InterviewsNewsCoaches Around the Country: Chad Salmela

FasterSkierMarch 5, 2008

Chad is head ski coach for the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota.

5. You are an ideas kind of person. (a good thing!). What's been digging at you this recent ski season? Or, any wild ideas?

Well, the block intensity training that is going on is interesting. I don’t think there is any doubt it is working…for some very talented, tough athletes. I look at Kalla, Bjoergen, Scott, Demong, Burke—they’ve all raised their level, reportedly from the block intensity programs. I know Pete and Matt are doing this at the USST, or at least working towards it. The one thing that seems consistent to me is that it is working to varied degrees on individuals within teams trying to make it work. One thing I wonder, however, is the longevity of it, and if it works, is longevity beyond age 25 even something to worry about? From what I can piece together 2nd and 3rd hand is that Becky Scott cranked on it at the twilight of her career, and I doubt she’d ever reconsider what she did. Bjoergen is an interesting case. You have to wonder about the bouts of sickness after several years of this type of training. I know it’s working for Tim Burke. No doubt. He’s in his second year and had an exhaustion phase in December and January, but when he rested and came back, he was still at the same level in Oestersund.

What these skiers are doing now makes the training from my day look like child’s play. But what has been digging at me as a coach is the when, the how, and the how much, especially at different levels of athletes. Hard training is nothing new, and I think you can look at a lot of successful high school or college distance running programs and see some seriously hard training regimens. But the aftermath of them clearly something we tend not to address enough. I think of Adam Goucher (talented US runner) post Univ. Colorado for example. He has struggled. There’s no doubt what he did as a college athlete was massively intense, and it probably worked for those college years, but was it the right thing at 20, 21, 22 for international success post-college? Was it structured and monitored enough to ensure world class competitiveness after college? I think these are interesting things to ponder for which I have no concrete answers, but I have thought a lot about and have some hunches.

I believe the block training is the future for world class skiers, because it is so clearly working, and it is working in the current fashion because of scientific study, greater experiences of coaches, and more means to monitoring training adaptations. It is not gut feel training anymore. It is planned; WELL-planned, well-executed, and well-monitored training. As a coach of college skiers with college schedules and stresses, the spinning going on in my mind is how to effectively use these Max VO2-increasing techniques without destroying the overall physical health of young athletes, developing them into healthy post-collegiate ski racers. I think it can be done, but for someone with world class talent, I don’t know if you can keep up with what non-college skiers are doing across the pond. It really doesn’t affect me right now at St. Scholastica and it may never, but I think it is a question burning a hole in the role of college skiing as an international development tool for the United States. Winning internationally—can we keep up in college? I think it is a burning hole that affects very few, highly talented individuals though. Overall, I think college skiing is awesome and one of the best circuits of supported ski racing for this age group in the world, and I love coaching at this level. I’m just trying to get a handle on what I can do with this block intensity training model with my athletes. I’m spinning on it…

Regardless, many of us in the coaching community need to be having more conversations with the coaches who are doing the training and having success, or who hare having problems so we can learn from their experiences. We will likely never get a scientific breakdown of long-term training effect over the course of athletes’ careers, so it’s all experience and hunches anyway peppered with studies done in a flash of what is reality. Regardless, I think I could use more coaches education, probably like many of us out there working with athletes.

I think I have a handle on my role as a college coach, and I like it, but I still think about it on a greater scale beyond my job. Other than that and block training, I don’t have a lot of wild ideas beyond starting a rock band at the end of the season.

6. Predictions for nordic overall World Cup champion, men and women.

Honestly, I wish I was tighter on the data on this question, but I like Lukas Bauer, and I think he’ll do it on the men’s side. I think Petter Northug is cool and good for the sport. I like his brash style and the way he races with abandon. I think he’ll be the next big star. I also like Anders Soedergren. Skis kind of funny-looking with his head cocked back, but I think he’s fun to watch ski. Newell is good for the sport, not just the US. I like how he is skiing classic sprints so technically sound and looking towards the future. I watched the classic sprint from Otepaa while in Oestersund, and while it wasn’t Andy’s best race, you could see that the USST is on the cutting edge of sprint training, so I predict more success for the US in sprinting.

On the women’s side, I sincerely hope Kalla takes down Kuitunen. My wife is Finnish and we spent Christmas in Finland, and I can tell you the nation is embarrassed by their cross country skiers, yet Kuitunen still was Finnish Sportswoman of the Year last year. Go figure? Whether clean or not, Kuitunen hasn’t been before, and that’s enough to have me rooting for Kalla.

7. You just recently were married! Congrats!

Yeah, it’s been a long time coming! Happened quickly. We have lived semi parallel lives but in different sports. She’s a hockey player, but skis really pretty well because she spent time on skis as a kid in Finland. I’m trying to get her to ski the Korteloppet this weekend and truly indoctrinate her with the “Birkie Fever” (I like to say it with a deadpan, monotone Finnish accent that really drives her crazy).

8. How 'bout this recent surge in biathlon results in the last few years? (especially men's results?..burke, lowell, teela, jay, etc….)

I think the US men’s team is very strong with talent. Burke has really come on and I think it’s the training. My brother coached both Tim and Lowell as juniors, and he always saw these guys eventually at the top. Jay and Jeremy have both had solid international results, and we have a team that I think has the potential to go toe-to-toe with the best in the world, and they’ve been showing it already. They are a bit of a buzz over on the scene in Europe, which is really fun to see. I think they will be dialed for Vancouver.

9. Anything else you'd like to add?

I think we are all experiencing a true Renaissance in Nordic skiing in this country. Kikkan won this year. Newell number one last year on the FIS sprint points. Demong is one of the best in the world. Burke and Hakkinen have both been in the top ten multiple times this season in biathlon. This stuff doesn’t just happen. It’s too hard for it to just happen. It comes from planning, serious, professional approaches to success on the international level that bleeds across the community with each effort each of us makes. Looking at the results from US Nationals, the women’s field is incredibly stronger than just a few years ago, and regardless of some views, the USST quite simply is performing consistently better than almost any time in its history. I’m excited to be a part of this community. I think it is a great group of people and there is no reason for us to be divided. It’s good to be competitive with our programs within the US community, but not to the detriment of the national good. I think we are as close to that spirit as we’ve ever been in my lifetime, and I hope cynics will get on board and be part of the excitement rather than try to punch holes in it.

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