And then there were two.
That’s how many women are on Canada’s World Cup Team after Chandra Crawford recently decided to train on her own with personal coach Peter Larsson for the next several months.
Dasha Gaiazova is back in eastern Canada for the second-straight offseason, which makes Perianne Jones the lone World Cup female at the national team’s base in Canmore, Alberta, where she’ll work with women’s coach Eric de Nys.
Crawford, a 29-year-old Canmore native and 2006 Olympic gold medalist, will be there, too, working independently with her technique and tactics coach of the last four years, Larsson, a Swedish sprint specialist who won six World Cups. Technically, she declined her nomination to the 2012/2013 national ski team (NST), but in an email last week, Crawford reiterated that she’ll be back onboard once the World Cup season starts in November.
“After a solid burn out and overload I’m re-charged and keen to make the most of the days until Sochi,” she wrote of the pre-Olympic training phase. “I have to manage my energy and do things in ways that work for me so while it’s financially sketchy it is the best option.”
Last season, she ended her season in early February after the World Cup in Sochi, Russia, citing the physical and mental toll of 13-plus years of international racing.
“I’m just preparing to go into the Olympic year so rested and so calm from this time I took to step back and center myself and become so healthy and energized,” Crawford said at the time. “The system is overtaxed now and I need to be more honest about my skiing level and listen to my body better.”
She spent the next few months recharging and catching up with family, friends and loved ones, “something I’ve missed for so long I didn’t even know to miss it,” Crawford wrote.
“My weekdays were usually spent on self-improvement and appointments for all aspects of my physical and mental health,” she continued. “Weekends were enjoyed with friends – skiing in the mountains and dance parties. … April I made my decision early about my plans for the year and got to work communicating that out with everyone involved.”
She based the move on her needs in an Olympic year. “I always give at least my best on race day and love big events so it’s a question of how good my fitness and ‘best’ can be on that day,” she wrote.
The news didn’t necessarily surprise de Nys, but it was one that slightly complicated his team’s training plans.
“I thought it was definitely conceivable,” de Nys said Monday on the phone. “I didn’t think she would choose that, but at the same time I totally understand why and totally support her in her decision. We wish her all the best in her training.”
On Monday, he spoke with Crawford and other independent racers, Amanda Ammar, Zoe Roy and Alana Thomas, about the upcoming NST camp in Bend, Ore. Jones will be there, and de Nys invited them to coordinate workouts from May 19-29.
“I’m not writing her plan or anything like that,” de Nys said of Crawford. “I’m just keeping the door open.”
As for Jones, he’s in the process of lining up training partners for the 28-year-old Canmore-based skier. So far, he has mostly aligned schedules with Gaiazova, who trains with NST assistant men’s coach Louis Bouchard at the Pierre-Harvey National Training Centre in Quebec and B2ten in Montreal.
De Nys will also invite foreign training partners to Canmore and explained that Jones has talented biathletes around town as well, like Zina Kocher, Megan Imrie, and Crawford’s younger sister, Rosanna.
“I’ve also made the commitment to start to become in better shape so I’ll make her feel really good about herself as she drops me on the hills,” he joked.
Looking at his team of three (technically two until Crawford proves she’s capable of racing internationally again in the fall), de Nys stressed the importance of end results – not how one gets there.
“I don’t view it any different than how it works in the U.S. with Gus Kaeding coaching [national-team members] Andy [Newell] and Simi [Hamilton] in Vermont,” he said, referring to America’s elite-team system.
“There’s more than one way to the top and the national ski team is one way and there’s other ways we can do it,” de Nys explained. “The important thing is you have a team that’s willing to work with each other. We do have a group of women, albeit a small one, that do want to work with each other.”
He likened Crawford’s situation to that of an NHL player going down to a farm team. It’s unusual that one would do so by choice, but the athlete still has to show they’re worthy of playing at the highest level before getting bumped back up.
“Chandra will have to undergo some testing and some evaluation,” de Nys said of her anticipated re-entry to the national team. “It’s one thing if you want to go off and do your own training, that’s all fine, but before we take someone to Europe, we want to make sure they’re physically healthy. … We’re not going to take somebody to Europe for vacation.”
In Crawford’s case, he doesn’t expect that will be a problem.
“Sometimes the environment or the pressure in whatever team you’re on doesn’t necessarily suit everyone,” he explained. “I think that’s the point Chandra is at in her life. … While we can’t necessarily support that, I understand why she chose that.”
In July, Crawford plans to train in Alaska, he said. Meanwhile, Gaiazova and Jones will join the Canadian men’s team in New Zealand and also in Hawaii this summer. Separated for the first time last year, the men’s and women’s World Cup teams previously held camps at different venues. This year, de Nys said it made sense to combine overseas trips and share resources (i.e. physical trainers).
With two women on its current World Cup squad, it raises the question what Canadian women’s skiing could look like in the future. De Nys expects some changes.
“We anticipate that perhaps Dasha, Peri and Chandra will be done after this year so we have to start grooming the younger crowd as well,” he said. “There’s a fairly large gap from the World Cup level to the younger levels. … We have to make sure we keep building up this castle.”
He pointed out talent in the junior- and senior-development ranks, especially with skiers like Anne-Marie Comeau, who made the top 50 in two debut World Cup races last season at the age of 16.
“You just don’t show up and pull races out of your hat like that,” de Nys said. “Now we just have to make sure that we do the right things … bring in some of those girls, work with some of them.”
After Bend, the NST will host a women’s camp on Canmore’s Haig Glacier with its World Cup, junior and senior development teams.