Hummingbird Tad Elliott is ready to spread his wings and fly to Europe to continue his resurgent career.
Elliott, a 2007 graduate of Durango High School and son of Mike and Nancy Elliott, was named to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association cross country ski team for the International Ski Federation’s 2017 Nordic World Ski Championships next month in Lahti, Finland. He was one of 17 Americans selected.
It will be Elliott’s third world championship race and first since 2013. He also competed in 2011.
“Somebody asked when the last time I got to race in Europe was, and it was 2013,” Elliott said. “I’m really excited to go back, especially to Scandinavia for a big event like this. There will be a quarter-million fans going over.”
Elliott, who races for the Vail Ski and Snowboard Club, will compete in the 50-kilometer freestyle mass start race, which will be held March 5, the final day of the 12-day event. A former cyclist, the long-distance event suits Elliott’s skill set well, though he hasn’t competed in the distance yet this year. He will get his first crack at 50K at a race next weekend in Vermont.
“It’s a good distance for me coming from bike racing,” he said. “The longer races and mass start have usually been a strong point for me.”
Elliott has already been in contact with U.S. teammate Noah Hoffman of Aspen, who will also compete in the 50K race. The two plan to work together to attack the rest of the field and push for a strong American result.
More than 700 athletes from more than 60 countries will compete over the course of the 12-day event, which includes Nordic skiing and ski jumping.
“This is undoubtedly the strongest team that the USA has ever fielded at a major championships,” U.S. head coach Chris Grover said in a news release. “We have many veterans with World Cup podium experience in this group – athletes that are at the heights of their careers and their racing abilities. Lahti will be the perfect setting for the USA to showcase our newfound strength in cross country ski racing.”
Elliott is a former national champion in the 50K distance. He has won four national championships in his career, with a 30K win in 2016 and three more coming between 2010 and 2012.
His career suffered a setback between 2013 and 2015 as he battled mononucleosis, which resulted in fatigue and illness. After a proper diagnosis, his career returned to an upward trajectory the past two seasons.
“Four years ago when I got really, really sick, I took a long-term look at having the Olympics be a goal or end point,” said Elliott, whose father Mike was a three-time Olympic cross country skier. “I set standards along the way, and I’ve checked each box off with patience and really good support from the whole Durango community, Vail and all my sponsors who stayed with me.
“To hit each goal you set out for and surpass those goals and surprise yourself, it’s awesome. It keeps the motivation going.”
Elliott is fresh off a silver medal at the national championships in Soldier Hollow, Utah, in the 15K. He finished behind Kyle Bratrud of Minnesota. The race came one year to the day after his 2016 national title, which happened to fall on his mother’s birthday.
A year ago, the Elliott family watched the race via webcast. This year, the whole family made the trip, and Elliott’s twin brother, Evan, a coach on the Vail team, was in charge of waxing his skis.
A few other Durangoans were in fine form in Utah that weekend. Rogan Brown, who skis for Sun Valley, Idaho, placed seventh in the same race, and his brother, Cully Brown, took 85th.
In the 10K freestyle race, Maggie Wigton of Durango placed 154th and 39th in her class. Katja Freeburn of Durango, who also competes for the Vail team, was 109th and 12th in her classification.
Elliott plans to leave Feb. 17 for Finland and aims to continue his strong season.
“I’m not focused on results in the next few races, but I’ll be gunning for a good result at the world championships,” he said. “Part of my success comes from having patience at these other races and focusing on the process more than results.”