U.S. Team Ready to Rock

SkiTrax - - Contents - by Peter Graves

by Peter Graves

The U.S. XC Ski Team ath­letes have trav­eled far and wide to get the best of train­ing they pos­si­bly could this off-sea­son. Here's a look at how it has gone. Head Coach Chris Grover told Sk­i­trax that the team had solid prepa­ra­tion this sum­mer. “Al­though we were not able to con­duct our tra­di­tional May on­snow camp at Mount Bach­e­lor in May, we had ex­cel­lent snow con­di­tions at the Snow Farm in New Zealand. The ath­letes col­lected over two weeks of on-snow time in good con­di­tions, with a heavy em­pha­sis on tech­nique im­prove­ment. We were es­pe­cially fo­cused on strid­ing, her­ring­bone and dou­ble pole – crit­i­cal tech­niques that we need to in­cre­men­tally im­prove in or­der to com­pete with our Scan­di­na­vian com­pe­ti­tion.”

Those at­tend­ing that camp in­cluded Liz Stephen, Jessie Dig­gins, So­phie Caldwell, Ida Sar­gent, Simi Hamil­ton, Noah Hoff­man, Andy Newell, Paddy Caldwell and Ben Sax­ton. Alaska-based ath­letes such as Kikkan Ran­dall, Sadie Bjornsen, Erik Bjornsen and Rosie Bren­nan stayed home to train on the Ea­gle Glacier, where they en­joyed su­perb con­di­tions. The women's A Team in­cludes Sadie Bjornsen, Caldwell, Dig­gins and Sar­gent, along with Ran­dall and Stephen, and the B group of Bren­nan and Caitlin Gregg.

Both men's and women's teams have a B squad this sea­son, and they in­clude Ju­lia Kern and Kather­ine Og­den, along with Sax­ton and Paddy Caldwell.

Vet­eran Newell said the sum­mer camps have gone bet­ter than ex­pected. “We had a per­fect two weeks' train­ing in New Zealand. I am con­tin­u­ally ex­cited with the level of our team and how it's grown and im­proved over the years. This win­ter, we will again take on the World Cup with the big­gest squad of Red Group skiers we've ever had, and that gets me fired up.” Newell, along with team­mate Hamil­ton, are the lone U.S. men to nab A Team spots, while Erik Bjornsen and Hoff­man are on the B Team.

In late sum­mer, Newell told Sk­i­trax that he had a new ap­proach to the up­com­ing sea­son, which is largely cen­tered on feel­ing healthy for both train­ing and rac­ing. “Last sea­son,” he said, “I strug­gled with health and in­jury prob­lems, which is es­pe­cially frus­trat­ing when you're on the World Cup, and al­though I was able to snatch up some top 10's, I was never at my best or even close to po­ten­tial. As an older skier, I can rely more on my stored fit­ness and fo­cus in­stead of qual­ity over quan­tity.”

Ran­dall re­flected on how quickly the sum­mer has passed, not­ing, “It's just flown by fast, as usual, but I'm quite sat­is­fied look­ing back at my train­ing log with the train­ing I've done so far. I just re­turned home from the Top­pidrettsveka races in Nor­way, and I got a re­ally good gauge of where my fit­ness stands and came back with good mo­ti­va­tion for the re­main­ing few months.”

Ran­dall was can­did about goals for the up­com­ing sea­son: “Af­ter some

strug­gles last sea­son, I'm re­ally fo­cused on re­build­ing my base and get­ting back to chal­leng­ing for the podium in sprints ev­ery week­end. I am also aim­ing to bring my dis­tance rac­ing back in­side the top 15 and to be able to stay strong through the en­tire Tour de Ski. This up­com­ing sea­son is about get­ting my gears back.”

But all that changed in mid-oc­to­ber, when Ran­dall and hus­band, Jeff El­lis, an­nounced to her team­mates and the me­dia that they are ex­pect­ing their first child in April (see News on pg. 6). Ran­dall will put rac­ing plans on hold for the up­com­ing sea­son, but plans to re­turn for the World Cham­pi­onship sea­son in 2016-17 and to com­pete at the 2018 Olympic Win­ter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

In a state­ment, Ran­dall said, “I am ex­cited about becoming a mother, but am also look­ing for­ward to com­ing back to race in 2017.” El­lis, who serves as a mar­ket­ing sup­port man­ager on the In­ter­na­tional Ski Fed­er­a­tion (FIS) World Cup tour, will con­tinue to travel on the cir­cuit this win­ter.

Speak­ing of the Top­pidrettsveka races in Nor­way, the U.S. squad posted some strong re­sults, in­clud­ing a Day One fifth place in the Clas­sic sprints by So­phie Caldwell. In Day Two of the comp, Stephen and Ran­dall both cracked the top 10 in a 15km Skiathlon, with Stephen also reach­ing third in a gru­el­ing up­hill foot race. On the fi­nal day in Trond­heim – be­fore a huge crowd rem­i­nis­cent of a World Cup – Dig­gins skied to a strong 10th place in a 15km roller­ski Pur­suit just ahead of Ran­dall (who was 11th), as four Amer­i­cans broke into the top 16.

Dig­gins said the course was a real chal­lenge: “The course had two-way traf­fic for half of it, and that part was all dou­ble-pole on, more or less, flat city roads, but then you went up a re­ally steep climb – I heard it was a 20% grade. You climbed for maybe three to four min­utes, then went back down, which seemed like it was go­ing to be sketchy, but they gave us all slower wheels so it wasn't as scary as I'd thought it would be.”

Sadie Bjornsen told Sk­i­trax that this was the first sum­mer she hadn't had sum­mer school in nearly six years. Her sum­mer was full, with more run­ning and hik­ing than nor­mal, but with much time on-snow at the Ea­gle Glacier in Alaska, along with much strength train­ing. Look­ing for­ward, she told us that her plans for the win­ter were not yet com­plete, but that her goals re­volved around the “. . . full World Cup sea­son. I want to find im­prove­ment in all dis­ci­plines and I want to be able to fight for a medal on any given day. This may take a few more years to achieve, but I am chas­ing the first in­di­vid­ual medal soon.” She hopes to com­plete her first Tour de Ski this win­ter.

Hamil­ton had great train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties this sum­mer, say­ing, “Train­ing has been go­ing very well, and we've logged a ton of qual­ity hours of on-snow time,” and also that he and the team were re­ally ex­cited about the 2016 Canada Tour in March: “What we are prob­a­bly most ex­cited about is that fact that we get to come back to North Amer­ica next spring and race our fi­nal World Cups at home.”

Though not a cur­rent mem­ber of the USST, tough vet­eran skier Kris Free­man also told us his sum­mer had gone well, not­ing, “I have in­cor­po­rated all of the meth­ods that have worked best for me over the years, with a lot of over-dis­tance work­outs, but I have tried to bal­ance them with run­ning speed on the track and a lot of re­cov­ery days.” His plans in­clude start­ing the sea­son on the World Cup and rac­ing through Pe­riod One.

The U.S. squads reg­i­men in­cluded tra­di­tional fall dry­land op­por­tu­ni­ties in Lake Placid, N.Y. in Septem­ber and Park City, Utah in Oc­to­ber.

Ex­pect the U.S. World Cup team to de­part mid-novem­ber for Gal­li­vare, Swe­den for an on-snow camp and to take part in some FIS races prior to the start of the World Cup in Ku­usamo, Fin­land on Nov. 27-29.

Coach Grover had the last word re­gard­ing the sea­son ahead: “The team is re­ally look­ing for­ward to the sea­son. We have made a sub­stan­tial ef­fort to bet­ter an in­di­vid­ual's re­cov­ery mark­ers in or­der to hope­fully pre­vent some of the over­train­ing is­sues we had last sea­son. In ad­di­tion, the ath­letes have re­mained rel­a­tively in­jury-free when com­pared to the 2014-15 prepa­ra­tion pe­riod. These two im­prove­ments alone should help us close the gap slightly on the tough­est com­pe­ti­tion,” he con­cluded.

Team USA in new colours: (back row l-r) Bryan Fish, Chris Grover (head coach), Matt Whit­comb (coach), Andy Newell, Ben Sax­ton, Erik Bjornsen, Paddy Caldwell, Ja­son Cork, Simi Hamil­ton (front row l-r) Caitlin Gregg, Kikkan Ran­dall, Ida Sar­gent, Jessie...

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