, fell through after funding for his program was pulled. Coaches, though, encouraged him to find a club or team to race with and keep at it, which eventually landed him in Montana with the BSF team.
Lena Michaud said her son has been eyeing an Olympic ski team slot for quite a long time.
“This has been his lifelong dream,” she said.
The young Michaud began training in middle school, his mother said.
“He did everything. He trained, he made sure he ate right,” she said. “He is so, so driven.”
Michaud’s next scheduled event will be the second SuperTour race in Silverstar, British Columbia, Canada, Dec. 9-10.
Michaud’s mother said she plans on going to see her son ski in the Olympics in South Korea this February, should he make the U.S. team. She also is eyeing the possibility of attending a few European nordic ski events.
“It’s very exciting,” she said. “How often do you get to see your child compete at that level?”
“I feel really fortunate to still be an athlete,” Nick Michaud said. “It will be over shortly.”
Most athletes have great experiences in high school and some find success during their college careers. Few however, are still competing in their mid to late 20s, he said.
“I want to make the most of it.”