OpinionProduct NewsThe Current State of US Cross Country Skiing – Are Changes Needed?

FasterSkierApril 19, 2005

Editor's Note: Just a few years ago, it looked as if US skiers were gaining major ground in international competition. Among the signs of progress were 5th place finish in the 2002 Olympic relay and top five finishes by Kris Freeman and Carl Swenson at the 2003 World Championships. The future looked very bright.

This year, however, the results took a step back. US elite skiers were not close to winning World Cup races, and our best juniors had a tough time breaking top 30 at Junior Worlds.

Was this season just a bump in the road to success, or was it a return to reality?

Many of our readers have asked us to assess the current situation. What is the current state of the US Ski Team? What problems does US Skiing face? Are changes needed? Fasterskier.com is inviting coaches and skiers to an open discussion on this subject. US Ski Team head coach Trond Nystad and Nordic program director Luke Bodensteiner have agreed to lend their insight and opinions to this discussion. We have also asked several veteran coaches for their input and are also asking our readers, both coaches and skiers for comments. We have a constructive discussion in mind. Criticism is fine, as long as it also includes ideas for improvement. This is a chance for everyone involved in US Skiing to better understand the situation, create ideas and improve for the future.

This article is meant to spur the discussion. In the next few days we will post a response to this article from the US Ski Team (Trond and Luke). After that, we will solicit opinions and ideas from our readers, which we will compile and publish. The Ski Team coaches will then have the chance to respond to our readers comments. FasterSkier will then publish a 'final thoughts' article to wrap up the discussion.

The top individual men’s US result at the World Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany was a 12th place (sprint), the best women’s result was 24th (10-k skate), the men’s relay team was 11th in the men’s 4 x 10-k relay and the women’s team was pulled of the course in the 4 x 5-kilometer relay. Twenty-fifth was the top individual US result at Junior World Championships for both men and women (10-k pursuit for women and men’s sprint). The women’s relay team at Junior Worlds was 11th (out of 13) and the men’s team 18 (out of 18).

The top nation at both the World Championships and Junior World Championships was Norway with 6 gold, 3 silver and 5 bronze at Worlds, and 6 of 8 gold’s at junior Worlds plus 18 more top ten results.

Marit Bjorgun securing the gold in the women’s 4 x 5 k relay at Worlds. The US team was lapped and pulled from the course.

Quantity and Quality of Races

I believe that US skiing has a sufficient number of competitors at both the junior and senior level to have much better results including winning at the highest level. We also have many good races on good courses, especially early in the year. On the other hand I don’t see that we have enough good sprint races to develop top sprinters. I also question whether doing a high number of marathons from after January Nationals until the end of the season is very “developing” for many of our top seniors. I believe that altitude races can be good and bad — it’s easy to fail here. The frequency and timing of altitude races in front of Worlds and Olympics needs to be analyzed.

Lacking Sufficient Oxygen Capacity?

My impression from US results at World Juniors is that our best juniors have an oxygen uptake capacity that’s significantly lower than the Worlds best juniors. It’s tough to be a successful national team coach if the young seniors who make the national team have, let’s say 5-15 milliliter lower O2 than those who make the national team in other nations. (I’m aware that I'm throwing out numbers, but let’s have a discussion)

To me, it looks like the training done at junior/early senior level isn’t good enough. I don’t think it’s necessarily a volume problem but rather an intensity problem. When you are lacking sufficient O2 capacity you have failed in putting together the right combination of enough volume and/or enough intensity/quality (intervals, time-trials and pace workouts). It can be lack of the right type of intervals, hard training done at the wrong heart rates, not enough hard sessions, or not enough or too many interval repeats in each session. The training can in other words stress the skiers too much or not enough in each session. There are many variables, and without a cohesive plan for our young skiers, most will not get the variables just right.

We need to make sure that knowledge is passed down from the top. We need a coaches forum, coaches education, a coaches symposium where we also learn from other sports, research and studies involving skiers, among others. Other factors beyond V02 max should also be analyzed. Are we are skiing technically well enough? Are we strong enough?

Where do we go from here?

So coaches and skiers, with this as an introduction, where do we go from here? What are our strengths as a ski nation and what are our weaknesses? What’s being done and what’s needed? Let’s see if we can fix the problems and really compete.

Let’s create a situation where it’s fun to log on to Fasterskier.com on Saturday morning and look at World cup results. Let’s hear from you! We can’t promise to post every email we receive but those we don’t use will be forwarded to the US Ski Team.

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