Oakland’s Caden Cote, a skier with the Central Maine Ski Club, competed in the Junior Nationals at Truckee, California last week. Contributed photo

Caden Cote was two races into the U-16 Junior Nationals out in California. He had his best event up next, followed by a relay race he had been looking forward to all week.

As it turned out, however, Nordic skiing wasn’t immune to the chaos that swept the country last week. The national competition in Truckee, California was canceled on Thursday morning due to rising concern over the spread of the coronavirus, forcing Cote, a 15-year-old Oakland resident, Messalonskee student and Central Maine Ski Club member, to make the early cross-country trip back home.

“A lot of kids were frustrated,” said Cote, who flew back late Friday night. “It definitely sucks. I was really looking forward to it.”

Cote said he enjoyed the two races in which he competed, however, and considered the abbreviated experience on the national stage a positive one.

“I got the two quality races in that I wanted. I got two really good races in, and I think it was probably the best decision for the safety of everyone,” said Cote, who qualified for the nationals with strong Eastern Cup performances during the winter. “The experience of being out there was pretty incredible.”

Cote said being able to compete among the best Nordic skiers in the country for his age group encouraged him about his own abilities and potential.

“It was amazing. It was definitely worth it,” he said. “Just being able to be out there with these people, and just seeing the level of ability of myself and all my other competitors, it’s reassuring and it gives me the confidence I need to go into next season.”

Cote didn’t hide his disappointment, however. After finishing 29th (out of 73 skiers) in a classic interval race and 42nd in a freestyle sprint, he was upbeat about improving on those finishes in his next races Friday and Saturday.

“Those were some of the two I was looking very forward to,” he said. “The skate mass start (Friday), I’d been skating well all season, so I think that’s where I was kind of looking to make a move. And then the relay, (it was) not as much about finishing high. That’s just a really fun event, to be part of a team.”

On Wednesday night, however, a wave of cancellations and postponements swept the sports world, and though Cote hoped he and the other skiers would be allowed to finish since they were already at the location, Thursday’s practices were continuously delayed.

Before 10 a.m., Cote heard the plug had been pulled on the championships.

“I think the whole week, people were a little bit on edge just with everything that was happening,” he said. “I think travel became a real concern, about ‘Is there going to be a travel ban?’ ‘Are people going to be able to get home if they continue the event?’ I think everyone could see it coming a little bit from the day we got there, but I don’t think anyone truly expected it to become a reality.

“It was definitely a bummer to have those last two races canceled.”

On Friday night, Cote had to fly back to Maine, and was admittedly uneasy about traveling.

“The airports were pretty much empty,” he said. “The planes were not at all packed, so we had freedom to kind of move around. I made sure I sat away from other people, trying to avoid getting sick. … I was a little bit worried, but I had enough reassurance that I wasn’t too worried.”

Now that he’s back, Cote said he’s focused on returning next year. Making it this year gave him an idea of the work he needs to put in to accomplish that goal.

“These people, a lot of them have been training in more of a professional or higher-class level for a while,” he said. “Last summer (was) my first time really introducing myself to that level of training. … (It’s) quality over quantity. I’ll try to make sure that my training sessions are really good and really productive.”

Cote made a technical jump this season. Now he’ll be looking for more power.

“I think the big thing is just going to be getting myself stronger,” he said. “I was watching replays, and I think a lot of more muscly kids were able to just put more power and a little bit less energy, where I was a little more quick, wasting a little bit more energy to get the same amount of power. Gaining a little bit more muscle mass will be one of my goals.”

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