A glance into any one of the glass windows lining the east side of Central Cross Country (CXC) Academy’s Center of Excellence building might give the impression of the average athlete gym. But if you step across the front threshold or take a peek at the academy’s 360-degree virtual online tour and sport science page, you’ll find much more than treadmills, stationary bikes and medicine balls.
Located in Madison, Wis., the CXC Center of Excellence also houses a 10-by-12-foot rollerski treadmill, SkiErgs, and an in-house-made, power-pole machine. For many, though, equipment is not the most powerful tool in the center. Rather, it’s the center’s capacity to evaluate and educate its members and non-members alike about nordic skiing.
Currently, the Center of Excellence offers performance evaluations, as well as fitness testing for lactate and VO2max using the oversized treadmill. Recorded and individualized technique coaching sessions on the rollerski treadmill are also available for those willing to pay $150 dollars per hour. To help athletes gain a better understanding of their body within sport, the center is also presently working on developing a biomechanical analysis software.
And CXC recently hired a sport development and education director, Egor Akimov, CXC head coach Andy Keller explained on the phone.
“He’s got a bachelor’s and PhD from the Russian State University in physical education and sport, so he majored in human physiology, he’s competed over in Russia and then he served on the Moscow Center of advanced sports technology as the head of the science department,” Keller said. “So he’s done a lot of research over in Russia on the biomechanics and stuff like that. He’s kind of leading our center [in Madison], doing a lot of the sessions down there and the technique work.”
According to the CXC Executive and Athletic Director Yuriy Gusev, the Center of Excellence is approximately 90 percent complete. Anyone from CXC club members, to donors, to CXC team members, and the general public, can access the center at no cost. Rollerski treadmill evaluations cost CXC clubs $250 per day, $150 per hour for all others.
“We are finalizing a few more partnerships on the sports science program and equipment but will start performing studies in cross country skiing this coming fall,” Gusev wrote in an email. “Our goal is to have top sports science facility to study latest innovations in the sport, potential application in cross country skiing to improve training, recovery and performance.”
While the CXC elite team, known as the CXC Team, uses the center for testing, its current base in Marquette, Mich. has also led the team to seek out other partnerships. This included collaborating with the Northern Michigan University (NMU) Olympic Training Site, allowing CXC Team members to use the school’s facility and other amenities.
“This year we moved up to Marquette partly because a lot of the athletes have come from Northern Michigan, but also because there’s quite a bit of opportunity up here,” Keller said. “We’ve kind of partnered up with the Olympic training site located here. So we’ve been able to use the dorms on campus, offer schooling, have a training room and weight facilities available. … [The move to Marquette] has given us a lot more freedom with athlete housing and training opportunities.”
At present, the CXC Team has three full-time athletes and two part-time collegiate skiers. Kyle Bratrud returned to the CXC elite team for his second year; new full-time members include Dartmouth graduate Oscar Friedman and NMU grad Felicia Gesior. Jan Ketterson, a Dartmouth student currently taking the fall and winter trimesters off to focus on skiing, plans to race for CXC along with Nicole Bathe, presently a student at University of Alaska Fairbanks.
The growing numbers on the CXC Team was one reason CXC also recently decided to nix its marathon team, Keller explained.
“That was kind of another thing with refocusing with the marathon team, just my role and what resources I can put out just being by myself,” Keller said. “The main reason why we [ended our marathon team] is we’re trying to make a big push to promote club development.”
By discontinuing the marathon team, CXC saw an opportunity for athletes to return to their home clubs and promote racing on a more local, community-based level.
“The athletes that were on our team last year, both our current athletes and our previous athletes that we don’t have on the team anymore, we encouraged them this upcoming year to be a part of the clubs in their local area,” Keller said. “From what I heard in talking to them, most will continue to race in some facet.”
While former CXC marathon team members like Pappathopoulos will look to return to their local clubs, Keller looks to expand the CXC Team program and podium at U.S. nationals with the athletes he’s currently working with.
“For a couple years [CXC] was really down and out from the years when we had Jessie [Diggins], Caitlin [Gregg], and Jennie [Bender], all those strong athletes,” he said. “So we definitely want to get back to fighting for SuperTour podiums, fighting for World Cup spots … and in this next year, I think there’s athletes who are on our team that are capable of it.”
With access to the NMU Olympic Training Site, CXC’s Center of Excellence and new scientific research taking place this fall, Keller doesn’t doubt CXC as a force to be reckoned with this season and seasons to come.
“We have the training group, we have the structure and the facilities,” Keller said. “And I think the more excitement we got here, the more we can achieve those goals of being at the top level.”