Earlier this month from Aug. 2-8, nine top American junior athletes had the opportunity to participate in the largest International Junior Camp to date. In total, 146 athletes and 37 coaches from nearly 20 nations gathered in Sjusjøen, Norway, for a week of training and collaboration. The camp offered athletes the opportunity to gain confidence by training with the best junior skiers in the world against whom they will soon be competing, and to learn from the prestigious Norwegian development team training methods.
To make the trip, athletes needed to be born in either 1999 or 2000 and have the lowest ranking on the FIS Distance and/or Sprint World Ranking list. The U.S. sent Gus Schumacher, Ti Donaldson, Noel Keeffe, Ben Ogden, and Wyatt Gebhart on the men’s side, and for the women, Sofia Shomento, Mae Chalmers, Abby Jarzin, and Molly Gellert. Two coaches joined the group: Bryan Fish, cross country sport development manager at U.S. Ski & Snowboard, and Maria Stuber, head coach at the College of St. Scholastica, and the National Nordic Foundation (NNF) partially subsidized the trip.
The format of the camp was similar to what U.S. juniors might experience at an elite national camp; a large emphasis on volume (18-25 training hours), with some intensity, technique and strength mixed in. For most workouts, all the athletes trained together as one large group, only dividing into smaller groups for time trials or activities held in spaces that could not hold the nearly 200 attendees.
The camp opened with back-to-back time trials, beginning with a classic sprint event featuring “King’s Court” style heats, meaning that from each heat, the top skier moved up in the seeds and the last skier moved down. Each skier competed in four rounds of sprints plus the qualifier, one round more than in a typical sprint. The most notable result for the U.S. was a victory for Schumacher in the men’s final, and on the women’s side, an eighth-place finish for Gellert.
In the 10- and 15-kilometer distance races, the Americans continued to show their strength with another win for Schumacher and another eighth-place finish for Gellert.
“Local hero – Joergen Lippert from Lillehammer joined in on the 15 km freestyle race,” Fish explained. “This was a great measuring stick for the men since Joergen medaled in all four races last year at Junior Worlds (2018 Junior Worlds – 1 gold, 1 silver, and 2 bronze). At the 5km split, Lippert was leading, Ben Ogden was 2nd and Gus Schumacher 6th. Haavard Moseby took the lead after 10km. At 12km Haavard and Gus were tied, then Gus surged to edge Haavard for the second day in a row.”
To take advantage of the unique terrain on the plateau around Sjusjøen, the group also participated in a 3 1/2- to 5-hour run crossing through several bogs, and a set of Level 4 bog intervals, which was reported to be the hardest workout of the entire camp. These 3-5 minute intervals were run in mud up to or above athletes knees, making it a full-body challenge to move forward through the course.
“Running through that stuff as hard as you can is incredibly hard,” Stuber told FasterSkier. “People were breathing at the end of those intervals harder than you ever hear, besides maybe the best athletes in the world in a 5- to 10-kilometer distance kind of race.”
Another highlight was getting to meet and hear from Olympic gold medalists Johannes Høsflot Klæbo, Ragnild Haga, and Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen, who shared insight into the aspects of their training and development they felt have led to their success.
The U.S. coaches contributed to the camp by leading an agility workout, as this has been creatively emphasized in their own programs with positive results. Fish reportedly traveled with his own set of cones and plenty of sidewalk chalk to ensure they could set up a high-quality course.
“It was really fun to have the rest of the world interested in what we’re doing with agility,” said Stuber.
Apart from the training benefits, the U.S. development program considered the experience of collaborating with top athletes in this age group to be invaluable, as it showed how hard their international competition is working.
“In the U.S. when you’re a top athlete you feel like you’re working pretty darn hard, and this kind of shows them that, yeah, they’re working hard, but the kids that they want to be competing against are also working really hard,” Stuber said.
She added that the U.S. athletes were well-prepared for the camp, as all performed very well throughout the week despite the demanding training schedule.
“We fit in, we go there and see that we’re doing the right things, and we bring these kids back with the confidence that they can do this and the motivation to keep at it and work harder,” Stuber said.
It was noteworthy to the coaches that the U.S. is finally recognized as a nation that can train and compete with the best athletes in the world — a testament to the growth and success of the U.S. Ski Team at all levels over the last ten years.
“Going into this, I was expecting to just be learning a ton and less of a contributor,” Stuber said. “It was really cool to get there and feel like the U.S. was very much a country where people wanted to know what we were doing. Norway is clearly ahead, but otherwise, I think the U.S. had to say as much as any other place, which was a really eye-opening surprise for me.”
This is the third time that the U.S. has attended Norway’s International Junior Camp (also in 2015 and 2016), and American juniors will continue to make the trip biennially to maintain collaboration with other countries in the coming years. According to the U.S. coaches, because of the cost of the camp and the fact that it is similar each year, they plan to only attend every other year so they have a “fresh” group of athletes each time.