We are very excited to bring you this look at Pete's year with the
U.S. Ski Team.
Trond Nystad is a tough bugger. He can stay up near all night and be up and
chipper the next morning. He doesn’t get tired and if he gets grumpy he
hides it well. He is a good leader, a great coach, and his outgoing and confident
nature allows him to make friends easily. He is a believer in having a good
time all the time. Perhaps most impressively, his is a non-stop worker. He wants
this team to do well and sees his role as the man to get things done. Trond
is a big reason why this team has come as far as it has in a single year. He
is the reason I am here. I believe in Trond.
Trond’s mom got very sick nearing the end of the World Championships,
and Trond had to fly home to help her out. She was bed ridden in the hospital,
and when he heard this he was on the next plane home to help her. It was a hard
and a sad scenario, but one which ended up being good for the team, and good
for me, and good even for Trond. Thanks to Trond, his mom has since recovered
and is doing well.
When Trond left to attend to his mom, all of a sudden I was head coach. Trond’s
duties became my duties, and this with the 50km at Worlds coming up. Trond and
I are a better team now. He is the man to get things done, and so am I. He has
come to rely on me more and I to ask him to delegate more to me.
The tale of Carl’s 50km is well known. He was in the medals when, on the
top part of the course, a gently rolling section another skier veered into him
causing them to tangle and crash and causing Carl to break a pole. Since it
was an easy part of the trail, there were no coaches from any team on that part
of the course. Carl lost at least half a minute to his closest competitors until
he got to the first coach on the trail, and that coach immediately gave him
a pole. There is a gentleman’s agreement among most the nations that all
coaches will give any skier a pole if they need it. This has not always been
the case. There were days when a pole-less skier would ski past coaches who
had poles to spare until he got to his own coach. At these championships there
over thirty-five coaches and service men working for the Norwegian team. There
were 6 service men working for Kristina Smigun alone. For the 50km, we had 8
people total, including DU standout and NCAA Champion Pietro Broggine who volunteered
to help just for fun. It was Pietro who managed to swap out poles for Carl when
he came by so Carl had the right length pole.
Carl regained those 30 seconds and put himself back in the race. With five km
to go he was looking at a medal, maybe even the gold one. The thing with the
50km race is that the real race starts with 10km to go and with 5km to go there
are minutes to be won and lost. Carl’s extra expenditure of energy regaining
those 30seconds cost him, and he faded badly in the last 5km of the race.
Shoot. Shoot? Carl got fifth place at the World Championships! That’s
Awesome! Carl was fifth in the World!
Amazing how high our expectations have become and how fast.
Carl, second from right, in 5th place
Next stop: Holmenkollen, Oslo World Cup. We depart Worlds considering ourselves
the contenders we talked about being all summer and fall. The team has now been
in Europe since the 13th of January. It is the 5th of March. We go home on the
24th of March.
Gawd, how the weather can be in Norway. The fog rolled in and did not move until
the day after the Holmenkollen 30 and 50km. It rained and it snowed and it misted,
and the people of Norway came out of their warm and dry homes to sleep in this
slop and get royally drunk for two days straight.
The day before Holmenkollen the woods along the course began to fill with people.
They built pits for fires and set up tents and took long pulls off unmarked
bottles of homebrew. Trond, who returned from his mother’s the day before
the race, Chris Hall, our magical wax man, and I were out testing klister/hard
wax combinations that would get kick on the slushy lower parts of the course
and not ice on the high and dry parts of the course. It was what you call tricky
waxing. We settled on a few things to try the next day and started the ski back
to the wax cabin. The crowds were already at it. Hej! Hej! Hej! Heia! Heia!
Heia! The snow was coming down hard; the race wasn’t until the next day;
the crowds didn’t care. They were ready.
A wax man lives a hard and stressful life. Skis, structure, wax are all so vital.
Chris Hall is our man. Hallsey works methodically, as fast as he needs to, and
steadily. I am both Trond’s assistant and Hall’s assistant, and
in the wax room, Trond is Hall’s assistant as well. Back at the wax cabin
we set about the normal chores. Wax the test-skis for glide-wax testing. Wax
the test-skis for powder testing. Wax the test-skis for kick-wax testing. Clean
the potential race-skis and wax them for the athletes to test the next morning…
Trond meanwhile is at the coaches meeting getting race info, making sure we
don’t get screwed in the draw and finally picking up the race numbers.
We are a three man team to Norway’s thirty. We are out gunned, but we
are good gunners.
Wendy doesn’t have the race of her life. The thing is she still places
fairly well. She has had a handful of top thirty results this year and not been
satisfied with them. In the past a top thirty was a great result for us. Now
she is looking for top 20’s and better.
It is somewhere between rain and snow. It is so foggy you can see fifty feet
at best. It is early and I am out on the far part of the course. At first there
are people in these woods like ghosts, I see them stalking around behind the
pines, peeing on trees, quietly stoking fires. Rubbing the hangover out of their
eyes. And as I ski they become more and more alive. They are on the course now,
shouting, drinking again already, cooking hotdogs, singing and waving flags.
This is Holmenkollen. It is not just a few people out here, there are thousands
and they are fired up. I am very satisfied that we have a wax that works. I
One of Trond’s friends, Kristian Amundsen, has volunteered to help test
wax while Trond, Chris and I test and wax race skis. Holmenkollen takes place
on a 16.7 km loop with extreme high and low points. It is a killer of a course
and in this weather impossible for a small crew to test wax over the whole thing.
Kristian is out on the wax we have tested and found to like, skiing from high
to low again and again. The wax still works.
The race is on. Kris is skiing in the top ten. Andrew and Carl are skiing in
the top 30, Lars Flora and Dave Chamberlain, who both paid their own way here
are in the 40’s. Dave dies first. His skis iced badly and he couldn’t
fight it off. He came by me looking like a drowned rat. Andrew starts to die
next, he falls down the results sheet with every km, but keeps fighting hard.
Lars stays steady. Kris is still around the top 10 to 15. Carl starts to fade.
Then Kris starts to fade. Things are going down hill, and then it starts to
snow hard. The race blows up. This is ski racing.
Lars Flora and Andrew Johnson fight their way through Holmenkollen.
As coach I feel the same highs and lows I did as a racer. This is what I look
for in a job. Something that excites the emotions, something I can cringe or
cheer about. At Worlds I cheered, standing here in the rain/snow mix of Oslo
watching my skiers slowly die a terrible death on skis, I cringe. I suffer with
them. There are too many km to go. I am worried about Kris’ blood sugar.
He is slowing down at an unbelievable rate. He has lost something like five
minutes to Carl who is not going fast himself. I tear off down the trail with
a liter bottle of Coke thinking I’ll miss him if I don’t hurry.
I get to the point I want to meet him at, and wait, and wait, and here he comes.
He doesn’t need coke, he’s ok, just plain old fashioned cooked.
Lars and Andrew fight their way to the finish, Carl pushes himself in. Kris
is totally done, loses an ungodly amount of time in the last five km, but makes
it… He set out to win this race. That is the kind of skiing we are looking
for. Go for everything, even if it means you get nothing.
We are roadies, Hall, Trond and I. We set up and take down the stage. The wax
room is the behind the scenes stage. We are excited setting it up. It’s
a new show, another night, another race. We can do well. We might win. We are
less excited taking it back down. There are probably 15 pair of skis covered
in klister, there are 10 more skate skis to wax, there are hundreds, no thousands
of pounds of gear to pack and load and organize. We are roadies and today the
show bombed. That is ski racing. We know how it goes and so are not disheartened
only disappointed it wasn’t one of the good ones. In this sport you got
to pay your dues, and at Holmenkollen we paid. Now we’re due.
Next stop: Lahti.
Spirits are high. It is sunny and warm in Finland. Our skiers feel good. Wendy
skated for two hours and said she hadn’t felt that good in a long time.
Carl did intervals and said he was ready to pop a good one. Kris is quiet and
serious. He too is on the verge of a good one. I tried to hang on to Andrew
for a few intervals in a midweek workout and failed. He was moving out. We set
up the wax room with renewed vigor. We are here to put one in the top five,
two in the top 15, three in the top 30. And we are here to see Wendy’s
return to form.
You know you are on the plane to Finland when for lunch they bring you a small
bottle of wine and a shot of cognac – all for me? Lahti is a party town.
We are staying at the Musta Kissa Hoteli – the black cat hotel. Our rooms
overlook the main drag. The main drag fires up at 10pm and is roaring at 2 am
and doesn’t quiet down till 3 or 4am. This is where the World Cup has
put us. It is a rotating deal, this year we are here, next year Sweden or someone
else is here and we are at another place – maybe better, maybe worst.
Carl is in love with Finland. He reads until midnight or later, listening to
the honk and growl of traffic, the shouts of drunken revelry, and then he falls
asleep until late morning. The race will not be until afternoon and so the schedule
suits him. Carl is an expert at adaptation. He is at home on the road. One of
his greatest strengths is that he loves every aspect of the life of a professional
endurance athlete. He loves living Rocky 1, and the Musta Kissa is full-on Rocky
1 – don’t want to get soft you know. He loves to train and he loves
to race and be on the road, and that is a good thing, because that is what we
At about the same time that the full story breaks on Kaisa Varis and her drug
scandal it is announced that Jari Isometsae is racing. Jari was busted for doping
at the Worlds here in 2000, along with most his teammates. We are not cheering
for Jari. He has never made a public apology for cheating, he has never admitted
to any wrongdoing. This does not endear him to us. At least Kirvesneimi cried.
A hamburger in Finland is called a Hampurialinen. You got to love saying that.
Andrew Johnson has had a tough year. He never came into race shape. Not once,
yet he was still always close, just out of it. In Lahti there was a hint of
how Johnson could ski. Unfortunately it wasn’t until the last lap, but
it was there. I saw it and he felt it. Johnson has paid some dues this year.
He has trained more and harder than ever before, he has raced hard in spite
of not ever feeling fit – it will not be for aught.
Kris Freeman spent most of the race battling among the top 10. The conditions
were soft, transformed slush. The course was unrelenting, and there were some
skiers that were on absolute fire – among them, Carl Swenson. Carl was
skiing in third place…for the first 7.5km. He was racing to win. Funny
thing about racing to win, there is no safety in it. Fail and you can fail hard.
Carl started to fade heading out on the last lap, but hung in there for a top
thirty finish. Kris skied an extremely strong race, finishing 17th. Wendy, unfortunately,
is just not having a good spring race campaign – but she, like Andrew,
is paying off the price of some success down the road – which at the time,
We joined the revelry in Lahti after our race at a place called the Jackalope
(yak-a-lop-eh), and then took the Ferry to Sweden for the last race of the year
(in Falun) in which we did not do well. For Kris that meant a place just outside
the top 30. I think he was 33rd, which a few years ago would have been encouraging.
Andrew placed in the 40’s.
The night after the race, the night before the relay, they held a final world
cup party. There was three dance floors, a live band in one of them, and all
of the World Cup circuit was out as well as all of Falun, Sweden.
No one went home before closing, not Per Elofsson, not Mathias Fredrickson,
not Jens Arne Svartedal, not Carl Swenson, not Bente Skari, not Teichmann, or
Steffi Boehler, or any the German team actually. It was drag-down knock-out
dancing until the wee hours.
Mathias Fredrickson of Sweden is a good story. He was junior world champion
back in, I think, 1991. In Sweden they called him the next Gunde. Then for the
next eight years he fought hard to get good results. He would pop a few good
ones, but never came close to living up to his billing as the next Gunde. He
could place among the top five, but he could also place among the top 40. Mathias
kept at it, and in 2000 he really emerged as a top contender. This year, though
his world championships didn’t go especially well, he dominated the Spring
World Cup and won the overall World Cup title. Mathias Fredrickson killed them
in Falun. There was little cleverness involved in his tactics. He went to the
front of the race and skied as hard as he could. He skied at the front until
he got a few seconds, and then hung off the front of the main field until he
squeaked a few more seconds out of them, and he just kept going from there,
gaining second by second until he was home free. He is not exactly a graceful
skier, but he is a powerful one, and a persistent one. In this respect he is
a good role model for us. We have had a lot of success this year, and we are
on our way to great things, to victories and medals.
World Cup Winner Mathias Fredriksson of Sweden, shown here in the Holmenkollen
(he finished 4th)
I think this team is the New Koch just as Mathias is the next Gunde –
or at least in as much as anyone can be. There will never be another Koch or
another Gunde, but this team will be the next big thing.
I’ll tell you now so you are not too surprised, at times we are going
to fail and flail in route. We’re going to screw up and we’re going
to piss people off and it won’t always be graceful, but we will attack
this project with vigor, patience, and persistence. And squeezing it for one
second at a time, we will succeed.
The final policy on our team cohesion agreement is this:
Number 15. We create our legacy and ourselves though our actions today, tomorrow
and everyday. We accept and embrace this opportunity to succeed and admit to
the fact that we are giving this everything we have both as individuals and
as a team, without excuse.
Policy 14. Do what you say.
Next stop: home. The planning for next year is well underway.
We look forward to seeing you out on the trails and roads this season. We look
forward to your support. Thanks for reading,
Pete Vordenberg is the Assistant Coach of the US Ski Team. He is the author
of Momentum: Chasing the Olympic Dream, available now at <www.outyourbackdoor.com.
Recipient of only five star reviews at <www.Amazon.com
(type in “Vordenberg”). Ask for it at your local ski or book shop.