He’s been the best overall skier in the world for three separate seasons. He’s won the Tour de Ski, the grueling multi-day event that swings through central Europe each January, on three occasions. He won Switzerland’s first ever Olympic gold in cross-country in the 15 k freestyle in Vancouver, helping to bring an unprecedented amount of attention to the sport in his home country.
At the age of 26 Dario Cologna has already amassed numerous accolades. His strength seems to lie in his ability to maintain fitness at a higher level and for a longer amount of time than anyone else on the international circuit. Out of his 18 World Cup starts last winter he racked up 11 medals, placing outside of the top ten only three times.
Of his superior season-long endurance, Cologna only offers this insight: “A lot of good training and to stay healthy is the key,” he said. “I’m focused on good planning, with a balance between training and regeneration.”
As a refletion of his success and popularity in Switzerland, the Tour de Ski will be making a new stop in Cologna’s hometown of Münstertal this season.
“I am really looking forward to the competition in my hometown,” Cologna said. “The attention for cross country skiing in Switzerland has grown a lot in the last five years. But that is not only because of me; it is also a result of our strong team.”
Cologna is not just being modest; under head coach Guri Hetland, Switzerland has produced strong results as a team. In 2011 the men won the 4 x 10 k relay in La Clusaz, France, and Laurien van der Graaf has established herself as one of the best sprinters in the world.
“We have a strong team in Switzerland. In training sessions, we can push each other. All team members profit from this,” Cologna said. “And if everyone is in good shape, we are able to race very [well] in the relay.”
Crystal Globe winner, Tour de Ski champ, World Cup medals galore: the guy will be carrying a lot of positive momentum with him next season. But there is one noticeable hole in his trophy case that is perhaps providing him with more motivation this summer than anything else. Cologna has never won a medal at world championships. The event looms, like it does for many, as his primary focus this year.
“My main goal next season are the world championships in Val di Fiemme,” Cologna said in a recent interview with FasterSkier. “There I would like to win my first medal.”
That statement is reserved compared to the way Hetland recently characterized his desire to podium in Italy: “Dario is very hungry,” she told Norwegian daily Adresseavisen in June. Another win at the Tour de Ski is also a goal, but will almost be an incidental step on the way to seeking redemption for what was, by Cologna’s standard, a sub-par performance in Oslo in 2011.
“Our team has not been lucky in Oslo,” Cologna said. “Lots of small details did not fit.”
In the 15 k classic, where temperatures hovered a few degrees below freezing, the Swiss wax team struggled to find the appropriate glide. Cologna was 25th in that race, and throughout the championships his best result was a ninth in the freestyle sprint.
But despite the disappointment of Oslo, Cologna hasn’t significantly changed his approach for Val di Fiemme. He did accumulate six World Cup wins last winter on his way to the Crystal Globe, after all, and was able to put together a gold-medal performance the year before in Vancouver.
“I am very happy about my performances last season,” Cologna said. “I could win in all disciplines, but there are always lots of things to optimize.
“If you want to be among the best, you have to work very hard. I had very good coaches on all levels so I could improve at every age. To win medals and competitions and medals was always my motivation to train hard.”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.