U.S. Team Looks Ahead
Ready to Up Their Game
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 Baucom, Jason Cork, Chris Grover (head coach); (middle row l-r): Sadie Bjornsen, Sophie Caldwell, Kikkan Randall; (front row l-r): Rosie Brennan, Jessie Diggins, Liz Stephen, Ida Sargent