Canada is getting back to its roots. A year after Cross Country Canada (CCC) hired Norwegian Olympic gold medalist Tor-Arne Hetland to co-coach its World Cup Team, the national governing body is once again emphasizing homegrown coaches at the highest level of skiing.
And although national-team head coach Justin Wadsworth is technically American, he might as well be considered Canada’s own after leading its team and living in Canmore, Alberta, since 2010.
“Besides me, I think we’ll just try to work with Canadians,” Wadsworth said with a laugh on the phone on Thursday.
This season, the 46-year-old California native is at the helm again and is prepared to share World Cup coaching duties with Louis Bouchard, Alex Harvey’s personal coach and head coach of the Pierre-Harvey Training Centre in Quebec. Wadsworth and Bouchard have worked together on the Canadian World Cup Team for the last five years.
In addition to the duo, a select crew of training centre and potentially club coaches will be called upon in 2015/2016 to assist on the World Cup circuit as well, Wadsworth explained. The idea is to give them elite-level experience and form a pool of strong coaches to draw from nationwide.
“We really feel like one coach, like myself or Louis, with the addition of a younger coach [at each World Cup] will fill in nicely and really promote the coaching system that we talked about a lot,” Wadsworth said.
In a press release on Tuesday, CCC announced its “integrated national coaching structure,” with an emphasis on developing coaches within its own borders. The organization did not renew Hetland’s one-year contract.
“If we truly want to put Canada’s cross-country ski athletes on the Olympic podium in 2018 and 2022, then I believe it is critical at this time to put the Canadian system in the hands of coaches that are living and embedded in our training centres across the country,” CCC High Performance Director Tom Holland said in a press release.
“Tor-Arne brought many great qualities and technical savvy to our program,” Holland added. “In looking at the long-term goals of Olympic medals in 2018 and beyond, we felt that a Canadian-based program brings greater stability and synergies in coaching philosophy and sport science approaches – and, ultimately, a stronger platform to breed medal-winning performances from our current- and next-generation high-performance athletes.”
Wadsworth explained that in the aftermath of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, in which the Canadians missed the wax in multiple races and did not reach the podium, the timing wasn’t right to implement this kind of coaching system.
“I think it’s a lot brighter,” Wadsworth said of the atmosphere within CCC this year compared to last spring. “Not just because we got medals at a major championship, but I think this renewed vision … you can feel the energy there.”
And it’s not necessarily because of the money, either. Last year, CCC’s budget took about a $300,000-dollar hit in the wake of the Olympics, and Wadsworth estimates they could be down another hundred-thousand dollars or more this season. Next week, CCC will present to Own The Podium — one of its main sources of government funding — and while the outcome of those meetings is to be determined, Wadsworth said CCC is losing one if its major sponsors: Statoil.
“Definitely the pie has shrunk a little bit and we have to be more cautious with the money we have, which is sometimes a good thing … you have to spend your money more wisely,” he said. “We’re definitely not going to have an increased budget, that’s for sure, it’ll probably be slightly decreased.”
Regardless, spirits remain significantly higher than the beginning of 2014/2015 from Wadsworth’s standpoint.
“After the Olympics, I was so beat down by that experience and the fallout of it, I didn’t have the energy to build up the system and I wasn’t sure I was going to continue in April and May last year,” he said.
In the aftermath of some coaching moves last spring, Wadsworth became the national-team head coach tasked with bridging the gap between the Canada’s development skiers and World Cup athletes. He’ll do more of that this year, with a more explicit goal of better reaching out to smaller hotbeds for skiers, such as Whitehorse, Yukon, and share training or technique knowledge with clubs in those areas.
“I’m going to try to be a little bit more available for helping any coaches that are interested…” he explained.
Before last year, Wadsworth had been on the road, away from home, nearly 200 days each winter, and he needed a change — specifically less travel. Last season, Wadsworth estimated he traveled half that amount and anticipates he will only travel two days more in 2015/2016 while trading off on the World Cup with Bouchard.
“Traveling is part of being a ski coach,” Wadsworth said. “Part of what I gained from last year was gaining a bit of focus and energy back.”
“Part of what I gained from last year was gaining a bit of focus and energy back.” — Justin Wadsworth, Canadian World Cup and national team head coach
With a new physiologist and new psychologist on CCC’s Integrated Sports Team, he added that “the energy sharing and idea sharing” is at an all-time high. The addition of less experienced coaches, as well as wax technicians (to work alongside seasoned staff members), on the World Cup will require athletes to adapt, but now is the time to focus on coaching, he said.
“You get so focused on one thing in the program and World Cup success and I think some of [these domestic coaching priorities] in particular fell through to the side,” Wadsworth said. “It’ll be open to more than just training-centre coaches; there are key club coaches that have produced athletes [as well] … In the meetings that we have coming up next week, we really need to start figuring out the balance … and who’s going to be able to travel where and get the experience to right people.”
For Wadsworth, who was driving back to Canmore on Thursday after a three-day trip in Sweden with head wax tech Yves Bilodeau, he tentatively plans to be in Europe before the first World Cup in Kuusamo, Finland, and for the start of Period I. Bouchard will take over the second part of that period, then Wadsworth will be back with the team at the end of December for the Tour de Ski. He’ll return again for the mid-February World Cups in Falun, Sweden, before an “exploratory trip” to South Korea — the site of the 2018 Olympics — with Bouchard. Both will subsequently return home for the Tour du Canada, the final World Cups, in March.
“Louis and I [have] a great relationship and great communication,” Wadsworth said. “I think that working relationship now is almost stronger than ever.
“Tor-Arne’s done a lot of good things for our team and led the team well, but we really needed to get back to a Canadian model,” he added.
On Wednesday, news of Hetland being hired to coach the Norwegian national team spread to the Scandinavian press. According to Langrenn, he will move from Davos, Switzerland, to Trondheim, Norway, this fall.
“I think I have gained enough experience internationally to come home to Norway,” Hetland said, according to a translation. “Now I’m ready for my biggest challenge as a coach.”
Hetland, Wadsworth and Bouchard worked alongside one another throughout last season and at 2015 World Championships, where Harvey earned two individual medals in Falun.
“I think [Tor-Arne] ended up where he probably would have in a year or so,” Wadsworth said.
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.