Peaking for a specific event is not limited to World Cup athletes – anyone who races has most likely focused on a specific event, trying to maximize fitness. The Olympics, however, as the most prestigious event for cross-country skiers, biathletes and nordic combined athletes, take the concept of peaking to the ultimate level.
And while it may not be surprising, it is interesting how individual preparation for a an event the magnitude of the Olympics is. Like training in general, 10 different athletes will have 10 different plans. There is no magic formula to guarantee optimal fitness for a specific race.
The Finnish team for example is split into three groups. A number of athletes traveled to Silver Star for altitude training and to race in the Canmore World Cup events. Another group stayed in Europe for a mid-altitude camp, and are focused on the second half of the Games. Yet another group, those who do not respond well to altitude training and prefer the comforts of home, remained in Finland.
The US team has been similarly fragmented. Liz Stephen, Morgan Arritola, and Caitlin Compton all trained at altitude in Park City leading up to Canmore, while Kris Freeman and Andy Newell remained at home in New England. Torin Koos, on the other hand, arrived in Canmore several weeks before the races.
When talking to coaches, the theme of altitude kept coming up. This is a very important factor – even for a venue considered “low-level” like Whistler Olympic Park.
“You can probably get a little bit of an advantage, as a distance skier in Vancouver, spending some time at altitude before the Games,” US Ski Team sprint coach Chris Grover told FasterSkier. ” But for our sprinters, in terms of the types of training we have been trying to accomplish in the past couple of weeks, hard training and recovery needed, it makes sense to do it at sea level.”
But even this plan is not consistently applied across the US Ski Team, as evidenced by Freeman remaining at sea level, and Koos traveling to altitude.
The Norwegian biathlon team just completed a stay in Silver Star, but the famous Ole Einar Bjorndalen did not come as he apparently does not respond well to altitude training.
And altitude is just part of the equation. Some athletes will be doing hard intervals, while others require more rest. And training needs to be flexible – perhaps intensity is usually a standard part of a peak, but current health and energy must be considered.
Each individual responds differently different types of training, to altitude, to rest. This knowledge can only be acquired through experience and trial and error. The hope is that by the time a skier is at the Olympic level, he or she will know how best to prepare.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.