American Birkebeiner

Why I wear US panties

by Gunnar Zlöbl

– When working for Worldloppet the ability most needed is improvisation. In 2016, during one of my first trips working for Worldloppet, I had to learn this lesson in practice.

It was my first trip to the States. I just started to work as a Communication Manager for Worldloppet and of course I was amazed to go to the north woods of Hayward, to visit the American Birkebeiner, which then was part of the FIS Worldloppet Cup. I was supposed to bring the FIS red bibs for the leaders with me. My colleague, Epp, and me, we planned to meet in Paris, where both of us had our connection flight to Minneapolis. But my flight was delayed, and I had to do some interval training on the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, in order to make sure that I catch the connection flight. I got cheered up by numerous announcements: “this is the final boarding call for passenger Gunnar Zlöbl…” When I heard a second announcement, I knew I got company in my race against time: “this is the final boarding call for passenger Epp Paal going to Minneapolis…”. Fortunately, both of us where trained enough to reach our flight. Sweaty and red faced, but in time. Not like our luggage. This got stuck in Paris. And do you remember what was inside? Yep, the red bibs for the race in two days (next to my laptop, photo camera and warm jacket).

So, we arrived at Hayward late night, totally jetlagged and broke, because my bank activated the geo-control of my credit card and blocked it. Next morning our first way led us to Wallmart. The airline assured us compensation for basic necessities, so we at least purchased some pants, socks, shirts and a toothbrush. And with “we” I mean “Epp” – she had to advance some of my salary. By the way: I think Epp is still fighting against the airline for the compensation. The organizers of the American Birkebeiner generously donated a Birkie-jacket to me, so I did not have to freeze. In another store, Epp suggested proper underwear to me:

Properly dressed, I was able to start working. Of course, I had to improvise. Instead of taking pictures with a professional camera and writing press releases on my laptop, I was forced to use my smartphone for all of that. Can you imagine writing press releases or website posts all on your phone? But hey, we were able to bring news online right from the tracks of American Birkebeiner.

But one problem remained: on the following day, the 5th stage of the FIS Worldloppet Cup should take place and the leaders need their red bibs, which are in my luggage, which in the meantime at least arrived to Minneapolis, but not in the 3 hours north situated Hayward. Incomprehensibly, the lady at the service call center of the airline was not very impressed by our explanations about how important the world’s elite cup of marathon skiing is: “We don’t know, when our next transporter will go north.” In the end, she offered us to send the luggage with the next flight to Duluth (“only” 1,5 hours apart). We took what we could get, jumped into our rental car, and made a short road trip to Duluth, getting the luggage together with the red bibs and hurried back in order to get at least some hours of sleep before race day. Which was a great one! Everything worked out well: Candide Pralong & Aurelie Dabudyk could do their race properly in red bibs and Caitlin Compton Gregg & David Norris celebrated a home victory.

Epp and my travels back home turned out to be calm and smooth and today I still wear panties from the United States (which are way too big for me. I guess US-Large is bigger than European Large).

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