Lahti is a party town. This town goes out at midnight every day of the week. There is shouting and revelry on the snowy streets at 4am. There is bar after bar on every block, and they are inevitably full, and loud and smoky. Can it be like this all the time, or is it only for the World Cup weekend and other big events? Something tells me in Lahti it is all the time.
It is a 15-minute run from our hotel in downtown Lahti to the ski area at the edge of town. The stadium is sunk in a depression and the trails rise up toward the jumps, climb a series of stair-step hills, circle up and around the base of the jumps and return to the stadium.
The first race is the sprint. Koos and Newell look great but placed lower then expected. The next day is the team sprint. Koos and Newell ski great, but we have over waxed their skis. I see them on the downhill into the stadium slip from the top 5 teams to last place by the exchange. There is no worse feeling as a coach then knowing you screwed up the wax job, especially seeing how well they are skiing on the up hills. Sorry boys.
The next race is the men’s 15km. We start strong, where we should be, but the guys are just not looking fresh. No one really skis up to their ability. Rebecca also looked flat in her 10km. Time to pack this circus up again and head south.
This is a test.
At Jr. World’s this year, my friend and fellow coach Ben Husaby asked me what I thought would happen when we hit the slump that we inevitably would. We’d ridden high since winning the U-23 games in 2003 and scoring some top results at Worlds (see â€œNew Kochâ€ on FasterSkier). This season also started with a US skier scoring WC points in every race we entered, including a slew of top 15 results and a near miss at the win. We were perched precariously near the top, or at least high enough that we definitely shouldn’t be looking down.
A slump in results could allow the crippling doubt to creep in. And that is something we can’t have. For years crippling doubt was America’s cross-country ski legacy. Though young, I am like the grandfather who lived through the depression. I have dollar bills stuffed in the mattress. I have known lean days on the results list and am permanently braced to fend off the bad times ahead.
Ben’s question was a good one. We had in fact talked about the potential for bad times as a team. We agreed that we could see ourselves through them, that we could base our self-confidence on our best days and not our worst. We promised ourselves, actually made it a team rule, to learn from the tough days and move on. Talking, of course is one thing, actually doing it another. Still, I told Ben we were ready for anything, and we are.
The World Cup season ended at the Olympic venue in Pragelato, Italy which is about 10km down the valley toward Pinerollo from Sestriere — not far from the border with France. There are 5km of trails at the 2006 Olympic venue with two hills I’ll call torturous. The rest of the course, save for a long gradual section leading into the stadium, basically zips you to the bottom of those two hills as fast as possible. I’m not sure if they are going to make any more trails at the venue, but rumor has it they won’t or at least won’t add many more km of skiing. The reason is TV. The shorter the loops the better the TV coverage. Skiing is becoming a made for TV event. There are some grumbles about this, but as long as the racing remains hard and fair I see the benefit of it. It is important to maintain traditional races like the Vasa, Holmenkollen, Birkie, etc. But while we all enjoy humping it through the woods alone, the sport needs money to survive and thrive. If we can’t sell skiing on TV we’ll be getting back to our snot-encrusted, squirrel-chasing roots right quick.
Pregalato is a classic Italian race venue. The trails hug the shady side of the valley, high mountains hang overhead, and a cramped, old town complete with church steeple climbs up the sunny side of the valley. The trees around Pregalato are some sort of deciduous, needled tree, so in winter they stand skeleton-bare looking like a pine forest dead from blight.
For the Pregalato World Cup all the teams (save for three) stayed in an old Sanitarium high up in the mountains. This is fitting. Turns out sanitariums were actually more like health retreats than mental hospitals which is what I thought they were but either way we were all in need of a break — mental and physical. This particular location however did not offer the break we needed. The rooms were dorm-room-like with bunk beds, no chairs or couches to sit on or bathrooms or TV or enough space to walk around in. The showers, down the hall however were hot and high pressure and also communal and I got a sweet case of athletes foot from them, either that or from having only 6 pairs of socks since October. Also there was this one time I accidentally wore a pair of Trond’s socks, so that could have been it too.
Start of the Women's final, Pragelato, ITA. Beckie Scott vs Marit Bjorgen.
It has been a long second half of the season. For some it has been a long season in general. By Pragelato Koos and Newell had just found their sprinting legs, Justin Freeman battled illness all year, Andrew Johnson hadn’t found the form which had put him inside the top 25 on several occasions in the past, Wagner had gone home suffering from ill-heath Kris and Carl had been more or less caput since the Marcialonga, we’d all been on the road since October 22nd, and we were sleeping in bunk beds.
Sitting around the cafeteria at the Sanitarium Kris, who had been racing in Europe since November, and who genuinely hated our current lodging could not be consoled.
I offered that the towels were big and soft (and they were), and he didn’t care. I offered that the showers were always hot (not always the case on the circuit), and he didn’t care. The view, I said, was incredible, and it was, and he hadn’t noticed.
I joked, â€œKris you’re the kind of guy that sees the glass as half emptyâ€, and his brother Justin says, â€œNo, Kris is the kind of guy who, when the glass comes, says â€˜that’s not what I #$%$#@ ordered!’â€
The sentiment was shared. Training in the summer and fall is like putting in your order for results, and everyone orders big: â€œLet’s see, I’ll take some World Cup points, World Cup podium, World Cup win, and an Olympic Medal â€ Then, when the season brings 45th place, it really doesn’t taste good.
One season rolls seamlessly into the next and so preparation for the following year never really ends. Training may taper off in spring, but only as a part of preparing for the next onslaught. On paper, lines are arbitrarily drawn and according to those lines, training officially begins on May 3rd. But there is no magic in this date; preparation for the 2004 — 2005 season is underway, has been all along.
While our late season has been tough, this was a very good season overall and there has been no slump in our confidence. We are training big and there is no doubt as to what we will be ordering from next winter’s menu this summer: World Cup points, World Cup podiums, World Championship medals.
Pete Vordenberg is the assistant coach of the US Cross-Country Ski Team. He is a two-time Olympian and author of Momentum: Chasing the Olympic Dream (buy it at www.outyourbackdoor.com).
Please keep your eyes pealed for info about Andrew Johnson’s Team Today project — your chance to join us on our voyage to Olympic Medals.