Following his resignation last week, longtime Canadian coach and team leader Dave Wood said that he was leaving to take a coaching opportunity with a club closer to his girlfriend, and that his parting from Cross Country Canada (CCC) had been amicable.
Current and former CCC athletes all praised Wood’s contributions to the organization over the last dozen years. But in interviews, they also acknowledged that Wood’s last year with the program was marked by tension.
At the Olympics, one athlete said he noticed a strained relationship between Wood and Inge Braten, the head coach at the time—who left his position at the end of the winter. And later this spring, according to a former national team member, CCC athletes pushed for changes to Wood’s role in the organization.
Wood denied that any tensions existed, and insisted that his decision to leave had been personal. But in an interview with FasterSkier, CCC Executive Director Davin Macintosh acknowledged that his organization conducted an “extensive review” of the High Performance System—which includes the National Team, and Wood’s position—after the Olympics.
The resulting plan for the next year, he said, “did include slightly different roles for people.”
“We invited the parties to fill the roles that we’d defined, and Dave took a long, hard, think about his future, and I guess he’s decided that other things are pulling at him, and that the best way forward for him is not to continue in the role he had,” he said.
A last-minute addition to the Canadian Olympic team, Gord Jewett was named to the squad in late-January. In Vancouver, Jewett raced in the 15 k freestyle, finishing in 52nd, just over two and a half minutes behind winner Dario Cologna.
During the Games, Jewett said, Braten and Wood did not seem to be on the same page. Their answers to logistical questions were sometimes different, which left Jewett feeling like he had to make a decision to talk with one or the other “to confirm details around training or preparation.”
“In my view, the relationship between Dave Wood and Inge Braten was strained at the Olympics, and the lack of communication between the two marginalized the ability of the team to be prepared,” Jewett said. “They weren’t communicating well, and that affected the overall organization of our team.”
Reached on vacation in Tunisia, Braten denied any conflict existed.
“I thought it was okay always with Dave,” Braten said. He added that the reason that he left his job at the end of the winter was unrelated to Wood, “or anybody else.”
Asked whether there were problems with communication between Braten and Wood at the Olympics, CCC Director of High Performance Tom Holland—who oversees the National Team—said that the two were “very professional.”
“We had very clear roles, all of us, going into the Games,” he said. “People delivered on their roles. We had some hard decisions to make—we made those decisions as a team.”
While Braten was the second straight Scandinavian coach to leave Canada after one year, Holland said “it’s difficult bringing people in from a different country—particularly overseas.”
“What we’ve discovered in the past four years is that we have something unique in Canada,” he said. “People have to be able to fit into that. We can’t be changing the system every two, three, four years in terms of the way we operate.”
Interest in Change
When Wood left his position at the national team last week, he told FasterSkier he had made the decision unilaterally, in order to take a job with a club in Rossland, BC.
But according to a former Canadian National Team member, CCC athletes had pushed for changes in the High Performance System at the end of the season—especially to Wood’s role.
“The athletes are always accountable for their performances based on results, and they haven’t felt as though there’s been that same level of accountability towards the administrative side of the High Performance [System],” the former National Team member said.
At the end of the four-year Olympic cycle, the former team member continued, the CCC athletes felt that it was time to “push forward on what they needed out of the national team program, and create a stronger system.”
When contacted by FasterSkier, four different National Team athletes declined to comment on the details of Wood’s departure. But Drew Goldsack, the national ski team representative to CCC, acknowledged that “there had been some tension” in the program.
“I don’t think the athletes were pushing for Dave to be fired,” he said. “But there was interest in change—in some major changes.”
Wood denied that there had been conflict or tension between him and the team, saying that “athletes are always unhappy.”
“They always want more—they don’t like to get pushed. That’s normal,” he said.
Macintosh, the CCC executive director, said that the post-Olympic review conducted by his organization was “extremely engaging” for the skiers. The resulting plan for the next year, he said, “responded to the concerns raised by athletes.”
“The organization firmly believes that there’s a role for Dave in that, and we’re sad to see him go,” said Macintosh. “We came up with the best structure from the organization’s perspective, but we can’t force people to work with us.”
Tasha Betcherman, the athlete representative to CCC’s board of directors, told FasterSkier in an interview that in the past, Canadian athletes have felt “that they have not had a direct contribution to some of the decisions on leadership.”
“But that is definitely changing,” she said. “After the Olympics is a really good time for reflection, and I think that the athletes were definitely heard.”
In a press release on the CCC website posted Wednesday, Macintosh said that Wood will continue with the organization doing “contract work.” As of Monday, the organization had not yet determined how it would fill the void created by Wood’s departure.
Topher Sabot contributed reporting.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.