At 25 years old, Anna Haag is already a star for Sweden. She followed up her two silvers from Vancouver (in the 15 k pursuit and team sprint) with a strong showing as the second leg for Sweden’s silver medal-winning relay in Oslo.
She is currently living and training in Davos, Switzerland, where she and her boyfriend—Swedish sprint standout Emil Jonsson—have an apartment at about 5,000 feet above sea level. She hit the ground running in June with a two-and-a-half week visit with Americans Kikkan Randall and Liz Stephen in Orsa, and then spent a large part of July in Davos. Haag will head to Italy this week for a training camp with the Swedish team.
FasterSkier spoke with Haag about Sweden’s rivalry with Norway, working to get Falun get the 2015 World Championships, and whether she and Jonsson could beat Canada’s power couple, Chandra Crawford and Devon Kershaw, in a mixed relay.
FasterSkier: I spoke with Liz and Kikkan about their visit while they were still in Sweden with you this summer, and they had nothing but good things to say about the experience. Had you hosted athletes from another country like that before?
Anna Haag: No, I have never done anything like that before, having people in my house. Everything was perfect; they got along so well with my family. It was two and a half awesome weeks.
FS: And had you ever trained with someone other than a teammate for such a long period of time?
AH: Not like this. Kikkan is the cross-country rep at FIS, and me and my boyfriend (Emil Jonsson) and Kikkan were in Turkey last spring for the conference, and we trained together for one session. Kikkan said, “Oh, it will be so fun to train with you in the summer, and learn from each other.” I said, “Yeah, that would be fun,” but didn’t think that much more about it.
Then in the winter, she said, “Anna, I booked a ticket for the fifth of June!” I was a bit surprised, but it was a good one.
Then she asked if Liz could come also, and I’ve known Liz for even longer, because we competed together at World Juniors. It was just a lot of fun.
It feels like Kikkan is really trying to do different things, and I was really glad to be a part of that with her. I think it was pretty unique that we were living and training together for so long—almost three weeks.
FS: Kikkan mentioned that she added more base distance to her program as a result of what she learned from you. Did you change or add anything to your training?
AH: From the strength sessions we did with them, some exercises were new, so I added those to my program. I learned a lot from Kikkan’s skating technique, especially with fast skiing. She’s one of the world’s best sprint skiers, and I’m not, so it was really great to learn from her. Both she and Liz are really strong, so it was really competitive, really good training.
I think if I came to them in the U.S. I’d learn even more. I hope I can come over and train with them. Maybe next summer or next spring. I would like to see Vermont where Liz is from; it seems like a really nice place.
FS: Yes, it is. What was your training like for the rest of the summer, after their visit?
AH: I’m training a lot; the summer started really good with Kikkan and Liz, and it’s really flowed since then. I feel really strong.
Right now I’m in Davos by myself, and we have a camp in Italy starting Wednesday. I feel like I’m stronger than before, and I’ve become better in technique for skate and classic. I’ve been working on that a lot. It’s the year when you do everything.
Emil and I were in Davos for July too; we are trying to train more at high altitude. I’m learning a lot about altitude, and how the body reacts. I’ve done a lot of technique and long distance training. We have camps at high altitude with the team, but we decided to get an apartment in Davos so we can be here whenever we like.
FS: You said you’re doing a lot of base distance. About how many hours are you training this year?
AH: My goal is 750 hours, but that’s just normal training, without the strength I do in the gym.
For the team in Sweden, it’s me, Charlotte Kalla, and two or three other girls who train that much. A few younger girls are training at 650 hours or something. It’s what you have to do at this level!
FS: What events are you focusing on this winter?
AH: The Tour de Ski, for sure. But also the whole World Cup, because I’ve never been top-10 in the overall. I think Kikkan was tenth last year and I was 11th, so I’d really like to be top 10 overall, and do really well in the Tour de Ski.
FS: Looking ahead to World Championships in Falun for 2015: how were you involved with Sweden getting that bid?
AH: Yeah, that was when we saw Kikkan in Turkey. Me, Emil, and Charlotte were there collecting votes. It was really fun to be with the team trying to get the World Championship, but it’s also fun now that we have it. We’re trying to make the competition as good as we can. We’re trying to set the tracks a little bit different than they are now.
FS: So you’re still involved with the process of getting Falun ready?
AH: Yes; we’re helping the championship to set really good tracks. We’re trying to have ups and downs, instead of only up, and then all down. I think we will use the old course, but in different ways.
The championship in Oslo was so big, with so many people. When we get it in Sweden, you want to do your best, but you also want to show everyone that Sweden can host a good championship. I hope it can be almost like Oslo, but we will see.
FS: In the U.S. we perceive a pretty big rivalry between Sweden and Norway. Is that accurate, or is that the press exaggerating a little bit?
AH: The press makes the whole thing bigger, for sure. We are friends off the track, but I also think if we hadn’t been so tight competition, we wouldn’t be that good. Every time we compete we make each other better. So we are friends off the track, but we are really fighting when we’re skiing, for sure. I don’t know any Norwegian women specifically, but we talk as often as we can when the season is going.
One reason we got set up in Davos is because of Tor Arne Hetland. He was a really good sprinter a few years ago, one of the best sprinters the Norwegians had. Now he’s the sprint trainer of the Swiss team, and he fixed this apartment for us, saying “You have to come to Davos; Davos is perfect!” So we work together with Norwegians.
FS: I have a question for you from one of my colleagues. He wanted me to ask you: if you and Emil paired up for a mixed relay against Canada’s Chandra Crawford and Devon Kershaw, who do you think would win?
AH: That’s a fun question! I think it depends on how long the competition is. If it’s longer I think we’ll beat them. But if it’s short, like Dusseldorf, I think the Canadians would win. I don’t know them that well, but they seem to be a pretty fun couple.
FS: You recently got some attention on your blog for writing about hyper-competitive ski parents. Were you expecting that?
AH: Both me and Emil feel strongly about letting kids know the joy of sports, whether it’s football or skiing or running. Sports and training should be fun. We have a camp for kids in August every year, and the only thing we try to teach them is that you have to have fun.
I was at a running competition in Sweden that’s pretty big, and saw all these parents screaming and yelling and pushing the children. It felt more like they were competing, not the kids. The kids didn’t look happy, like “What am I doing here?” That’s why I wrote something about it, and it got blown out of proportion. But I’m really glad so many people saw it and left a comment about it. It felt like it’s a big problem in Sweden, and other countries too, where the parents want their kids to be better than they are.
When I was younger, my parents were like, “Do you have to train now? You’re training so much!” We were just an active family; we went for ski tours on the mountains, walking in the forest, doing things together. I think they handled it very well, telling me I was good even if I wasn’t that good. I hope I can be like them.
FS: One last question. You used to tweet in English, but it seems like you’ve stopped now. Why?
AH: Kikkan asked me the same thing. English is too hard! But, I promised her that when the season starts I’ll start tweeting in English again.
FS: It’s coming up soon. Good luck in Beitostolen, and the rest of the season.
AH: Thanks! The season is rushing. In the beginning of the summer you think you have so much time. Suddenly the season is over you, and you have to do everything you can just to be good. We will see!
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Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.