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.