Retirements – At the end of every Olympic quadrennial, there are always many retirements in every sport. This year is no exception, and I think that the list may even be longer than usual.
Here is a list of some notable National Team skiers and biathletes who are retiring:
Canada: Devon Kershaw, Jesse Cockney and Graeme Killick, as well as Knute Johnsgaard, Michael Somppi and Julie Ransom from biathlon.
U.S.: Noah Hoffman, Kris Freeman, Kikkan Randall, Liz Stephen and Andy Newell, as well as Lowell Bailey, Tim Burke and Russell Currier from biathlon.
Internationally: Marit Bjoergen, Anna Haag, Emil Jonsson, Martin Johannson, Justina Kowalczyk, Alexander Legkov and Aino-kaisa Saarinen in cross-country, as well as Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, Darya Domracheva and Emil Hegle Svendsen in biathlon.
Everyone retires for different reasons, but every career must eventually come to an end. Some end with fireworks (Kikkan Randall), some end early (Knute Johnsgaard at 25) and some end late (Bjoerndalen in his forties). Congratulations to all of these skiers and biathletes for having reached the peak of their sport.
Alex Harvey has said that he will ski for one more year and end his terrific career in Quebec City in March 2019. He was fourth last year on the overall World Cup and just missed getting a medal in the 50km at the Pyeongchang Olympics. If he can stay motivated this season (sometimes hard to do when retirement is on the horizon), there is no reason why he cannot keep his place at the top. He has shown no dropoff and is at the top of his game.
Klaebo versus Bolshunov – At the beginning of the season, Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo won his first six races and pretty well sealed his chance at the overall World Cup title. At the Olympics, he added three gold medals to prove that he can also win the big ones. By the end of the year, however, the best male cross-country skier in the world was Alexander Bolshunov. He destroyed everyone in Falun at the World Cup finals to finish fifth overall. Both are both 21 years old and are the future of cross-country skiing for the men. Both have speed and endurance and can win in every race. Of course, there are more than just two good skiers on the World Cup, but I see these two at the top for the next five to 10 years.
Watch out for Therese Johaug – Heidi Weng won the overall women’s World Cup and Jessie Diggins was second. With Marit Bjoergen retiring, they are poised to continue on being at the top of the standings. However, all reports out of Norway are that Therese Johaug is fitter than ever and is very motivated after sitting out the past 18 months on a doping suspension. A couple of years ago, she was the only skier who could consistently ski as fast as Bjoergen, when the two were well ahead of the rest of the field. It will be very interesting to see what Johaug can do next season.
State of High Performance at Cross Country Canada – What do you think of the state of “high performance” at Cross Country Canada (CCC) at this moment? As I write this, there is a new part-time high performance director who does not live in Canada. Own the Podium
(OTP) has drastically reduced its funding of cross-country skiing (it will not even fund Harvey, as its mandate is medals at the Olympics, and he has said that he is retiring after next season), athletes on the National Team are essentially self-funding all of their training and racing trips (one skier told me it cost him more than $30,000 to be on the National Team last season), two of the three National Team coaches have been let go (Ivan Babikov and Lisa Patterson) and there has been no one hired as yet to replace them.
A number of people have written to me to say that I was too soft in my opinion of the job that Tom Holland has done over the past 12 years. While Holland cannot take credit for everything positive that has happened, he should also not be blamed for everything that is negative. Having said that, one of the key ways to evaluate the performance of a leader is to ask: Was it left better than it was found? What is his legacy? Are we better off now than when he took over?
After coaching at the grassroots level again, in the past few years I believe that we have one of the two most important resources needed to rebuild – more and more younger skiers racing. At the past two National Championships, the juvenile fields were the largest than I have ever seen (there were more than 700 skiers in total). We need to stop squandering this resource and provide them with the training and coaching and racing that they need to reach the top. This should be the major goal of high performance in Canada. It is likely too late to make any big changes for 2022. We need to start thinking about 2026. Skiers who will be at these Olympics are in the system now. They need to be good and ready in 2024 – only six years away.
The other most important resource is money. With better results, there will be more money from OTP and from sponsors. There is more money at CCC than one would think – it needs to be better spent.
The same cycle occurred in the 1990s and it took eight to 10 years to recover. I sure hope that we learn a little from the past and do it much faster.
Alexander Bolshunov Tom Holland
Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo