After 18 months coaching the junior cross-country ski team at the WinSport Winter Sports Institute, Eric de Nys is moving back to the Bill Warren Training Center in Canmore.
The former National Ski Team coach has taken a position with Biathlon Canada as the High Performance Director, replacing Chris Lindsay who left to take a job with Own The Podium this summer.
“I had started working with some [junior] biathletes last year and coaching them,” de Nys said in an interview on Tuesday. “So when I saw this ad come out… I thought it would provide me an opportunity to try a different role and give me a new challenge. That’s what I was looking for.”
De Nys explained that when he left Cross Country Canada he had been looking for a job which was based in Alberta for a bigger chunk of the year.
“The main thing was that I have two kids,” he said. “I went from spending 135 days on the road to between 50 and 60. That was really nice after 10 years of traveling extensively with the team to be around home and be more of a dad. And to be involved with activities and volunteering lots at different sporting events like hockey and biathlon and skiing and gymnastics.”
He leaves WinSport in the hands of the Canmore Nordic Ski Club for this season. Alain Parent will be taking over athletes’ training plans.
“WinSport has been really supportive and it has been a great 18 months with them,” de Ny said. “They have been really supportive of me moving on into this role, and also supportive of where the program will go. Last year WinSport and Canmore Nordic went in together on all the racing trips. All the athletes at WinSport are very accustomed to how they do things on the road, and waxing and ski selection and all of that. So it’s an easy transition.”
In January or February there may be a job posting for a head coach for the 2016-2017 season, he said.
He estimates that his new position will involve about the same amount of travel as the WinSport coaching job. The High Performance Director works with national team coaches and athletes, but also interacts with development programs domestically and communicates with funding bodies and media.
“A lot of it is being the go-between for our federation and Sport Canada, the Canadian Olympic Committee, and Own the Podium,” he said of the work so far. “Those are our three main funding partners.”
While biathlon adds a shooting component to cross-country skiing, the sport de Nys has worked in up to this point in his career, he doesn’t see that as a problem. The coaching is up to head coach Matthias Ahrens and national team coach Roddy Ward; de Nys’s job is more strategic.
“It’s high performance sport,” he said. “There’s a lot of similarities whether you are doing it in swimming or curling or biathlon. Being around the nordic community for 10 years at a high level I definitely became quite privy to what it’s going to take to be at the top, and how to get there. From that side of things that’s probably why I’ve been hired.”
Since he worked at the Bill Warren Training Center when he was a cross-country national team coach, De Nys says that he already knows most of the athletes and staff, which makes the transition easy.
“It’s a natural fit,” he said.
Up on the docket this year for the biathlon community are not only the regularly scheduled World Cup and IBU Cup circuits, and youth, junior, and senior World Championships, but also some extra excitement. Canmore will host World Cup competitions in the first week of February. There’s also the Youth Olympic Games on the schedule; the once-every-four-years event will take place in Lillehammer, Norway.
“All of the coordinating for the Youth Olympic Games is like an Olympic Games but on a smaller scale,” de Nys said. “For the Canadian Olympic Committee that’s one of their babies. So I’ve been talking with those people.’
He won’t be on the ground in Norway, but is coordinating the organization’s effort and sees it as a good testing ground.
“It’s a great development tool both for athletes and coaches and technicians,” de Nys said. “It’s a pretty serious role, but not necessarily a dealbreaker in terms of if we don’t have results there. But it’s a big job for those coaches and athletes. For a lot of those athletes they will have done a provincial Games or a Canada Winter Games, so it’s the next step for them.”
Besides the season-specific targets, Biathlon Canada is planning for years down the road.
“I’m working with the national team coaches and athletes for strategic planning into the next Olympic Games: what are we going to do? How are we going to do that?” de Nys said. “Around that is building criteria for how to make the national team and get carded, which is how we fund amateur athletics. And all the trip selections, those are all in my wheelhouse.”
Parallel is working on the programs to identify athletes who aren’t likely to be selected for trips until a few years from now.
“Where are we at right now? Where do we want to be in four years or eight years?” de Nys said. “Looking at the pipeline, as you would call it in the U.S.”
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.