Torin Koos: The 1998 Nagano Olympics were your first big races. The results for North Americans were not the most promising. I remember you talking about “emerging from the disaster that was Nagano.”
Sara Renner: Yes. Nagano was awful. Truly awful.
I don’t think I could have expected it to be good, really. Sometimes you think that your Olympic dream will get you good results – that it’s such a powerful motivator, and you’ve already realized one dream just getting there. You think automatically you’re going to do something amazing. The reality of cross-country skiing though is there are no flukes. If you’re young and unprepared – even though I trained as hard as I knew – you’re not going to get anywhere. I mean we were really bad. Everyone was really bad. I remember the meeting after Nagano. It was a meeting to announce all our funding had been cut, that there was no hope.
At that time, we had five women at the same level. Post-Nagano, that was it. We were going to do something. We were very competitive with each other so we could really push each other.
TK: Sara, you went from having a horrible experience in Nagano, watched your funding dry up. Then, four years later, Beckie wins the gold in the one day pursuit, and you finish ninth in the sprint.
How were you able to help turn around the performances of Canadian skiing. How were you able to go from placing in the 40’s to ninth at the Olympics? How was Beckie able to go from 42nd being her best result to becoming an Olympic Gold medalist?
SR: We made a conscious decision to be the best. Everyday, to be the best. Everyday. A lot of this came from Dave believing in this, too, that we can be good. He’d instill in us the belief that there is no reason it has to only be everyone else that has success but not us. Cross-country skiing doesn’t just have to be a Scandinavian, Russian, European thing. It can be us, too. We have the snow, we have talent. Why not?
TK: In 2005 you had compartment syndrome surgery. What this a setback?
SR: Not really.
TK: In 2005 the upward progression continues.
TK: You win the bronze in the classic sprint at the Oberstdorf (Germany) Worlds, Canada’s first ever medal at the World Championships.
SR: Oberstdorf was my breakthrough moment.
TK: And it was your first time ever on the podium – World Cup, World Champs or otherwise.
SR: Yes, that’s right. This came at the perfect time. With the Olympics the next year, this was confirmation that I was coming on track.
TK: Then you went on a tear. You were third at Oberstdorf. You were third at the Silver Star World Cups, second in Canmore, second at Davos in the 10 kilometer, third at Borleange and second at the Olympics in the team sprint. This is a thirteen month period where you came on. What do you attribute this to?
SR: Starting off the year with World Cups in Canada had a lot to do with this. It was a dream of mine since seeing the Olympics in my hometown to race World Cups back in Canada. Beckie and I wrote tons of letters trying to get World Cups back. Having these races on our home turf set us off on the right track.
Then… I think I am just a late bloomer. It took me a long time to reach my level.
Everyone was doing so well. Our team had so much momentum.
TK: One of the first races in Torino was the team sprint and you took the silver medal.
SR: Yes, the team sprint. Definitely a highlight. Another race, too, I was really proud of was the 10 kilometer classic. I died at the end. But I was skiing so well. For me this was a race that could have been, almost was. I felt between the Davos weekend before Torino and at the Olympics that this was the best skiing of my life. Yeah.
TK: The team sprint was filled with drama. You had the broken pole on your last leg. You’re out of it. Hakersmoen the Norwegian coach gives you a new one. It’s a battle between you and Finland and Sweden. Norway chases. Down the home straight, Sweden takes a short lead. Then it’s Canada. Finland cracks. Norway’s a ways back, going the wrong way.
SR: As a racer, you’re prepared for this. You’re living in the moment, not even thinking about it. But I do remember thinking, “Oh, Beckie’s going to be pissed.”
But it’s funny. Canadians really picked that up, that a Norwegian gave me a pole. This was a huge story. They don’t understand that it’s a kind of tradition in our sport that when you break a pole usually the first person you pass with a replacement gives it to you. That’s our sport. Canadians thought this was an amazing story and sent the guy a boat full of maple syrup. They did it up big-time.
TK: From Oberstdorf on, you really found your stride. It seemed that you went from hoping to be one of the best to knowing it, becoming everyday podium-skiing Sara. How did this transformation happen?
SR: Reaching the highest level, this became my expectation. Then you fight for this with all you have on the ski trail. This involved lots of training, everyone knows that. But at the start line, you have to genuinely love what you’re about to do and believe in yourself. Having this keeps me honest and keeps me going. This is the addictive part of ski racing.
TK: This season, your first full season back, to an outsider the results seem solid, consistently racing right around the tenth.
SR: I’m consistent. My sprinting has gone down the tank. I don’t know what happened there. In the distances, I’m pretty confident. I mean, I have to work on my skating for the pursuit and the 10 kilometer. I’m really looking forward to the 30 kilometer classic. I don’t know if my sprinting can come around. I think the level’s changed. And taking that time off, I lost that explosiveness. At the Olympics, there are so many events I need to decide which races to emphasize. Not everyone can Kowalczyk-it out.
TK: From catching the ski racing bug watching the Olympics in your hometown to the positive experience that came from opening the year of the Torino Olympics in Canada, do you have any extra motivation for the 2010 Olympics being in Canada?
SR: Yes. For sure. I wouldn’t be back racing if the Games weren’t in Canada. Honestly, the World Cups in Canada were so huge, so amazing, that to say no to an Olympics in my home country… I just couldn’t do that. It’s just something so great for our sport. I’ve just got to do it.
TK: Sara, one last question – Where were you when Broe broke his pole?
SR: Oh, I don’t know. That’s bad isn’t it? I’m just too young. That’s a question for the older guard.
Torin Koos is a member of the National A Team for the United States. A World Cup, World Championship and Olympic competitor, Koos brings this experience to the FasterSkier sportscasting arena.
Equipment: Rossignol Skis, Boots and Bindings, Toko gloves and wax, Marwe, Exel poles, Rudy Project Eyewear, Rossignol Softgoods
Home Ski Club: Leavenworth Winter Sports Club (www.skileavenworth.com)
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