Recently Andy Newell participated in a Live Chat on FasterSkier. It was so popular that we had to call it a night before he could answer all the questions. Andy was kind enough to take the time to respond to the remaining questions from our readers.
FasterSkier: What was the highlight of your season this past year?
Andy Newell: The highlight for me this past season was seeing the way the US team performed at World Championships. For me it wasn’t the best racing of the year, and I definitely wasn’t too stoked to finish 12th in the sprint, but it was amazing to be part of the excitement and to be a part of the momentum created by the whole team. Both the Nordic Combined and XC teams were so fired up with each other’s results it was pretty cool. The feeling of being with a big group like that who is making history is pretty amazing. I don’t think anyone thought we would finish so high up in the medal standings. It has definitely fired everyone up for the Olympic year.
FS: How does your training as a sprinter differ from the “distance” skiers?
AN: There really aren’t too many differences. Both sprinters and distance skiers need to be training a lot of volume. The word ‘sprint’ is thrown around pretty loosely in cross-country skiing because even though sprint races are our shortest events, it’s still primarily an aerobic event. So both distance skiers and sprinters need to be training a lot of hours of easy distance skiing. I will be training about 800 hours next season. Probably the biggest difference can be in the types of intervals people to. As a sprinter we are concerned more about the power and the pacing involved in our races so sometimes it makes sense to work on some shorter higher velocity intervals. However my main focus is still on longer threshold intervals and V02max intervals, which is typical for distance skiers as well. Strength training is also an area where there can be differences. Sprinters tend to work on more explosive exercises in the gym like power cleans and squats, and usually have some kind of plyometric routine.
FS: Can you talk about how your World Cup experience this year was different from last year’s?
AN: I feel like even though I wasn’t able to make it onto the podium this past season it was still a good year, and especially a good learning year. Over the past two seasons I’ve showed that I can be in the top 15 and top 10 on the World Cup more consistently than most of the guys out there, so that’s a positive situation. It tells me that I’m getting better at the ‘racing’ aspect of sprinting so now it’s just a matter of learning from my mistakes and transferring my consistency from top 12 finishes to podiums. I’m so sick of racing B-finals it’s insane. So I definitely have that drive to make the next step to consistently being on the podium. There were times this season where I was in the best shape of my life and others, like at world champs, where I had done a little too much and was tired. So it really was a good year to learn a lot about what kind of training to do during the season so I will be much more prepared for the Olympics.
FS: It seemed like you had some crashes this season while trying to make aggressive moves. Do you think that with a higher fitness level you will be able to stay on your feet making such moves, or do you think you just have to be more patient and make better tactical decisions?
AN: Honestly I think it’s probably a combination of working on fitness and also trying to be more patient. Sometimes when I’m out there racing I forget how easy it is for me to just hammer myself into the ground with lactic acid, so my legs don’t always react the way they normally would on a tricky downhill. So that is something I need to remember. The bottom line is you can always say things will be better with greater fitness but there are other things to consider too. I’ve always been an aggressive skier and someone that isn’t afraid to try gutsy passes so I think being more patient will help too. The problem is I really like to have fun when I’m racing and sometimes that means trying difficult maneuvers, but I know I can be smarter about it. Last season there were a number of world cups where I was in ‘podium’ shape for sure, but stupid mistakes kept me out of the A finals. I think if it wasn’t for some of those crashes I could have had a shot at some good podiums last winter, so I am going to try to be better about that next season.
FS: What is your main goal for next season and how would you rate your chances at the Olympics?
AN: My goal for next season is to be in the best shape of my life by the third week in February and to stand on the podium in Vancouver. That’s basically it. I know that if everything goes well I can be a Medal contender for the Olympics. World Cup racing will be a focus too just because there is no better way to prepare for the Games than racing the best in the world. I learned a lot about ‘peaking’ this past season while preparing for World Champs. Sometimes it’s better just to trust yourself and trust your fitness instead of trying to push it too hard in training camp before the big races. Even without a podium last season I feel like I’m more prepared than ever to fight it out for an Olympics medal.
FS: How much contact between skiers is there in sprint heats on the World Cup?
AN: It kind of depends on the course. Typically the city sprints are on more narrow courses so there is a lot more fighting for position and a lot more contact. Probably the gnarliest race I’ve ever been in was Düsseldorf sprint relay last season. There were a few huge pile-ups. There tends to be a lot more contact in skate races too just because there are more arms and legs going in different directions. Everyone cuts over each other’s skis, that’s just part of the sport and part of sprinting. It seams like there are a few guys out there that everyone knows might cause some trouble. Any time you have ski racers from all over the world racing for thousands of dollars and for the pride of their country there’s going to be some contact.
FS: It seems like you were always very close to breaking on to the podium this year, and usually had less luck with the later heats. What are you going to be doing differently in your training to keep things strong late in the day next year?
AN: Working on being stronger in the later rounds is something that all sprinters focus on and is something I’ve been trying to work on over the years too. I have become a lot better since my first years on the World Cup but it still comes down to fitness. Top sprint racers are just as aerobically fit as distance skiers, just with a higher top end speed. That’s basically what we’ve learned over the years, and it looks like each year we realize more and more that Sprint training and distance training can be very similar. Looking ahead to next year I’ll be working on a little more longer threshold intervals which hill help me stay strong later in the game. It’s a fine balance we need to work with. Doing these types of intervals might affect my qualification speed a little bit, but I’m tired of qualifying fast and not winning the race.
FS: How much time do you spend strength training during the race season and what do you do?
AN: I keep a pretty hefty strength-training plan throughout the early parts of the season. Typically this means spending 2 afternoons in the gym a week through November, December, and January. Since the World Cup season starts so early it can be a little tricky where we put those strength sessions so that I don’t end up too sore for the races. So sometimes this means having only one strength session during the week if there are World Cups on the weekends. During these early months of the racing season I’m doing a lot of power and max strength exercises. So things like heavy squats and weighted pull-ups (reps 3-5). As I get closer to February and March there are much more races during those months so I switch over to more of a maintenance plan. I still do some basic exercises like bench press and squats, but the weights are down. I also keep up with doing plyometrics during those strength workouts to train the explosiveness for sprint racing.
FS: In your mind what is the biggest weakness of the US ski scene? And what do you think we need to do differently to become more competitive on the world level?
AN: I think our biggest weakness is in keeping kids motivated and in coach’s education. We have the numbers. There are a lot of little kids who strap cross-country skis on their feet every winter throughout this country. We just need to be better about keeping those kids motivated about skiing once they hit their middle school and high school ages, and making sure there are coaches out there educated enough to design good training plans for them. I think our young junior skiers in this country should be training more. A lot more. But it takes educated coaches to be able to point them in the right direction and make sure they are training hard but also smart. I think the other big area we could improve on is in College skiing. Right now in the US you can’t go to college full time and still train at a competitive level. People who say you can are full of it. It’s just embedded too much in the American culture that you have to go to college right after high school. If you’re a fast junior skier you should definitely weigh your options. Take classes if you want to, but if you want to make it to the top level of skiing get involved with a strong ski club and train your ass off.
FS: Do you think that the U.S. Nordic team should broaden how many people they have on the team? If yes, who do you think should be racing at the World Cup level with Kris, Torin, Chris, Kikkan and you?
AN: I definitely think the US Nordic team should broaden how many people we have. A bigger team is always more productive. The problem is just with funding. Nobody likes the fact that we have a small team or that we have had to downsize in recent seasons. Unfortunately we can’t change the economy and how much money we’re getting from sponsors. When it comes to racing World Cups I think we should be starting the best skiers in the country no matter what team they ski for, and in recent years that has been the case. We’ve come a long way in the fast 5 years. We used to have only 2 world cup starts in sprint and distance, so that kind of limited who could start in those races. But now because we’ve had some good results over the years we have more. I think it’s 4 in distance and 3 in sprint… but it depends on the gender too. The only way we can get more spots (like Norway who has 8 ) is by having more skiers score World Cup points. We’re pretty lucky that we have World Cups in North America now because that’s our best shot at getting more athletes into the points since we have a nations group quota. So by focusing on those Canadian World cups is probably the best way we can get more US skiers into the World Cup races.
FS: What’s your next movie project?
AN: We released ‘A Day In The Life’ last December. It’s a movie that focuses on the World Cup racing side of things. I was able to get all the racing footage in ‘feed’ format. So basically that means it’s the same stuff everyone is watching on TV all over the world so the quality is really good. Other than that the DVD is made up of some rough cut interviews with some North American racers, and since it’s X Ski Films there’s a little bit of jumping and tricks in there too. Right now I’m not working on any new projects. Kind of taking the year off from tech stuff to focus on the Olympics.
FS: With races such as the Tour de Ski and the mini tour at the end of the season, do you see Nordic ski racing becoming more like cycling in terms of stage racing?
AN: I think there is going to be a trend in the direction of stage racing. What FIS is trying to do is make it more exciting to follow the World Cup by having both sprinters and distance skiers racing in the same events and fighting for the overall. FIS wasn’t too stoked when they started seeing the majority of the field specializing in either sprint or distance so they came up with events like the Tour. This past year worked out really well for them because they had Cologna and Northug, who were competitive in both sprint and distance, battling it out for the overall so it was good for ratings. This is also a big reason why we’ve been seeing a lot of longer sprints courses over the past year, and things like mass start 15k’s and sprint bonus’s on the distance side. It means the line between sprinter and distance skier is going to continue to be blurred. I’m not sure if FIS thinks they have the formula completely dialed in yet, but we’re going to be racing in a lot of Tours and ‘mini tours’ over the next few years.
FS: Last year after your surfing vacation you hopped right into your training with an interval workout. How do you think juniors should plan their interval progression throughout the year?
AN: The reason why we hammer out some intervals in April and even during the first few weeks of the training year is so that we don’t lose too much fitness between the end of the race season and the summer training months. We’ve done some physical testing in the springtime over the years and what we’ve learned is that a lot of athletes finish the season in great shape, but then tend to lose a little fitness during the spring if they don’t do anything hard. Easy distance and maintenance training is the most important thing, but doing a little bit of threshold and even some level 4 each week can go a long way. I think that junior skiers can benefit from this too, but only if the main focus is still on building a level 1 base during the spring months. They best way for juniors to get in this kind of intensity is by staying active and participating in some other sports during the spring. Hop in a bike race or a running race every two weeks or something to add some hard efforts in addition to the easy distance training.
FS: How long are the ski poles you use for skate and for classic? For example, if you put the pole tip on your ski, do they go to your nose, lips, chin?
AN: I race on a pretty standard size skate pole for both sprint and distance races. I cut my skate pole so that they come up to just under my lower lip. I think for long distance races it can make sense to have a skate pole that comes closer to chin length. For classic skiing I cut three different lengths so that I can have a little bit of variety depending on the course. For distance classic races my poles come to just above my armpit. For classic sprint races they measure right in between my armpit and shoulder, and for double pole only sprints I have a pole that comes to about my shoulder. Basically it comes down to personal preference. I would try out a bunch of different lengths and use what feels best. Use a length that allows you to ski with a powerful technique, but ones that are not so big that they slow your tempo down once you start hammering.
FS: What do you think the keys are to becoming a good double poler?
AN: My Norwegian sprinter buddy Polsa has a saying ‘I don’t kick until November”. That might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but the point is the best way to get better at double poling is by doing a lot of it, especially during the summer months. That means doing long distance roller skis where you only use your arms and also shorter specific strength workouts where you might do several uphill repeats double poling. I think it can also be a good idea to do some intervals, both threshold and level 4, just using your arms but it shouldn’t be your primary form of intensity. If a skier spends their whole off -season doing intervals where they only use their arms or legs, like in double pole or running, I think it can compromise your V02max if you’re not doing all body intensity most of the time. So that’s why it’s even more important to focus on a lot of level 1 distance double poling during the summer and fall.
FS: How do you like the hole ski?
AN: The hole skis are pretty sick. I can feel the biggest difference in swing weight while skating with an old ski on one foot and a hole ski on the other. No matter what, the biggest thing for us is having fast bases, and it seams like the new Fischers have been running really fast, especially in softer conditions. Almost every season ski companies introduce new products half way through the World Cup season and you don’t always see the top athletes adopt them right away, but that hasn’t been the case with the hole skis. We were all getting brand new skis from the reps right before World Champs and you were seeing guys racing in world cups with them and winning world championship medals on them two weeks later. You don’t always see that, so basically the Fischer athletes are pretty stoked on the skis right now.
FS: Can you tell us a little about your relationship with Kris Freeman or Torin Koos?
AN: Everyone on the team gets along pretty well. I think you have to on a team as small as ours and when you spend so much time on the road. Kris is a great person to have on the team because you can see how dedicated someone can be to training, so I get a lot of motivation from him. I’m probably the guy on the team that is joking around a little bit in the van and during practice so it makes for a good balance. Kris trains quite a bit different than Torin and I so I spend more time skiing with Koos, but during camps we try to have a few workouts a week whether it’s intervals or distance where we can all train a little bit together. It’s all about pushing each other as teammates and I think we do a good job of that.
FS: What is you vertical leap? Can you dunk?
AN: My vertical leap isn’t too great, and at 5’10’’… no I can’t dunk. There are certain parts of the training year where I work on a lot of explosive jumps in the gym for training but I think the highest I’ve ever had my vertical is round 52 centimeters. My girlfriend Jess, who is a ski jumper, likes to rub it in that she has a higher vertical than me so we kind of have an ongoing competition. It’s a goal to break 54cm by the end of the summer.
FS: Thanks Andy for taking the time to respond to all of our questions so thoughtfully. Good luck with your summer training!