While you might not be able to spell or pronounce his name, if you’re a fan of elite cross country skiing, you should be familiar with Sami Jauhojaervi.
Jauhojaervi is one of Finland’s top cross country skiers – the 30 year old has finished as high as 5th in the World Cup Overall, has four World Cup podiums to his credit, and two World Championship bronze medals from Liberec in 2009, where he was a member of the 4×10 k relay team and sprint relay. Last season his best finish was a third place finish in the classic sprint stage of the World Cup mini-tour in Kuusamo, Finland.
FasterSkier caught up with Jauhojaervi to talk about last years’ phenom Juha Lallukka, the 2001 Finnish doping scandal, and the elimination of the individual start 50 k on the World Cup.
FasterSkier: The 2009-2010 World Cup season was an extremely tough one for you – you failed to hit the World Cup podium, and the Vancouver Winter Olympics did not feature any Finnish men coming home with medals. But in 2008-2009 you had a career best year, finishing fifth in the World Cup overall rankings. What happened, what changed?
Sami Jauhojaervi: After a great season 2008-2009 I was having a good summer of training. I was in very good shape already at the end of August, and I was just thinking ‘this is an Olympic season, I need to push more than ever before to get a medal from Vancouver’. I became “blind” with my training, and did not have enough courage to rest. It’s easy to see in hindsight, but I made several wrong decisions from September until January, which led to a tired nervous system. I tried to get as much recovery as possible after the Tour de Ski, and got myself in a better shape, but then got a virus-infection during the Olympics which finally destroyed the last dream to get a medal from 50km.
In general, all the Finnish men became too greedy in our training, so that the results were not as good at the Olympics. I think that all of us increased the amount of high effort training a bit too much. Still, we were just about ten seconds behind the third team in 4x10km relay.
I didn´t have anything new in my trainings. I got too greedy and did not have enough courage to rest enough. The main reason for the tiredness was that I was too self-confident that I was doing the right thing, and forgot to control my recovery.
FS: In the last few years the Finnish mens team has brought along some very talented skiers, such as Matti Heikkinen and Ville Nousiainen, and you finished 4th in the relay at Oslo World Champs. What is the atmosphere around the team? Is the 4×10 a major focus for the team?
SJ: We are all individuals with different kinds of training systems and, we all are trying to do the best result as individuals. Even though this individualism lights 4x10km somehow up the highest fighting spirit in our bodies. When we are in training camps together, we are challenging each other in every training session, competing all the time and also supporting each other if somebody has problems.
FS: For most people looking on, it seemed that Juha Lallukka came out of nowhere last season to be your fourth on the relay team, and also won the 50 k at Finnish National Championships by over 2 minutes. Did you know he was at that level? Where did he come from, and is he going to be a part of your team next season?
SJ: The results Juha had were not a surprise inside the team. He is very talented man with high VO2, but just being a skating distance specialist, he has not many chances to show up during the season – on the World Cup there are usually just 2-3 skate distance races a year. Juha was about to end his career after Vancouver, but fortunately decided to continue outside the national team, which was a good decision for him. He´s been chosen for the team this season but he likes to do his training on his own. I´m quite sure he will be a part of the relay team, and skating team this season. He’s especially needed on relay team as our other skating specialist Teemu Kattilakoski ended his career this spring.
FS: What are your goals for this coming season? Are you focusing on the Tour de Ski, looking for the World Cup overall?
SJ: My focus for this season is going to be the World Cup Overall. I’m trying to become a better skater during the summer and fall so that I can get good results also in skate races.
FS: What is your opinion on the rise of North American skiing? Are both Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey seen as legit medal contenders week in and week out on the World Cup, and for the World Cup overall?
SJ: Both Devon and Alex have developed into really good skiers, and I was positively surprised about their victory in sprint relay in Oslo! Somehow I don’t rely on that they will finish on podium in overall or even nearly every week. One problem I have considered is that most of the competition are held in Europe, and athletes from North America have to stay away from home for ages, which might make them frustrated and the level of concentration for skiing gets down?!
But it’s also good that North America shows it head in cross country skiing. You have extremely good conditions in several place for training and hopefully the example of boys and Kikkan Randall will lead to more youngsters interested in skiing. One good thing to promote skiing would be to have it shown more on TV!
FS: You’re an athlete rep to the FIS, and have taken part in the recent FIS meetings. What is your opinion on the Tour de Ski, and its increasing importance during the World Cup season?
SJ: The Tour de Ski has been a really good invention to promote cross country skiing. The interest that media shows for it is huge, but the Tour de Ski also has a little too big role in World Cup Overall. If you happen to be sick during Tour de Ski, you´ve already lost the overall competition. Cross country skiing really needs an event such as Tour de Ski, but some solutions should be made so that its role is smaller in terms of the total World Cup!
FS: What have you heard are the biggest issues facing the athletes on the World Cup? What do people want changed the most, or are nervous about in the future?
SJ: One of the biggest challenges for athletes is travelling during the season. Most of the athletes are satisfied with the amount of World Cup races, but feel that there is too much travelling. The other issue is always the price money. Most of the athletes are not satisfied with the distribution of money. I think they´ve done a good review of prize money distribution in ski jumping, where the top 30 receive money, instead of just the top 10.
FS: Your one World Cup victory is a 50 k Classic mass start, how do you feel about the elimination of the individual start 50 k as a World Cup race?
SJ: It´s really sad that one of the most traditional events is no longer a part of the circus. The individual 50km has always been the most respected event in skiing, and I really hope to have it back in the system, and especially in major championships soon. The interest of following the 50km is totally different compared to shorter distance, because anything can happen until the finish line has been crossed.
FS: Finnish cross country skiing was hit hard with doping scandal in 2001, at the home World Championships in Lahti. Where were you, and what were your thoughts on having the best Finnish skiers test positive?
SJ: In my last year as a junior skier I came second at Finnish Champs in the sprint, and qualified for the Finnish cross country team at the World Championships in Lahti 2001 and took part in sprint, finishing 18th.
I was surprised about the use of doping in the team, but I didn’t become sad about it. Even though I was a bit ashamed for the Finnish people to have several skiers caught for doping, I was still happy that those who were cheating were caught, and I considered it merely a chance to show my talent as a young skier. Afterwards, I´ve thought that the case in Lahti was a start for a more clean endurance sport, which continued very well into Salt Lake City also!
FS: What did that do to your perception of cross country skiing? How did it affect your choice of sport, and career?
SJ: Of course I started to question whether it was possible to climb up to the top with natural ways. I believed that it was possible, and decided to continue on the road I had chosen one year before, when I made the decision to be a professional cross country skier. Now, eleven years later, I´m still on that road, and am really happy to have made that decision. I have thousands of great experiences and learned several important skills for living.
FS: How has the scandal of 2001 affected Finnish cross country skiing? Has the public view of cross country skiers in Finland changed and how?
SJ: The first years few after Lahti we were suffering for a lack of money in our federation. It really affected us – we couldn’t afford to have proper training camps and other facilities for doing really high level cross country skiing, and therefore the results were also awful! Fortunately, the finances started to ease a bit around 2004, and we could also have full quotas in World Cup races, which gave us skiers the possibility to learn the world of the World Cup circus.
The public view became really bad after Lahti. The popularity among viewers and people collapsed, and almost nobody believed in “clean” skiing. People were joking with us like; “What pills do you eat, because the results are so bad? You should change the pharmacy!”
For me, such comments just gave more power and strength to train harder. Now, the trend is totally different and most people understand that those who cheated were the generation before us. Cross country skiing has also become a trendy sport in Finland in recent years.
FS: What do you see yourself doing after your career in skiing? Do you hope to stay involved in the sport at some level?
SJ: Together with my coach and my physiotherapist we´re building up a firm which will concentrate on the total well-being of a customer, including sports, recovery, education for different kinds of matters in living, food. After my career we have planned that I will be the CEO of the firm and deliver the experience I have learned from sports to normal people. I´m quite sure I will also work with young people in endurance sport, for example as a coach.