Canadian Team 2018 Preview Going for Gold at Pyeongchang 2018
With a huge Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic season ahead and hopes to bring home some hardware, Team Canada has been preparing, as are all nations, for the season ahead. With the big event on the horizon, the focus is on solid training and staying healthy, so we checked in with the National team to find out how their dryland training unfolded during the summer leading into an Olympic year. Ivan Babikov, the National team coach, has been keeping to what works, stating, “There are some changes to be made from last season, but it’s nothing we haven’t done before . . . it’s more a case of fine-tuning.” Louis Bouchard, who coaches Alex Harvey, says Canada’s top skier is on track. “Alex had a really good summer, and is still progressing well and is ready for this Olympic year.”
Cross Country Canada is following a collaborative approach to coaching the athletes, and Thomas Holland, its high-performance director, echoes the team’s coaches: “In an Olympic year, there are no major changes.” Holland states the goal is for one to two podiums at the Games. “The athletes preparing for the Games are focused, healthy and motivated to succeed,” he continued. “So far during the off-season, the general training and health of the athletes is on track, with a larger group of athletes being supported than was the case last year. The coaching and sport-science/sport-medicine support staff are being very effective in their planning and program execution.”
With a great season behind them, the men’s World Cup team of Harvey, Len Valjas, Devon Kershaw, Jesse Cockney, Knute Johnsgaard, Graeme Killick, Julien Locke and Gareth Williams can afford to carry an optimistic look into the season ahead. The woman’s team is following their lead and growing as skiers while gaining experience on the World Cup circuit, with Dahria Beatty, Cendrine Browne, Katherine Stewart-jones, Maya Macisaac-jones and Olivia Bouffard-nesbitt joining veteran Emily Nishikawa on the senior team. The squad scored a top-10 result in the Team relay at Lahti2017 for Canada’s second-best women’s relay result.
According to Babikov, four training camps were held for the men, who were most recently in Italy, a place the team likes to go for high altitude, good roads and to meet up with other athletes training there. He stressed the importance of the camps and training together for the physical and mental gains – spending time together means bonding. “It’s like a family; we care for each other. The Olympic Games can be nerve-racking and that support is crucial.”
Both Babikov and Holland stressed the importance of staying healthy during an Olympic year. Reviewing what worked and didn’t work last season is also part of the preparation in between training sessions. “The hardest part of summer is over, with big hours and some intensity,” commented Babikov.
The team was just starting their final month of volume, with more intensity and focus on speed quality. A training camp planned for Revelstoke, B.C. was cancelled due to the forest-fire smoke that affected Alberta and B.C. this past summer.
The team will take each World Cup race one at a time, with a focus on the Tour de Ski. There may be some races sacrificed in the lead-up to February to focus on the final preparation for the Games.
On the topic of coaching, Babikov is now in his second year, and said, “The more I do it, the more I like it.” He enjoys joining the team for training workouts and jokes that he can still keep up.
With the spotlight on Harvey after a tremendous season, Canadian fans will be thrilled to hear that he’s had a good summer. Bouchard says Harvey feels even stronger than last year and doesn’t worry
about the pressure. “Alex reacts well under pressure. He’s been on the podium since he was a junior racer, and knows what it takes at the big events,” he shared.
He plans to contest all the events at the Olympics and bring home a historic medal at what could be his last Games, but come race time in South Korea, Bouchard says it will also be a day-to-day assessment, and plans could change.
Bouchard also feels the current coaching program in Canada is working really well. He and Babikov are on the ground as World Cup coaches, while Joel Jacques coordinates the team trips. “This is good for the East and West, as Joel can see the overview much easier because he’s not caught up in the details of coaching athletes directly,” said Bouchard.
The women’s team had their own training camp together as a group in August. Nishikawa and Beatty rounded up five more women for a National women’s team camp to train on the Snow Farm in New Zealand for three weeks with coach Chris Jeffries. On bluebird days under exceptional conditions, they were joined by Browne, StewartJones, Marie Corriveau, Annika Hicks and Katie Weaver for volume training and intensity sessions, as well as video work.
Beatty reported that, “Getting back on snow allowed me to find those little pieces that seemed to be missing during the early dryland training. I felt really good throughout the camp, and I can safely say it has been my most productive training block of the season to date.”
Browne’s comments were that she enjoyed training with the group: “I was so happy to be able to train with the girls on the team, as well as our recruits. I love to train with them! We do not have the chance to train together every day, as we usually all live in different provinces of our huge country.”
The Olympics are a primary focus this season. To Holland, the major challenge of the World Cup schedule this year is ensuring the athletes are ready for the Olympics. This may mean missing some races in order to properly prepare for the Games.
The World Cup schedule will be similar to previous years, with Period One kicking off in Ruka, Finland on Nov. 24-27. The next stop is Lillehammer, Norway on Dec. 2-3, followed by a stop in Davos, Switzerland on Dec. 9-10 before stopping in Toblach, Italy on Dec. 16-17, prior to the holiday break.
The Tour de Ski runs Dec. 30-Jan. 7 with venues in Switzerland, Germany and Italy, and is followed by Period Three of the World Cup, which re-starts again in Dresden, Germany on Jan. 13-14. Then it’s off to Planica, Slovenia on Jan. 20-21, followed by Seefeld, Austria from Jan. 27-28, the last stop prior to the Olympic Games, which run from Feb. 9-25.
Period Five begins in Lahti, Finland on March 3-4, followed by the Drammen Sprints on March 7, with the Oslo World Cup following from March 10-11. Falun, Sweden will host the finals on March 16-18. According to Holland, the March World Cup races will be challenging to attend due to budget constraints.
On the domestic front, the Haywood Norams begin at Sovereign Lake, B.C. on Dec. 9-10 and move on to Rossland, B.C. from Dec. 15-17. The Canadian World Junior/u23 Trials will be held in conjuction with the Haywood Noram at Mont-ste-anne, Que. in early January, with the Championships being staged later on in the month in Goms, Switzerland. The Haywood Noram Western Canadians are in Red Deer, Alta. this year from Jan. 20-21. The Easterns will be held at Nakkertok on Feb. 2-4, with the season finishing with the Canadian Ski Nationals on March 10-17 at Lappe Nordic.
According to Holland, the opportunities in store for young Canadian skiers this season are the 2018 FIS Nordic Junior /U23/ World Championships in Switzerland on Jan. 28-Feb. 3 and a European FIS race tour in mid-europe in February.
For the successful athletes participating in the Games, the crosscountry-ski events will be the men’s 15km and women’s 10km, the Free technique and the Mass-start events (men’s 50km and women’s 30km), while the sprint events will be held in Classic technique. The Team sprint and relays will be the men’s 4x10km and women’s 4x5km.
Holland says the athletes who have provisionally qualified for the Olympics by meeting the Alternate Qualifying Criteria A are Harvey, Valjas, Kershaw, Johnsgaard and Cockney. The athletes who have met the Alternate Qualifying Criteria B are Beatty, Emily Nishikawa and Killick.