If you’re a male looking for a spot on the Canadian National Ski Team (CNST), you may be in luck, because this season there may be a few open spots.
In addition to George Grey retiring, veteran sprinter Stefan Kuhn has opted to step away from his ski racing career.
“When I made my comeback, my goal was always the Olympics,” said Kuhn in a recent interview with FasterSkier.
“To have succeeded in that goal, going to the Olympics, having a 15th place at the Olympics, and then having a World Champs in Norway, is better than I could have imagined.”
Kuhn has been to just about every event one can hit as a Canadian cross country skier – World Juniors, a home Olympics, two World Championships, and has seen it all.
One of his most rewarding memories is his comeback. At the end of the 2000 season, at just 20 years of age, he moved away from the sport, and went to school to become a chef. But Kuhn couldn’t resist the call of ski racing, and four years later, he was back.
“It was extremely hard,” he said of making the transition back into a high-performance athlete.
“It was so motivating each year getting better. The lifestyle you live as a National Team athlete is amazing. I was lucky enough to have a group of guys who made it fun in and outside of skiing.”
But you can’t have a career without some moments of a disappointment as well – and for Kuhn, the hardest hurdle to overcome was in 2009.
In just the second race of the 2008-2009 World Cup season, Kuhn sprinted to 15th place in Lahti, Finland, qualifying him for World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic, later that season.
He then returned home before Christmas, and followed a normal training routine leading up to the selection races, when he broke his shoulder while playing hockey. While recovering, he found out that Cross Country Canada (CCC) had decided not to send him to World Championships, as they weren’t prepared to risk the chance he wouldn’t be fully recovered.
However, Kuhn traveled to Europe, and aimed at gaining race experience on the OPA Cup circuit. Less than a week before World Championships, he recorded one of the first ever
Canadian victories on the OPA circuit, winning a classic sprint ahead of top Italian sprinters Loris Frasnelli and Fulvio Scola. Kuhn knew he was in good shape, and his results indicated it – Scola later went on to finish 13th at the classic sprint at World Championships.
“It was really tough mentally,” he said.
For now, Kuhn is trying to settle into a life without full time training. In April he hopes to relax, go ski touring, and finally figure out what do when May rolls around and he no longer swings into full time training.
He has some interest in coaching, and has been approached by a few teams, and it is something he is seriously considering.
“The amount of time we have spent on the World Cup, and racing as a junior, racing through your life, and your life experience – that’s all valuable experience,” said Kuhn.
“You think about all the money that’s been spent on us, and the knowledge we have. It’s quite valuable to use, for those that have the interest.”
Kuhn is aiming at the developmental level of coaching, and hopes to find a way to help out at a training center.
Over the course of his career, Kuhn has seen the level of skiing in Canada rise steadily, and he feels as though he can contribute to its continuing success.
“The first year George and I were seniors, we were the top two guys at Senior National Championships. We were first and second by like a minute,” he said. “Now it’s a lot more difficult just to crack the top 10 at a NorAm event.”
Outside of skiing, he will be going back to cooking, but not full-time. Kuhn hopes to work something out with Sara Renner and Thomas Grandi, the owners of the Paintbox Lodge in downtown Canmore, Alberta.
But is there any chance of a comeback? He has done it once before…
“There is no way,” said Kuhn, laughing. “When I was 24 it made sense. Now, if I do any comeback, I am going to the US Open for tennis. There is one spot that is a free-for-all, and I heard Bode Miller tried out for it last year, so I’m thinking of giving it a shot.”