In their first collective visit to Park City, Utah, several members of the Norwegian nordic combined team couldn’t get over the place.
There was never a cloud in the sky, and even unseasonably cold days weren’t that bad. People were nice, the motorists were considerate, and the training possibilities were endless.
Following a three-week camp with the U.S. nordic combined squad last month, Norwegian A-team member Mikko Kokslien wasn’t the only one considering buying a condo there.
His teammate, Håvard Klemetsen, who was last in Park City about 11 years ago, was sure he’d be back as well.
“We are not use to so open and friendly people, especially when we where out training,” Klemetsen, 33, wrote in an email after their camp from June 6-26. “In our culture people don’t say hello when they meet strangers – I like the open and enthusiastic people in Park City.”
Reflecting on the trip from home in Lillehammer, Kokslien, 27, wrote that the altitude camp was the best of his career. He was last in Park City in 2006 during the World Cup ‘B’ competitions, but didn’t exactly get a feel for the area.
“Now we had good time and really enjoyed staying in Park City,” Kokslien wrote. “Maybe I’ll move there some day.”
History in the Making
By the time the five Norwegian athletes, including Magnus Krog, Gudmund Storlien and Jørgen Graabak, and their head coach, Kristian Hammer, left a week ago, U.S. head coach Dave Jarrett knew they had a good time. In the first joint camp between the teams, his skiers enjoyed having them around as well.
In a phone interview, Jarrett said their ties with Norway have historically been strong. He could personally trace it back to the summer of 1992 when he hosted Norwegians Baard Jørgen Elden and Fred Børre Lundberg for a few weeks in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Lundberg went on to win world titles and Olympic gold medals, and Elden later coached Jarrett on the U.S. Ski Team. Today, Jarrett said they remain close friends.
While Norwegian no-co skiers had trained in the U.S. in the decades since, they had not made an official team trip until this year. Head coach Kristian Hammer scheduled the American altitude camp last winter, taking Jarrett up on his longstanding offer.
“I’ve always extended the invitation for years for them to come to Park City, but it was only until now that Kristian really pulled the trigger on it,” Jarrett said.
With plans in place, Hammer asked for some help with logistics, and Jarrett gladly jumped in to help with accommodations and ground transportation. The team, which included two coaches and a PT for part of the trip, stayed in condos overlooking Park City’s golf course. Kokslien played several rounds with U.S. Ski Team member Taylor Fletcher.
“He got me the first day, but the next day I might’ve played my best round ever,” Fletcher wrote in an email.
Aside from meeting up for barbecues and dinner, athletes from both teams spent most of their time training together – first on the jumping hill and later on rollerskis and road rides.
Fletcher, 22, wrote that he learned a lot from the Norwegians during the jumping portion of camp. His older brother, Bryan, said it was nice to show them around for a change.
“It’s not an every-day opportunity that another team gets to come to the U.S. and train,” Bryan said on the phone. “Hopefully they’ll have a good report to send home to other athletes so that next year and the year after that, more people will want to come here instead of being solely based in Europe.”
The Americans are typically the ones playing tourist, traveling to Norway in late August for training camps and racing in Lillehammer’s annual uphill sprint race in early September. This year, the U.S. team heads to France on July 8, where they will spend a week chasing cyclists in the Tour de France before competing in first races of the FIS Grand Prix in Sochi, Russia. There they’ll also get a chance to preview the 2014 Olympic venue.
They’ll return to Park City for nationals in August, but Jarrett said he was trying to get his to central Europe in September/October for additional camps with the Norwegians. Next year, he said there was a good chance Team Norway would be back in Park City.
“They were pumped about coming back next year,” Jarrett said. “Kristian and I talked about [them] coming back in October possibly next year. That’s a good time for training here, it’s still sunny whereas other places it’s starting to get rainy and snowy.”
In the past, Norwegians sometimes avoided altitude training, believing it did little to boost performance, Jarrett said. While they spent the first few days following a rigid protocol to acclimate to Park City’s 7,000-foot elevation, Jarrett said they joined his team for most workouts thereafter.
“You didn’t hear the typical, ‘Oh it’s so hard, I feel this bad,’ things like that,” Jarrett said. “They were all into it and we had great weather and they were pretty psyched about doing it again.”
Jarrett was excited to have them there for a change.
“It was awesome for us to have three weeks with those guys, not just cross-country wise but almost more importantly on the jumping hill,” he added. “We usually have to pay to go to Europe to do that so this was almost no cost to us to have them here.”
Kokslien wrote that while the main purpose of the camp was altitude training, it was just as important for them to learn from the Americans, especially Olympic gold medalist Billy Demong.
“In the summer we don’t often get to see how the other teams are training, so its also nice in a way we can learn and see how they are working in the US,” he wrote. “I have always looked up to and learned a lot from Bill. To be with him and the rest of the American team, gives me and our team a good motivation for the winter. The American team has a really good work ethic, and I think many can learn from them.”
Demong explained in an email that such relationships have existed for years and didn’t end at competitions. In a World Cup race last season, Demong teamed up with Kokslien to pass several people for his best result of the year – third. Kokslien was second.
It helped that Demong and his teammates spoke some Norwegian.
“When it comes to training, we can have sessions with the Norwegian team and it becomes almost like one big team,” Demong wrote. “We do long easy skis without egos and time trials and interval sessions constructively pushing each other to go faster and learn from one another. Also the contact on the jumping hill is always very important as they are some of the best.”
– Audrey Mangan contributed reporting.