Cross Country Canada (CCC) is serious about developing its coaching pipeline and hiring in-house, as evidenced by its most recent decision to hire former athlete Kevin Sandau as head coach of the Canadian National Ski Team.
The move came fewer than three weeks after CCC announced the resignation of Justin Wadsworth, head coach of the national and World Cup teams for the last six years.
Wadsworth planned to step down following Canadian Ski Nationals, which ended in Whitehorse, Yukon, last Saturday. Sandau’s hiring was confirmed by CCC High Performance Director Tom Holland less than a week later.
“We put an ad out on [the Norwegian website] Langrenn, but we just didn’t get the immediate response we were looking for,” Holland told FasterSkier on Friday.
“Kevin applied for the position as soon as it became available, and he’s as good as anyone we can think of at this point,” he continued. “He has some impressive video filming, editing and website-design skills, so we see those as huge assets to the team.”
When asked specifically about Sandau’s foray into acting, Holland chose not to comment.
A Canmore local, the 27-year-old Sandau grew up skiing on the nordic trails in Kananaskis Country just outside Calgary and got his start with Foothills Nordic Ski Club. He was named to the national senior team in 2010 and spent the last several seasons training with the Alberta World Cup Academy, but debated continuing his ski career last year upon not being renominated to the national team.
“It was a tumultuous few weeks following that news, where he debated whether or not to end his ski career,” reads his bio on the AWCA website. “After much internal debate, and discussion with coaches and teammates, Kevin became determined to continue racing and set his focus on this year’s Tour de Canada.”
Sandau placed 43rd overall in the Ski Tour Canada, and ended his season in fifth in the men’s 50-kilometer classic mass start at nationals in Whitehorse.
He describes himself on his Twitter profile as a “Canadian cross country skier, celebrity chef wannabe and aspriring film guy living in beautiful Canmore/Calgary Alberta.”
“Obviously I’m really excited,” Sandau told FasterSkier of the opportunity to coach both Canada’s senior national and World Cup teams. “I don’t have much experience coaching at this sort of level but I feel like my practical experience on the domestic circuit and top-50ish on the World Cup is what really sets me apart from the rest. You learn a lot of racing in the back of a World Cup, it’s like the best seat in the house, and you can watch firsthand the whole race as it unfolds, at least for a little bit.
“Cross Country Canada and I had our differences this past year, but I think that is all behind us now. I’m not here to stir up controversy or open up old wounds, I’m here to get a job done and make Canada great again,” he added.
And how has the reaction been so far?
“The support has been phenomenal,” Sandau said. “Just today Tor Arne Hetland, who coached this team during the 2014/2015 season and now leads the Norwegian National team called me up to congratulate me. Well at least I think it was to congratulate me. He was mostly speaking in Norwegian and he was laughing pretty hard.”
Asked what his plans are for the national team, Sandau said his “first executive order” will be about broadening and strengthening the national-team program.
“There are a lot of skiers in Canada that have come up just shy of the NST selection standard and if I’ve learnt anything from movies, you need to give these guys a shot at the real deal,” he said. “For example our own jackrabbit mascot Klister, he’s got the drive to go for 2018 and beyond. Hell, I’d probably like to race at the Olympics in 2018 too, and maybe I could see if my new position gives me that sort of perk. Chances are we probably won’t be sending a full team so there will be some open spots.”
Outgoing coach Wadsworth could not be reached for comment. Sources said he had gone on vacation with his family, and upon hearing the news, buried his head in the sand and refused to take it out.