USST and USBA Mull Collaboration For Race Support at Sochi Olympics

Chelsea LittleMay 11, 20113
Inside the U.S. Ski Team wax room at the 2010 Olympics: Joakim Augustsson (l) and Peter Abrahamsson (r) were two of the core members of the service staff.

In the lead-up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Zach Caldwell led a much-discussed, multi-year effort to pin down the best stonegrinds and waxes for the challenging, variable conditions at Whistler Olympic Park. Caldwell’s months and months of hard work even drew the attention of National Public Radio, which profiled him about a week before the start of the Games.

The problem? Even when so many hours have been spent in preparation, sometimes things go wrong. Case in point: Kris Freeman’s horrific skis in the opening 15 k freestyle in Vancouver.

When the best skiers and wax techs in the world can be baffled by conditions, grinds, and ski flex, teams need all the help they can get. Which is why the U.S. Ski Team (USST) and the U.S. Biathlon Association (USBA) are discussing a possible group effort to hand their athletes the very best skis possible before each race at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Bernd Eisenbichler, USBA’s high performance director, told FasterSkier that there had already been “a lot of meetings on that theme.”

“We had plans to collaborate with cross-country on a so-called ‘Sochi fast ski project,’” he said in an e-mail. “We agreed with cross country to keep the concept of the idea confidential from both sides, so all I can say is that we had good and constructive meetings.”

U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association Nordic Director John Farra was similarly mum on the details of the partnership, but confirmed that something was brewing.

“We have held some discussions between our organizations, looking for collaboration opportunities, but there is nothing to report on this front,” he wrote in an e-mail, promising to be more forthcoming once the plans were finalized.

Like the others, USBA President and CEO Max Cobb was tight-lipped about the actual negotiations. However, he was more than willing to discuss the challenges – and rewards – of reaching an agreement.

“I’ve had conversations with John Farra and Bernd, and [USST Head Coach] Chris Grover has been in touch about it. So I think those guys are looking for solutions for how we can work together in the most productive way possible for Sochi,” Cobb said in a phone interview from Munich, Germany. “We have kind of different programs, different setups, so it’s still not really clear how we’re going to work together and what it’s going to look like.”

While three years before the next Olympics might seem like too far ahead to begin planning, Cobb said that the early timing was in fact essential to the success of a collaboration.

“It’s good that everyone is talking to each other now about it,” he continued. “Going into Vancouver, we weren’t talking about it until right before the first World Cup event before the Olympics. There’s an opportunity for us to continue to work together, but we haven’t gotten that nailed down yet, because we’re going a million miles per hour in our own worlds.

“We’re certainly planning, on our end, to have technicians on the ground in Sochi this winter, if it’s allowed,” Cobb said.

At the Vancouver Games, the biathlon service team provided structure for some of the nordic combined skis. If talks continue to move forward, then there could be even more collaboration. One challenge, however, is that while the cross-country skiers predominantly receive grinding services from domestic sources, the biathletes have their skis ground by a company in Europe.

Caldwell said that cooperation on race support would be a step in the right direction for both teams.

“I think it would be a really sensible thing to do,” he said in a phone conversation. “I think it would be a good use of resources to try to build on each other, and add to the other team’s base and knowledge.

“It didn’t seem to work prior to the 2010 Olympics–the two teams didn’t seem too interested in working together–so I’m hopeful that they can get something done,” he said.

Three-time Olympic cross-country skier Kikkan Randall was also enthusiastic, although she hadn’t previously heard anything about the effort.

“I think it sounds like a really smart plan,” Randall wrote in an e-mail. “They have been having lots of success on the biathlon side, as well, so we might as well join into a SUPER FORCE!! It seems like we have some duplicate resources and personnel at the Olympics sometimes, so this might be a great way to be more efficient.”

But Randall wouldn’t stop there. The World Championships medalist occasionally trains with Canadian Olympic gold medalist Chandra Crawford, and last summer, she even joined in on a double-pole workout with the Norwegian national team during a two-week trip to Europe.

For someone like Randall, the obvious next step in a skiing-biathlon partnership is athletic.

“I would also like to see some collaboration on training camps,” she said. “It would be great if the two teams could be in some of the same places, to do some training together.”

For now though, the two organizations have their work cut out for them to hammer out the details of a race support deal.

“The really good news is that we have a really, really good relationship with Chris Grover and John Farra, so we’ll figure out how to make this work in a good, efficient way,” Cobb said.

Chelsea Little

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  • Martin Hall

    May 13, 2011 at 7:31 am

    My first reaction is—don’t these guys work hard enough as it is—they need less rest and more work—WOW!!—-I’m not positive this will work—first off getting by the egos will be a chore–each group has it’s hierarchy and of course working chemistry—next, cetain technicians deal with assigned skiers—how do you get around that—communications and putting egos aside will be the first step—will the #1 leader please step up.
    Also, what about schedules–aren’t both programs in action at about the same times—Olympics would be the only time they would be together at the same venue.
    To sketchy for me to try it at this very important event—GOOD LUCK!!

  • Martin Hall

    May 13, 2011 at 7:36 am

    One more thing I forgot—isn’t this suppose to be confidential—I think I saw a statement about that—well, first breach has taken place in the confidentiality—everyone knows now—so, they don’t have to worry about that one.

  • Cory Salmela

    May 13, 2011 at 9:24 am

    The French had a similar program in Vancouver. On the first day the program produced two gold medals. I was wondering why the biathlon ski techs were testing skis in the Nordic stadium prior to Lamy Chappius’ Gold medal Nordic Combined performance. An old friend Giles Marguet filled me in that he was in charge of coordinating all ski prep efforts for X-C, NC, and biathlon. That was his only job that year. Although X-C didn’t medal they had good results with many athletes. The biathletes topped the medals count with an incredible 6 medals one ahead of Germany. I remember thinking day after day how good the French skis looked across all disciplines. Something worked with this program, and I’m sure it wasn’t lost on Max, Grover, et al.

    Just because you think something may not work isn’t a reason not to try. Collaboration is the norm in the business world. Some company’s compete fiercely in one sector and collaborate in another. The new World Cup coaching model is really team oriented. The work and responsibility is spread across the team, ego’s checked at the door. The ski prep business is really competitive and expensive. Hopefully programs like this can produce some efficiencies, but most importantly fasterskis and fasterskiers. (A little plug for the site;)

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