Rewind to the 2009 World Championships in Liberec (CZE). Japan beat Norway the women’s team sprint on skis that outglided almost everyone. Norway’s wax coach Knut Nystad, who was then watching the relay from the stadium, said he saw the Japanese put Gallium under their skis between the heats.
Fabio Ghisafi, who has been Japan’s wax coach since 2003, said to the Norwegian newspaper VG.no that he never tells the athletes what’s on their skis. But after hearing Nystad and Norwegian national team director Åge Skinstad say that Masako Ishida and Madoka Natsumi had Galluim glide wax on when they beat Norway in the team sprint in Liberec, he can’t keep quiet any longer, claiming that Skinstad and Nystad are lying.
“They didn’t have Gallium wax on their skis. I don’t know what motives Nystad has for saying that we used Gallium. That’s simply not true,” Ghisafi said to VG.
“We had six or seven different products, but it wasn’t Gallium,” Ghisafi said.
Nystad recalls the situation differently.
“If (Fabio Ghisafi) says they didn’t use Gallium under the skis during the team sprint in Liberec, I will reply that I saw them do just that between the heats, I saw that with my own two eyes,” Nystad said adding, “If I hadn’t seen that, we would have never figured out what they had under their skis. After the race, I went straight to my computer and researched Gallium on the internet.”
The Italian wax coach, who is renegotiating his contract with Japan’s national team this month, is willing to take Nystad to court to prove his point and protect his reputation.
“We had great skis in the team sprint in Liberec, but why would I tell Nystad what we were using? That would be giving our competitors an advantage. Nystad is lying. Nystad is destroying my image. Now, other nations believe that I am a wax coach who walks around and reveal secrets,” Ghisafi said.
“If Nystad doesn’t stop telling other people what teams are using, I’m ready to take him to court to stop him if I have to. He can’t run around and talk to newspapers and other media about these things,” Ghisafi said.
Ghisafi is also angry that Norway can’t just praise Ishida and Natsumi for their strong performances as racers, instead of saying that good skis and exceptional glide was the reason.
Product and Process
But the Liberec was just the beginning. During the 2011 World Championship in Oslo, almost all the teams struggled with the wax, one team appeared to nail it every time: the hosts. Norway also had success using Gallium wax in Callahan Valley during the 2010 Olympics, another venue where many teams had trouble nailing the wax – including Norway’s at the beginning of the Games.
What’s their golden secret? Nystad said it’s a combination of product and process, and for the 2011 World Championships, which landed Norway on the podium every night, Gallium wax was one of those products.
Gallium wax is owned by the Japanese company DOWA Holding (primarily involved in metal manufacturing). Gallium is in fact a metal, and one of the ingredients in Gallium ski waxes, which has proven successful in humid and difficult snow.
In a press release from the Norwegian Ski Association dated November 25, 2010, Nystad classified Gallium as a revolution: “Head wax coach Knut Nystad said the (Norwegian wax team) became aware of Gallium wax because Japanese cross-country skiers and Nordic combined skiers had exceptional glide during the 2009 World Championships in Liberec. According to Knut Nystad, Gallium’s liquid wax products Gallium DR, FCG, Maxfluor and Gallium Giga Speed are as close to a wax revolution as you can get.”
According to Ghisafi, this is not the case.
“That is just BS. (Gallium) is no revolution. The product has existed for ten years. And it’s no miracle,” Ghisafi said.
The Gallium difference
So if wax techs are willing to take each other to court over Gallium, what makes it so special?
FasterSkier caught up with Frank Evertsen from Go-Ski Norway, the distributor of Gallium in Norway, to find out what’s so different about Gallium wax.
For starters, seven of Norway’s eight gold medals at the World Championships in Oslo were won on skis waxed with Gallium. Sure, waxing for Holmenkollen is always somewhat of a best-guess situation, due to a combination of climatic conditions that makes the snow tricky both in terms of grip and glide.
“The unique thing about the Gallium products Doctor FCG Maxfluor, Gigaspeed, and Gigaspeed Maxfluor Moist, is that they contain gallium and fluoro carbons,” Evertsen explained to FasterSkier.
“The recipe delivers extreme durability – the wax easily lasts through the entire Vasaloppet, and provides excellent glide in humid to wet snow conditions down to minus six or seven degrees Celsius if the humidity is over 70 percent,” Evertsen said.
Evertsen explained that Gallium’s composition reduces friction by altering the water drop configuration to where there is less contact surface between water and the ski bases, which results in better glide.
“Additionally, the Gallium products are super-easy to work with because it’s applied to the bases after all the waxing and manual rilling is done. You can wax a pair of skis in 30 seconds,” Evertsen said.
Not just slapping on wax
Nystad explained to FasterSkier that fast skis are not just the result of one magical product, but careful process and tedious testing.
“Gallium was used during the Oslo World Championships, but that’s not the most important element for me. It’s the process that leads to the answer that matters most. If the process is good, the right answer will automatically follow because we’ve done the right legwork and tested a lot,” Nystad said to FasterSkier.
Nystad counts off his to-do’s and responsibilities as the head wax tech: finding the best skis in terms of the ski’s properties, pick out and zero out the ski test park in terms of structure, manual structure, products and grip, determine the best structure, determine the best manual structure, identify the best glide waxes, find the best powder and topping, identify the best grip base wax, the middle layer grip wax and top coat grip wax. Finally, Nystad is responsible for determining the optimal methodology for applying the manual structure, glide wax, powder, topping and grip wax.
“All of these processes are running simultaneously. A small improvement in any and all of these can deliver a competitive advantage. There are a lot of products involved in this network of processes, which combined gives us the ’winning recipe.’ It’s possible that other nations were better than us in some of the processes, but overall, Norway did it well this time,” Nystad said.
During the World Cup season, Nystad oversees a team of 12 wax techs, but only two of them are employed by the Norwegian Ski Association (NSF) year-round.
“My job is to be the head wax coach for Norway’s national team,” Nystad explained.
“What is most important to me is to help create and take part in the various processes so that we succeed in finding the best wax solutions we can for a given event,” Nystad said.
The Norwegian wax team also uses service reps from the various brands, because they are experts on their own products and how to apply and optimize them, Nystad said.
Evertsen is not on the Norwegian wax team payroll, but he is definitely a part of the NSF family, given that Go-Ski Norway is one of NSF’s partners and a part of the NSF Ski Pool.
(Additional Sources: VG.no, http://go-ski.no)
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.