Several weeks ago Langrenn.com published an interview with Russian Olympian Nikolay Pankratov, who was in Norway training with Team Synnfjell. The plan was that Pankratov would come back to Norway later in September to train with the Norwegian national team when they return from their altitude camp in the Alps. Those plans are likely scrapped after he was caught on the Swiss border last week with intravenous equipment and vials of the drug Actovegin.
“In Norway, you run all over the place and get your feet wet every workout. In Russia, we run specific, predetermined courses every time. We know exactly what’s waiting,” Nikolay Pankratov said.
Pankratov was tired after a week of training in Norway. The strong Russian skier had attended the Team Synnfjell training camp at the end of August and was impressed with the way the team works. However, getting his wet feet on almost every workout added a new dimension to Pankratov’s training experience.
“It’s pretty funny. You try to keep your feet dry, but after 10 minutes you’re soaked no matter what you do. You run all over the place in this country,” he said.
Pankratov met with Langrenn.com at the Oslo airport just before he was leaving Norway and the Team Synnfjell camp. He had gained insight to the Norwegian cross-country training culture, as well as some very sore abs.
“Yesterday we did a strength circuit workout that included five different ab exercises. I’ve never done that before, I’ve only done sit-ups. But the new exercises seem very effective. I’m very sore now, and it will be even worse tomorrow,” Pankratov said with a grin.
Less variety in Russia
“In Russia we’re following a program that we’ve used for many years, especially on the strength side. But I’ve seen YouTube videos of the Norwegian sprint team boys and I’ve tried some of the drills they do, especially those that Øystein Pettersen is doing. Those videos are funny,” Pankratov said.
While Pankratov is no longer a part of the Russian national team, he has been for many years. Pankratov has been on age-specific national teams with the Russian national ski association throughout his junior career, and has placed on the podium in several World Cup events, and helped the Russian team to a relay bronze medal at the 2005 World Championships in Oberstdorf (GER).
What do you consider to be the biggest differences between the Russian and the Norwegian training cultures and team environments? The lack of variety?
“In Russia, we’ve done the same things for 20 years. We travel to the same places, we run the same loops, and do the same roller ski courses. There are a lot of other really nice places in Russia to have training camps, but we always go to the same places,” Pankratov explained and continued: “For instance, this summer, Rybinsk had a heat wave and it was extremely hot there. But that was where the national team had their camp, and the skiers had to get up insanely early to be able to train at all. They could have gone to a different place, but that’s not in the protocol. Even if it’s 40 degrees Celcius. I talked to Alexander Legkov, who said they couldn’t sleep at night.”
Do the skiers say anything?
“We don’t have those kinds of discussions on the national team in Russia.”
What kinds of discussions do you have?
“There is no social environment in the national team. There are almost no team meetings, three workouts per day and that’s the focus. Everyone does the same workout. There are no individual adaptations.”
So you are looking for a change, and that’s why you come to Norway?
“I wish we could be more open to other countries’ training cultures in Russia. I was very lucky to find a connection with Team Synnfjell and Frode Bjeglerud (team director). They organized the trip coming here, and I feel very grateful for that,” Pankratov said.
Martin Johnsrud Sundby said he was impressed with how much volume you log. Do you think the Norwegian skiers train very little?
“Well, now I’ve trained with a Norwegian team for a week, and I think we averaged about four hours per day. That’s definitely a less than we would do during a training camp in Russia, but I am at least as tired as I would be after a week-long training camp at home. We’ve done so much variety here,” Pankratov explained.
What can the Norwegians learn from you and the Russian skiers?
“One thing that is good about the Russian training program is that the athletes only need to think about training. That is the only focus. Train, eat and sleep,” he said.
Huge language barriers
The openhearted Pankratov believes the language barriers are a large part of the reason why the “distance” between the Russians and other countries appears so big. While Pankratov speaks good English, he is one of very few among his fellow skiers.
“There are a lot of athletes and coaches who want to talk with the Russians, but we don’t speak English. That is a huge problem for us,” Pankratov said. “For myself, it’s been helpful to train with Team Synnfjell, and when I get home, I will continue to speak English with my wife,” he joked.
In Russia, the skiers keep track of distance in their training logs, not hours as we do in Norway. Pankratov covers about 10,000 kilometers per year, and at the training camps the athletes are subjected to rigorous standards.
“The Russian national team has about 20 training days at camps, and 10 rest days every month outside the competition season,” he said. “You get up and train before breakfast, 30 minutes running and 30 minutes strength. That’s good for waking up. After breakfast, we do the second workout, which lasts about two and a half hours, either roller skiing or running. After that we do strength and stretching for 30 minutes. The coaches are there all the time,” Pankratov said to Langrenn.com.
All roller skiing is done on a track. The trafficin Russia makes it lethal to attempt roller skiing on the roads. After a long lunch break and a short nap, they get back at it for their third workout of the day. This session is typically 1hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes, followed by 30 minutes strength and stretching. Pankratov said some skiers even do a fourth workout.
From Langrenn.com, September 2, 2010 By Ola Jordheim Halvorsen, translation by Inge Scheve
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Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.
September 15, 2010 at 9:52 am
Pretty interesting—I can remember in the 70s (over 40 years ago) when I as coach the US Team—we heard the same stories—20 days at camp–ten days at home—three sessions per day.
At a US camp in Kiruna one fall with the DDRs (East Germans for the real young skiers)—their skiers were totally monitored like Pankratov says the Russians are–all courses are measured–time the workouts began and ended for each skier, every thing recorded, and a coach or someone was watching everything every skier did—they were never alone.
When I started coaching we used miles/kms in recording training in the skier’s logs—but switched to hours in a few years.
It’s hard to argue with the Russian’s success, but also it is hard to know what percentage of that success is drug related, as I know I felt it was happening as early as 1974 and Bjorger Pettersen, the Canadian Coach, in the early 70’s, felt he knew it was happening even earlier then that.
Sorry, but Russian sport success will always have a “big black cloud” of big drug use hanging over it—it’s history.