Editor's Note: This interview took place in August, but as you will see, Pete's thoughts still hold true.
The man sounds off on the changing guard of international skiing and Americas growing confidence in the top levels of sport.
Here we are, coming into the final days of the New Zealand ski tour, with the
real ski racing season set to get away in about eight weeks. How
do you feel about how the National Team is coming along?
The U.S. ski team is looking at being one of the biggest medal threats at the
2006 Olympic Games. People were surprised with our performances in 2002, as
they were with last seasons World Championships in Val di Fiemme. Seconds,
not minutes, separated the US team from four individual world championship medals.
We are going to continually surprise the ski world with how good we are. We
will continue to surprise people. In the U.S., depth is the biggest challenge.
As coaches bringing up more skiers for the next generation is where our attention
will be directed.
In summer preparations with the national and development teams have you been
trying some new ideas or philosophies?
For sure. We are trying always to investigate the sport. Training, technique,
theres always something new. After meeting with the athletes and reflecting
after last season, we had to look to improve speed training. Were not
reinventing the wheel here so we looked to other sports (speed skating, athletics,
sprint kayaking, rowing editor) and knew we had to incorporate speed from
the spring on. We need to be doing a little bit of everything, all year long.
With speed its more than doing pickups the day before the race. We work
on developing speed over the snow and speed of movement within technique, regardless
if the athletes are distance or sprint skiers.
Athletes that work with you tell me that one cannot but help feel the passion
you have for cross-country skiing. What is it that drives you makes you
dedicate so much, from your racing days now into coaching?
When I quit racing, probably like anyone who has dedicated so much time to
a pursuit, I had a tough period deciding the next area to pursue. As a racer
I had tapped out everything I had to give. But I still had something to give
to skiing, and thats how I came to coaching. Also, its incredibly
exciting to be a part of the U.S. ski team staff and play work with these athletes.
The US Ski Team seems to have a new identity, a new way of doing things that
looks less and less to foreign countries for inspiration (training ideas, etc).
Why stray from the norm, from whats proven?
Sticking to the norm, thats been proven to not work in this country.
We defiantly go by the tenet that if you do what you have always done you will
always get what youve always gotten. We have strived to and need to continue
to define ourselves on our own terms. Who is the US ski team? In making history
we decide what American cross country ski racing is. As a nation of copycats
we will always be behind.
When did you begin to train systematically as a skier?
6th grade I first began training year round. I would go run in the
mountains around Boulder once a week, every week, with ski poles. This is kind
of misleading however because I always played year round, especially riding
my bike, practicing kendo, playing soccer.
Why do you think the American public has such a deep affection for the Olympics?
Its not like their watching the world luge championships or the armchair
quarterback follows the world ski championships beyond a glance.
Its full on packaging. The Olympics are a worthy event. Unfortunately the part that is worthy is often overlooked. Sports at its best inspire people to go after something themselves. The Olympics dont seem to inspire that into us, the viewing public isnt inspired to get out of their house and experience movement. To me, thats the beauty of sport and what the Olympics should be about. Its become too much of a pageant. What I hope is our success can change this – inspire the armchair viewer into some kind of action.
Has Lance Armstrong done this?
I just dont know either way. Supposedly (Frank) Shorter did that with
his winning the Olympic marathon, sparking a running revolution in America.
Is there anyone in particular as changing how you approach sport?
Absolutely. Trond (Nystad). I would be tempted to repeating some of my mistakes I made as an athlete as a coach. Trond always says, "Nah, thats enough" when Im hedging for pushing training too much (hour volume, etc. Ed). On a lot of levels – technique, a better balance between training and rest, and balance between professional and pure fun in our pursuit, is how Trond has helped change how I look at skiing.
Ive got to ask it, since 1976 no American has had a top ten individual Olympic result. Is this something you or other American skiers are embarrassed by?
I wont speak for others. Embarrassed is not the right word. Frustrated for sure. This is certainly a motivation for me as a coach. I want our athletes to do it. The frustrating part is weve had the talent, had it all along. What s not embarrassing is that as an athlete I took the risks I thought I had to do to reach my goals. As an athlete I gave it all that I had. I cant be embarrassed about that. As a coach Ive redefined my idea what it means to be completely dedicated to the sport. A balanced approach is needed to stand on the podium
In your book, Momentum: Chasing the Olympic Dream you talk about living a season in Sweden with Carl Swenson. You hint at how you both were chasing the same dreams but going about it different ways. Does Carl Swenson have this healthy outlook of elite skiing – a 100% professional athlete who also keeps the pure ski outlook that you look to permeate the American ski scene?
Carl has this, for sure. Carl has always had a very healthy approach to competition.
You realize this when in a race with him. There you are on the starting line,
looking over to your side and its no longer Carl-your-buddy its Carl- Im-going-to-kick-your-ass,
you know what Im saying? But after the race hes Carl-your-buddy,
no matter the outcome. Carls persistence and determination to confidently
pursue his own dreams on his own terms is exactly is the model for the US to
take in forging its own path as a ski country.
Has elite level sports become such an egotistical quest that competition has
gotten in the way of noble values?
No matter where a doper stood on the podium that cheater has never succeeded.
When one decides to play a game you make a commitment to the rules. If you break
that commitment it destroys the game. The US ski team and US ski culture is
rabidly anti-doping. We are rabidly anti-cheating. And we will win without it.
What stands in the way of the US Ski teamers skiing even faster?
The next step is to develop a nationwide coaching program. As far as this staff
goes, we are pursuing the needs this crew (the current national and development
teams) needs to ski to their potential.
What part do you see sport psychology play in ski racing?
Most important is confidence. There are many things and way to make one confident but number one has to be preparation.
Tell us about some of the influential heroes from your youth?
The local heroes were the most important. For instance my Uncle Mike, all my
old coaches. Those local characters that would go out there and give it there
best in the Saturday 10k, then help out the youth ski programs, those were my
biggest heroes. My biggest ski heroes were both good and bad for me. I learned
so much from watching old ski videos. The problem came when I began racing these
people who I had put onto a pedestal. These were people I idolized. I never
saw Carl Swenson idolize anybody. Carl Swenson never saw a skier he couldnt
beat. Kris Freeman never saw another skier trying to steal what was his- that
wasnt trying to steal his win.
In Momentum you talk about grabbing your high school diploma, then hopping
onto a plane to chase your goals in skiing. Training with Torgny Morgren, beating
Matthias Fredriksson (then several time world junior champion and 2003s
Overall World Cup winner), in the hunt to win Vasaloppet as a teenager, the
reader gets the impression you absolutely believed you had what I took to be
the fastest skier in the world. Through your career did you always feel that
No. And I wish I fully understood how I lost that. I dont understand it completely. I take full responsibility for this. Im going to do my best so my skiers never lose that belief in themselves.
Did the world see the best of Pete Vordenberg the cross country racer?
My life as a ski racer should feed perfectly into my life as a coach. I still have a lot to give.
Anything in particular you miss about chasing the Olympic dream?
Im still chasing the Olympic dream.
You wrote a very personal account of your first season coaching with the US Ski team entitled the New Koch? What do you remember about Billy Koch from your youth?
I remember an extremely self confident, independent individual. Bill Koch did things the Bill Koch way. Thats why I titled it the New Koch is because this team does things this teams way.