It’s hard to fly under the radar when you’re 6’2” and one of the best sprinters in the world. But Torin Koos is giving it his best shot.
Koos, who was dropped from the U.S. Ski Team (USST) this spring, has been quietly reloading for the upcoming season with the Methow Olympic Development Project (MODP), a two-person team based in central Washington.
He has been off the grid, living in a cabin 15 miles from cell phone service on the property of his coach, Scott Johnston. He declined to be interviewed for this story, writing in an e-mail that he preferred to wait until the season “is on in earnest.”
But in just a few weeks, Koos will start his first race of the year in Norway, and by all accounts, he’s missing none of the speed that put him on the World Cup podium in 2007. At the USST’s September camp in Sun Valley, Koos finished second in three separate time trials to Andy Newell, setting the stage for the competition season.
“He came out chargin’, ready to race,” said USST Head Coach Chris Grover. “I think we’ll be seeing him really, really soon.”
According to Johnston, he and Koos will travel to Norway on October 30th for a month of racing in Scandinavia. Koos will start his season with domestic competitions in Beitostolen, Norway, before moving on to Rovaniemi, Finland, to meet up with a trip headed by the Maine Winter Sports Center. Between the two weekends in Beitostolen and Rovaniemi, he’ll have the option of starting up to five races, including a pair of sprints.
In addition to Johnston’s help, Koos will also be receiving assistance from a Norwegian club, Team Sjusjoen, which will support him at the races in Beitostolen. (The details of the arrangement aren’t set, but they will be worked out once Koos arrives in Norway.)
The Rovaniemi races will be scored to the U.S. National Ranking List, which plays into the selection of the American World Championships team. And there’s another incentive in Finland: Athletes who are “killing it” at those early-season events could be called up to the World Cup with the USST, Grover said.
“We’re going to be watching the results,” said Grover. “If someone’s having the kind of results where that could be, for sure, a top-20 result or maybe a top-30 result [on the World Cup]…then we’ll probably give them a start.”
Johnston was cautious about setting the bar too high, saying that Koos’s priority in November and December is to get some time on snow and some races under his belt. But the team sprint World Cup in Dusseldorf on December 5 could be a good fit, Johnston said.
Koos will fly back to the U.S. on December 7 and put in a training block before traveling to National Championships in Maine in early January. Then, he’ll travel back to Europe for more racing, and a run at World Championships.
Last year, Koos was on-and-off, battling sinus infections and lingering complications from an infected hair follicle that required surgery. He failed to qualify for the heats in four World Cup sprint starts in November and December, then returned to North America to recover and train.
At the pre-Olympic sprint in Canmore, Koos qualified second and made the semifinals, only to miss the heats in Vancouver, which turned out to be the end of his international race season.
Koos joined the MODP in April, and he has been training with teammate Sam Naney in central Washington since roughly mid-July. (Erik Bjornsen was also a member of the team until departing for college in August.) The two are rarely far from the watchful eyes of Johnston, who takes a hands-on approach to coaching and supervises workouts each day, often twice a day.
“Scott is extremely dedicated to the task—he takes the time to learn an athlete and all of the facets—more than just how that athlete performs in a given workout, or how they race,” Naney said. “That’s really what sets Scott apart. He doesn’t want to be the coach of 15 athletes. He wants to be the incredible coach of two or three or four athletes.”
At the start, Johnston said that he focused on areas where he could make a relatively quick impact on Koos’s technique and fitness—what Johnston termed “low-hanging fruit.”
“He needed to regain some confidence, and some sense that the direction he was headed in was going to be a beneficial one,” Johnston said. “I wanted to attack that from a couple of different ways that would net positive changes in fairly short order, so that he would see them and feel them, and be encouraged.”
By Naney’s account, the approach has worked, and Koos’s close relationship with Johnston has paid off.
“He’s really thrived under it,” he said. “He knows when he’s feeling good, and I think that’s been pretty visible.”
According to Naney, Koos’s “pinnacle goal for the year” is netting a strong result at World Championships. But neither Naney nor Johnston said that Koos had his sights set on returning to the USST. Currently, Johnston said, Koos’s living and travel expenses are being covered by the MODP, and he has maintained a relationship with In the Arena, a non-profit that provides financial support for athletes who perform community service.
Koos has also been cutting and selling firewood, as well as working on a motorcycle, and generally adhering to what Johnston called a “monastic lifestyle.”
“It’s remote—it has allowed him to focus just on what he’s doing,” Johnston said. “We just want to keep our heads down, do our work, and then see how things go this season.”
–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.