A serviceman for the U.S. Ski Team for eight years, Randy Gibbs recently called it quits. With a new baby in the house – his family’s first child – the World Cup lifestyle didn’t seem like a good fit.
“I have a new daughter who is 20 months old now, and it was just going to be too much traveling to be gone 100 days over the winter when she’s just a year and a half old,” he explained in a phone interview. “I couldn’t. It’s hard enough to go just for two days. It was a good decision. It’s been great to be around her as much as possible.”
But he was, in a way, still itching for the international racing trips, as well as for coaching – which he had done for 14 years in Minneapolis before joining the U.S. Ski Team staff. So when Australian Head Coach Finn Marsland asked him about leading one of his team’s trips this season, Gibbs was intrigued.
That’s how he ended up in Strbske Pleso, Slovakia, last week, coaching the Australian team at World University Games.
“It worked out perfect for me, because it was just a two-week trip and it was awesome,” Gibbs said. “It was really fun to be a coach again, too.”
The trip was a success for Australia, with Jessica Yeaton and Phil Bellingham both finishing eighth in the individual sprints, best-ever results for their country.
“Philip just missed the final by, like, a binding length,” Gibbs lamented. “He just missed the lucky loser. He could have had it I think. It was really close. He was really bummed he didn’t have just a little bit left to push and get in there.”
Callum Watson, who is recovering after a horrific ski crash that left him with a punctured lung, also notched two top-30’s.
Overall, Gibbs found the Australians fun and easy to work with – and said that the transition from acquaintance to coach at a major international event was “seamless”.
“It was really easy because all the athletes are really accommodating and were really interested to hear my ideas about things,” he explained. “We just bounced ideas off each other – I didn’t want to come in there and change everything they had been planning all season. They all pretty much already had a plan. But each day, coming up with a strategy for the next day and going through everything from the captains meetings, and things like pointing out strategic places to make moves on the course.”
Gibbs and Marsland are hoping to continue the partnership. Bellingham and Watson may attend Spring Series in Sun Valley, Idaho, where Gibbs will be waxing for the Sun Valley team and U.S. Ski Team member Liz Stephen (“Burke doesn’t have much of a team anymore,” Gibbs said of her club affiliation), but will add the Aussies to his roster.
He’s also looking at making up to three trips with the team next season, and working towards 2017 World Championships in Lahti, Finland, as well as the 2018 Olympics.
“It depends on how everything goes with their budget and their team,” he said. “It’s perfect for me because I can work a little bit, and still make a difference and still have a great time and help them out. But I don’t have to commit to a whole 100-plus night season.”
And as for the World University Games itself, Gibbs – who spent years attending World Junior and U23 Championships as well as traveling the World Cup – was impressed with the event.
“There was some really good competition,” he said. “Especially in the men’s. It was like a Russian army out there – some pretty high-end dudes. And the courses were extremely hard there. They were harder than 99% of the World Cup venues, for sure. Steep, pretty long climbs, and not really any rest. Some good high-speed corners and downhills.”
He explained that the event is one of only a few series that FIS explicitly sanctions and sends representatives to. The others are senior, junior, and U23 World Championships, the Olympics, and the World Cup. And some racers who have competed at those other events were also at World University Games – like Russia’s Andrey Larkov and Anton Gafarov, Kazakhstan’s Anastasiya Slonova, Poland’s Maciej Starega, and much of the Japanese team.
“It was really well-run,” he said. “Even the opening ceremony was really hard core! There were thousands of people who drove up the mountain to watch, too.”
He’s now wondering why it isn’t on the schedule for top U.S. racers. (The University of Wyoming has been sending its team for the last several years, but there is no trials-based selection as for World Juniors and U23s).
“I’ve been asking too, especially now [that I’ve seen it],” he said. “I’ve told those guys that we have to start doing that. It would be a great thing for the athletes who are just below making the World Junior and U23 teams.”
When he’s not working for the Australians, Gibbs is spending his time on two other projects. The first is a non-profit, Jenny’s Light, founded in the memory of his sister to combat post-partum depression. Gibbs serves as the Executive Director.
“I’ve been able to do more this winter than previously, which is good too,” he said. “It’s going well and it’s not coming to a grinding halt every winter like it had been.”
The second is Mantra Wax, a ski wax company which he launched with his U.S. Ski Team coworker Oleg Ragilo in 2013. Business is good, Gibbs said, but with a limited budget one of his main investments is time.
“It’s basically just word of mouth sales,” he said. “A lot of World Cup teams have bought a bunch of product, more than I thought this season. A bunch of teams at World University Games got some. And a lot of junior nationals teams already have some. Those coaches I’ve known for 20-some years and they are really psyched to try it out. I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback.”
He hopes to see Mantra Wax make a splash at the upcoming World Championships in Falun, Sweden.
“I’ve got a guy in Sweden who has been testing on the World Championships courses in Falun for the last month, and he will continue to do so and send me test results, and then I send those to all the World Cup coaches,” he said. “I’m trying to get people fired up about knowing what’s going to work there.”
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Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.