PyeongChang Pre-Olympic World Cup: Logistics of Racing in South Korea

Jason AlbertFebruary 2, 2017

“We are 7 hours behind you in Pacific time (and a day ahead),” U.S. Ski Team Head Coach Chris Grover wrote in an email from South Korea on Monday. But as his email hints, tracking time and day when criss-crossing time zones and arranging a phone call can be befuddling. So another way of stating what Grover wrote is that KST, or Korea Standard Time, is 17 hours ahead of the time at this reporter’s location in Bend, Ore.

The call went down on Monday at 5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. Just so we’re all straight, that was Tuesday, 10 a.m. KST.

With all that travel, staying rested, staying fast and staying healthy are primary concerns for athletes and coaches traveling on the usually Eurocentric World Cup.

“When you look at the U.S. team it is primarily a European-based team,” Grover said on the phone. Many U.S. athletes have been in Central Europe since mid-November. Maybe there’s a +1 hour difference from Central European Time (CET) when a race is hosted in, say, Finland. Most athletes haven’t had to deal with constant time-change jolts.

As a pre-Olympic World Cup (the 2018 Winter Games will be held in PyeongChang, South Korea), organizers wanted athletes and team support to have an easy transition upon arrival. The races — a classic sprint on Friday, skiathlon on Saturday and freestyle team sprint on Sunday — are being held in the late afternoon or evening; at times compatible with Europe’s television market.

Although the Korean times are atypical for Euro-based World Cups, they do correspond to the “physiological” times dictating when skiers are primed for racing. A 6 p.m. KST race is the equivalent of a 10 a.m. race in France.

“It actually plays well for athletes coming from Europe because they can acclimate less because they can sleep in,” Grover said of how the time-zone change shouldn’t be a dramatic shift for the U.S. team. “They can sleep in for quite a while, get up late, have a late lunch, race, and then have a late dinner and shift their whole normal schedule further back in the day. So I’d say the primary strategy we are employing, but not every athlete can do it, or do it super effectively, but we are trying basically to keep these guys on a European time zone as much as possible while they are over here.”

Yet remaining healthy while traveling and living abroad has been a puzzle for many skiers. On the flight over and while staying in hotels, Grover preaches good hygiene: wash hands and use hand sanitizer when hand washing isn’t convenient. The U.S. also asks that hosting hotels take precautions like disinfecting rooms prior to team’s arrival to help minimize germ exposure. In addition to these precautions, Grover had athletes consult face to face with a U.S. Ski Team (USST) nutritionist when the athletes were in Ulricehamn, Sweden, in mid-February. It was another aspect of monitoring athlete health.

“[The nutritionist was] making sure everybody was doing OK nutritionally, making sure they are doing OK with their body composition,” Grover said. “It is one thing to monitor those things in the U.S. when everybody is in the training mode, it is another things when you move to Europe and all of sudden you are on a different diet pretty much every week and you are competing full time. … So everybody had a good check in there. If people needed a supplement of vitamin D or iron, or what have you, or to improve part of their nutritional program, then we addressed that a couple weeks ago. That’s one way that we are trying to stay healthy.”

Another aspect of the quick-turnaround PyeongChang trip is transporting gear and making good and efficient use of the USST ski techs’ time while on the ground at the future Olympic venue.

“We brought all of our own equipment; we had nothing here,” Grover explained. “This is the first time we have been here during the winter. That was of course one of the challenges is the logistics and the expense of moving all of our necessary gear over here. And all teams are obviously in that same boat.”

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The three U.S. coaches (Grover, Matt Whitcomb and Jason Cork) and four techs that made the trip to PyeongChang are there first to prepare athletes and skis for the three-race stop. But it’s also double duty in terms of Olympic prep. The USST staff will remain an extra day, the athletes depart for Europe next Monday, to further advance their venue-specific data set. Grover said this trip will remain the only USST testing trip prior to the 2018 Games.

“We have definitely taken lessons that we have learned from Vancouver [and] from Sochi,” Grover said of the team’s de-emphasis on longer term, on-site testing. “You can definitely over test a bit in a place and kind of get heading in wrong directions that are not so applicable a year later when you have a different composition on the track between, say, manmade and natural snow, for example. … So the testing that we really want to do is important, but it is more on the fundamentals of structure of grinds, of base layers, that sort of thing.”

The U.S. brought six current USST athletes to South Korea: Sophie Caldwell, Ida Sargent, Liz Stephen, Andy Newell, Simi Hamilton, and Noah Hoffman. Grover stated the remaining national-team members opted for a different schedule and did not make the trip.

Matt Gelso and Liz Guiney earned start rights as Period 1 SuperTour leaders. According to Grover, the U.S. team invited two additional athletes as well, Caitlin Patterson (Craftsbury Green Racing Project) and her brother Scott Patterson (Alaska Pacific University).

Neither of the Patterson siblings were selected for the upcoming World Championships in Lahti, Finland. Yet Grover stated he believed both deserved PyeongChang starts — specifically in the skiathlon.

“They both had been sick immediately prior to the nationals and then actually the first part of the nationals as well. Especially in Scott’s particular case,” Grover explained. “But both had been skiing well not only in the early season this year, but also in the late season last year. Caitlin was taking World Cup points distance at the end of last year and at the beginning of this year in Kuusamo as well.”

In Scott’s case, Grover mentioned he remained one of the top U.S. distance skiers behind USST members Erik Bjornsen and Hoffman.

“The next guy that was getting close to perhaps breaking through to the top 30,” Grover said. “We wanted to find an opportunity to give them a distance start and to see what they could do.”

The Canadians have also arrived in Asia. Coach Charles Castonguay, of the Pierre-Harvey National Training Centre, will be leading the team in South Korea, assisted by five Canadian team World Cup techs and Tom Holland, Cross Country Canada’s high-performance director.

Representing Canada in the women’s races will be Annika Hicks (Alberta World Cup Academy) and Sadie White (NTDC Thunder Bay).

On the men’s side, national-team members Len Valjas and Jess Cockney, Para-Nordic Ski Team member Brian McKeever, Bob Thompson (NTDC Thunder Bay), Julian Locke (Alberta World Cup Academy/National U25 Team), and Simon Lapointe (CNEPH) were slated to start Friday’s sprint in South Korea.

In an email, Castonguay explained that team selection was premised on two criteria: 1. World Cup results (such as a top 30, which Len Valjas achieved), and 2. Classic sprint results and distance results from U.S. nationals last month (excluding athletes who were selected for Junior and U23 World Championships).

Some athletes, who were also selected for senior [World Championships] in Lahti declined PyeongChang, like Knute [Johnsgaard], to get a better preparation for Lahti,” Castonguay wrote. “So we went down the rank list to select people for Korea.”

Racing begins on Friday with the men’s and women’s classic sprints.

Start lists: Women | Men

Jason Albert

Jason lives in Bend, Ore., and can often be seen chasing his two boys around town. He’s a self-proclaimed audio geek. That all started back in the early 1990s when he convinced a naive public radio editor he should report a story from Alaska’s, Ruth Gorge. Now, Jason’s common companion is his field-recording gear.

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