InterviewsNewsSunday Conversation With Trond Nystad

FasterSkier FasterSkierOctober 4, 2005

Leading the reigns of the U.S. National Team

Trond, talk to us about leading the reigns of the U.S. National Ski Team. Mind sharing the ideas and objectives you have put on the table from taking over after Salt Lake?

At the Ski Team we’ve been working on teamwork and being professional, pro athletes. These two, that been our biggest changes. As a team, coaches and athletes together, we’ve created a professional environment. We do our own things, in the American way, then live and learn from it, especially tweaking the training to get the most from each individual. By far though the biggest changes have been building teamwork and professionalism. Previously US athletes saw it as almost embarrassing to give it 100%, to do all you can be to be the best you can be, to go out and have no excuses.

What tweaks to training have you made?

Last year we embraced the intensity approach for sprinters and distance skiers. Last year we brought in the intensity blocks, spending certain times at sea level and did more intense (i.e. maybe too high lactates for some to handle over the long term) Vo2 max training. Some reacted real well to this. Some did not. Kris reacted one way, Andrew another. Sprinters do it their own way now with the sprint progressions. Now all do intensity training that fits them. Ultimately, athletes need to make the decisions. The relationship between coach and athlete needs to be there to get the best results.

Where does the USST go from here, leading up into Torino?

As coaches, we’re focused on altitude adjustment (Olympics are at 1600M). After Lake Placid we go back up to Park City for some distance-altitude focus in training. After this it’s back down to sea level at Fairbanks to work on-snow speed. Alternating between sea level and altitude gets the body ready to handle racing at Pragelato (the Olympic ski venue), maximizing our chances of success.

On the racing side, we will hit the ground running. You will see us really going for it in Fairbanks, Anchorage, and the WCs in Canada.

Many of people say this not possible to do (being good in November-December and February also). If you’ve trained well enough for years, racing fast doesn’t mean your peaked or peaking. It just means you’re never that far away from peak racing shape, and that you’re not sandbagging the early races. To have one race a couple minutes off your top race, that’s fine, that happens and its okay. But skiers can’t race slow, slow, slow in November and December, and then expect to be world-beaters the next month. In Alaska our sprinters will be within two, three seconds of their best races ever. Our distance guys will be thirty-to-forty seconds from their best. All will have a little room to ski even faster in February.

If you look at Vebjorn Rodal (1996 Olympic 800 M Champ), he was never very far off his personal best, about one-to-two seconds. If you’re an 800 M runner you can’t start off running 2 minutes then expect to run 1:45.

The biggest challenge, we’ve had good training, a plan for altitude, our only wrench is the potential for sickness, so we need to minimize athlete stress. If this happens we’ll have results never seen before by American ski athletes.

Tell us about working with Pete Vordenberg. What’s does he bring to the table?

Mr. V brings lots of work ethic and discipline. He’s just dying to help Americans be the best they can be. He has so much motivation, so much energy pours into the sport. Pete basically brings the full package to the table. Having been to the Olympics, on the national ski team, skiing WC’s, he knows what it takes. Basically, he’s the man.

Last year Chris Grover left the US Development Team (heading back to Sun Valley). You brought in Vidar Loefshus to work with the Sprint Team. What’s it like working with Vidar? For those that don’t know him, what does he bring to the team?

It’s always a loss when a Grover type person leaves. He’s very missed. On same token, Vidar has been a good change, new blood in program, bringing with him new ideas. The two share similar skills. Like G (Grover), Vidar’s knowledgeable, organized. He brings in a culture that Americans aren’t exposed to often enough. He knows how it was done on the Norwegian National Team (as an athlete in the early to mid 1990s), and had success there. This perspective is huge.

None of us are perfect, but this combination (of coaching talent) makes up for this. We have five good athletes, three good coaches and two good wax techs, making a group that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

The motto of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association is “best in the world.” When asked if the cross country ski team had the athletes and resources to actualize this mantra you said the USST has the right people, athletes and coaches. But that US skiing needed more depth, calling on coaches to collectively bring up the next wave of American skiers. IS THE NEW WAVE COMING?

I hope so. So many times the ski community is hyper critical of the US Ski Team, what we’re saying, money, the players involved. Bottom line, we should have a better production of talent. Their needs to be three, four, five, Andy Newell’s, Torin Koos’, Kris Freeman’s and Andrew Johnson’s coming along every year. Unfortunately, that takes hard work and professionalism. And there’s a slight misunderstanding of what it takes to produce World Cup athletes. We are just not preparing the young athletes as well as other nations. In turn, this probably contributes to why some talented athletes cross over to other sports like swimming.

We need access to this talent. Very few have embraced the concept that Americans can be the best in the world. We need to. We believe on a given day you guys could win a World Cup. Put aside our differences. Let’s settle the schism between the ski community and USST. We NEED to work to together to produce the next great group of American skiers.

Where are you seeing this next group coming from?

I’ve met certain young athletes doing a good job. I won’t mention anyone or place per se as when I do, those not named take it as a slight and brews negativity. Some athletes and programs are doing a good job. But overall we need to get better. We need more focused missions, more professionalism in our programs. Performances from programs will have to speak for themselves.

The challenge, without being too critical, is to create environments where top athletes get together, train hard and challenge each other at a local, regional and national level. If this happens of that group that rises to the national level, ten-to-twenty percent will have the necessary talent to be near the top in the world.

With all this being said, some programs are doing a damn good job.

The last couple years you’ve spent some time with Claudia Kuentzel (tying the knot this past summer) and around the German National Team. In Germany I remember plenty of ski trails, and a bunch of langlaufers, only they were older, heftier types who stop for beer and brats in the middle of their langlaufing. What in Germany is working to turn out the Kuentzel’s, Teichmann’s and Sommerfeldt’s of the World Cup?

What they have in Germany is a system completely controlled by the German ski federation. They control all development from a very young age up to the national team age. And they train them extremely hard early on. It’s tiered to different clubs with specific objectives. For skiers up through twelve, thirteen years (old) its game oriented. From there the step up is to a more ski specific club. Those showing something special qualify for their regional elite team. The national team has A, B, C and D teams. If you want to be a part of the national team, a skier has to work out of a national team center, choosing between Oberhof, Rupholding or Obervisental. Around forty athletes are taken care of every year under the national team’s wings. It’s an extremely professional system that takes very good care of the few skiers they have.

Germans are pretty cynical. As I said, they train them hard from an early age. They say, ‘let’s see who can handle our training. If you can’t, we get rid of you.’ It’s a system, basically, to produce winners.

The Germans adopted this system fifteen years ago. It took ten years to produce results.

We’re trying to find ways to make the USST more omnipresent, feeding local clubs into larger goals and systems. This takes long-term commitment and money. Pete (Vordenberg) has started laying the foundations of this. Now it’s up to the board of the USSA to see if this fits into their mission (i.e. produce Oly cross country champs). If not, it’s up to the local clubs and high schools to really challenge the athletes.

What’s working for our athletes?

What we are doing for our five national team athletes. The five teammates have the chances to prepare well and compete well at the Olympics. A lot of things are working. American ingenuity, we have to tap into this to find ways to do things better. Kochie invented harries, skating. We’re on the brink of doing things like this.

About the money situation, Croatians, Kazakhs, pretty much don’t have any money and they find a way to get decent results. It’s not all dark and gloomy for US athletes. We cannot lose sight that we can do well in the current environment.

Self Confidence seems an invaluable poker card for the individual racer or team to have. In an earlier interview you said, “Confidence is like any other skill. You have to work at it to get better.” How does a skier go about improving this skill?

You learn by doing. Self confidence also works this way. In the past, Americans haven’t been exposed enough to our competitive environment. You’ve got to go to World Cups, make mistakes, learn from them, then go back and race faster. In racing you need confidence in your technique, your skis, your training, your travel. We can use more confidence in each of these areas.

Right now, the coaches are more confident than our athletes. As coaches we have seen what the Euros are doing and how their doing it. We can objectively compare this to what our athletes are doing. And how they are doing is second to none.
Great training has been done. We are well prepared. We are as good as anyone else talent wise…we have a chance.

The Canadian World Cups (the US gets 8 starts in distance races, 7 in sprints) are on our turf. Now the Euros have to deal with jetlag, eat our food, stay in our hotels. This is a huge advantage for us. I cannot think of a better way to build confidence to begin a great year.

Swenson retired from mountain biking. He has one year left ski racing. What can aspiring skiers take away from Carl’s career?

Carl shows others that sometimes it takes a really long time to get the results you want. Patience. Dedication. Work ethic… Carl has all these. Most Americans quit after high school or college. Swenson’s stuck after it for twelve years after college before getting his best results. Who knows, maybe he’s not done (after 2006), has a couple more years left and doesn’t even know it.

What is it about skiing that makes it worthwhile to spend long nights in a cabin waxing skis or giving 30 km splits out in the rain?

Coaching is a lifestyle. I’m surrounded by good people and enjoy working in the sport. If this weren’t the case I wouldn’t be here. This team, especially, is a privilege to work with, staff to athletes.

Technique is a hot button issue in America. What do you see contributing to fast, efficient, skiers?

Really fit skiers. If you’re really fit you can get away with murder. Great technique and no engine will get you nowhere. I think of technique more holistically. You’re not just doing special technique work sessions, you’re figuring out how to go fast every time you’re out there, so from that perspective I’d almost de-emphasize technique work, and let athletes themselves experiment more. It isn’t that technique isn’t important; it just can’t come at the expense of preparing the heart and lungs.

When its all said and done skiers need a position on their skis where they can produce lots of power, without lots of wasted movements. There never will be a “perfect” technique as technique changes with courses, grooming and equipment.

Whether it’s New Zealand, Norway or in Park City, you’ve definitely spent some quality time on the road with the USST. What keeps you packing your bags?

I’m having fun. If this weren’t the case, I would find another job. I have bad days, get grumpy on the road, but those days are very few and far between.

Any last comments or thoughts for the young American skiers?

One of the hardest things I’ve found is getting the attitude across that it’s possible to be professional and dedicated without being a nerd. Too many juniors don’t think its cool to be that serious. Kids, see that it’s fun to be serious and to do this skiing gig right. Work together. Help each other out. Be more professional.

And the older athletes, we need more role models. When Vidar was growing up he was training with Oddvar Braa in Trondheim. Who in the US can say this? For the young ones to know what it takes, they have to see it.

And when we head to Europe, it’s not for a vacation, so don’t even think that. We head over there because that’s the only place to find top-level racing.

Trond, thanks for you time and insight.

Xanadu Communications/ Torin Koos All Rights Reserved*2005


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