U.S. Team Looks Ahead

Ready to Up Their Game

SkiTrax - - Racing Competition - By Peter Graves and Karen Mes­sen­ger

There are fewer than 500 days to go un­til the 2018 Olympic Win­ter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and the count­down has long ago be­gun. But first things first, as the US Ski Team (USST) looks ahead there's this sea­son's gru­el­ing World Cup sched­ule and the FIS World Nordic Cham­pi­onships in Lahti, Fin­land.

Un­der Chris Grover, head coach, the USST be­gins this World Cham­pi­onships sea­son with the same staff it has had for the past few sea­sons, as well as the same ser­vice team.

The team has had three on-snow camps this sum­mer at Bend, Ore.'s at Mount Bach­e­lor, in Alaska at the Ea­gle Glacier and in New Zealand, Aug. 29-Sept. 15. “This sea­son, we've only sched­uled four main USST train­ing camps; the fourth will be in Park City from Oct. 17-31, with blocks of four to five weeks in their home-club en­vi­rons be­tween each camp,” said Grover. “We're try­ing to have the ath­letes have solid train­ing blocks at home. This prepa­ra­tion sea­son, we've also pri­or­i­tized making tech­nique changes on snow, and be­tween all the on-snow camps, our ath­letes will have about 100 hours of on-snow train­ing vol­ume avail­able to them in a camp struc­ture.”

Of course, the big money will rest on the per­for­mances at the Lahti Worlds for the Amer­i­cans, and Grover knows that. “No ques­tion, the fo­cus for the sea­son is ob­vi­ously on Lahti, and we'll be us­ing the Worlds prepa­ra­tion pe­riod to fine-tune a few dif­fer­ent in­di­vid­ual strate­gies. We will not run a uni­fied team-train­ing camp in Europe prior to Lahti. This is a bit of a de­par­ture from what we have done before. In­stead, we are elect­ing to give each World Cup ath­lete a chance to pre­pare in­di­vid­u­ally in the en­vi­ron­ment and the al­ti­tude that they feel is best for them. One of the chal­lenges that we al­ways face is keep­ing the team fresh, and af­ter months to­gether on the road dur­ing the World Cup, we've wit­nessed var­i­ous lev­els of men­tal and phys­i­cal burnout at times by late Jan­uary to early Fe­bru­ary. So prior to Otepaa, some U.S. ath­letes will be at home train­ing and re­con­nect­ing with friends and fam­ily, while others will be train­ing in se­lect lo­cales in Europe. Some will be at al­ti­tude and others at sea level, de­pend­ing on what they know works best for them­selves,” he ex­plained.

“For the up­com­ing World Cham­pi­onships the USST will not have spe­cific trial races to name a VM team, but will use early World Cups, Su­per Tours, No­ram's and a spe­cial sprint qual­i­fier on Jan. 12. And there will be dis­cre­tionary op­por­tu­ni­ties as well, should the need arise,” he added.

In early Septem­ber, the U.S. pair of Noah Hoff­man and Jessie Dig­gins took the top two spots in the 42km Merino Muster World­lop­pet at the Snow Farm in New Zealand. When in­ter­view­ing Dig­gins in New Zealand, she said the sum­mer had been a great one. “I've been fo­cus­ing on a num­ber of re­ally spe­cific tech­nique goals with my coaches and train­ing hard with the SMS club team,” she said, adding that she had made sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments while train­ing at Bend, in Alaska and in New Zealand on snow.

One of Dig­gins favourite as­pects of her sum­mer was train­ing with the Nor­we­gian women. “I had a ton of fun there, learned a lot and made new friends. It was just great,” she noted with her trade­mark en­thu­si­asm.

For Dig­gins, the proof is in the pud­ding: “Of course, you never know how train­ing has af­fected your up­com­ing sea­son un­til you start rac­ing, but, so far, I'd have to say I have been ac­com­plish­ing all my train­ing goals set down last April, which is en­cour­ag­ing.”

American sprint star Andy Newell's sum­mer was good and went ac­cord­ing to plan, leav­ing him very op­ti­mistic about the win­ter. “I'm feel­ing stronger than I have in the last few sea­sons, and, in fact, I was able to put on and keep on a few ex­tra pounds of mus­cles dur­ing the sum­mer, which should be very ben­e­fi­cial in the sprints. I also have to say that I feel like I'm ski­ing tech­ni­cally bet­ter than I ever have before in both skat­ing and Clas­sic, but with a lot of work spent on V2 and, of course, a ton of dou­ble train­ing this off-sea­son too,” shared Newell.

There were ru­mours to­ward the end of last sea­son that he might hang up the boards, but it proved not to be the case fol­low­ing some se­ri­ous re­flec­tion. “Last win­ter when the sea­son ended, I was re­ally burnt out, strug­gling with sick­ness and I wasn't sure I would have the mo­ti­va­tion to race more World Cups this sea­son. Be­cause of that, I have been a bit more re­luc­tant to place big goals on spe­cific races, but rather put my en­ergy to­ward hav­ing fun and fo­cus­ing on all the lit­tle im­prove­ments I can make as a skier. What keeps me fired up is the know­ing that I'm con­tin­u­ing to get faster and fit­ter and reach­ing my own po­ten­tial; when [this] hap­pens, I know I can win any ski race in the world,” he added.

Newell in­tends to ski the first pe­riod of the World Cup, but plans to skip the Tour de Ski and head back state­side to spend time with his new fi­ancée, Erika Flow­ers, a for­mer 2011 All-american at Dart­mouth and an SMST2 team­mate.

Chat­ting with So­phie Cald­well, she too con­firmed a strong off-sea­son at the three on-snow camps. Be­tween those ses­sions, she spent much time at home in Ver­mont train­ing with her club pro­gram at Strat­ton. She feels fit, strong and is look­ing for­ward to the com­ing sea­son.

When asked about her goals for the win­ter, she said, “I'm still go­ing to fo­cus pri­mar­ily on sprint­ing, but I'd like to im­prove my dis­tance ski­ing. I have bumped up my vol­ume a bit this sum­mer, too, and honed in on my re­cov­ery to make cer­tain I ab­sorb ev­ery­thing. Strength con­tin­ues to be a big fo­cus, and I plan to work hard on main­tain­ing it through­out the sea­son.”

USST star Kikkan Ran­dall, who took off the en­tire sea­son off last year to have a baby, talked about the new ar­rival. “Moth­er­hood has been amaz­ing, Breck is a re­ally good baby, and we are hav­ing so much fun watch­ing him grow and come alive more ev­ery day. So far, it's been fun to blend my time be­tween my ski train­ing and be­ing a mom.”

Ran­dall replied, when asked about re­turn­ing to tougher, more de­mand­ing train­ing loads, “I've been care­fully pro­gress­ing my way back into all train­ing modes and in­ten­sity, and am just now fi­nally feel­ing close to 100%. I've had to be a lit­tle pa­tient with run­ning and foot­work, and have been do­ing a lot of fo­cused work on re­build­ing my core af­ter the preg­nancy. It's been re­ally fun to start from the bot­tom and work up. I am re­ally happy with things and have re­ally en­joyed train­ing with my team­mates.”

Ran­dall plans to be back on track for the start of the World Cup sea­son at the end of Novem­ber. “Jeff [El­lis] and I will be bring­ing Breck with us to Europe around mid-novem­ber to get ad­justed to the time change. We also plan to have our par­ents come over on al­ter­nat­ing week­ends to help us “Breck­sit” once the races get go­ing,” she ex­plained.

Her goals for the sea­son are sim­ple: “Fo­cus on re­build­ing my­self back into top race form and get­ting ad­justed to the new life with Breck.” Her big­gest goals of the sea­son will be to be ready to chal­lenge for medals and Re­lay spots at the 2017 VM in Lahti.

Like others, Simi Hamilton, who en­joyed a tremen­dous sea­son, is fo­cus­ing his at­ten­tion on the Lahti VM this year. “We are on snow later this sea­son than most others with our trip to New Zealand, and I think that will be re­ally pos­i­tive for prepa­ra­tions lead­ing into the sea­son. Our in­ten­sity-fo­cused camp in Park City in Oc­to­ber will be a crit­i­cal time to ramp up the hard in­ter­val train­ing.

“For me, my big­gest goal for the sea­son is be­ing in top form for the races at Lahti,” said the As­pen na­tive. “But cer­tainly there are a lot of other races that I'm set­ting my sights on as well, in­clud­ing the Tour de Ski – I've been work­ing on im­prov­ing my over­all dis­tance ski­ing.”

All in all, it looks like a very strong pro­gram for the USST this year. The men's A Team will be rep­re­sented by Newell and Hamilton, with a B Team of Erik Bjornsen and Noah Hoff­man and a devel­op­ment squad con­sist­ing of Pa­trick Cald­well and Ian Torchia.

The women's A Team is large with Sadie Bjornsen, So­phie Cald­well, Ida Sar­gent, Liz Stephen, Dig­gins and Ran­dall, a B Team of Rosie Bren­nan and a very promis­ing women's devel­op­ment squad of Han­nah Halvorsen, Ju­lia Kern and Kather­ine Og­den.

The Oc­to­ber camp in Park City was a good lit­mus test of fitness it be­ing only weeks un­til the World Cup started anew.

(top) Kikkan Ran­dall and Jessie Dig­gins get rocked on the team's new kit. (above) Team USA in new colours: (back row l-r): Matt Whit­comb (coach), Bryan Fish, Simi Hamilton, Noah Hoff­man, Andy Newell, Erik Bjornsen, Paddy Cald­well, An­drew More­house, Tim...

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