Sas­seville Report

Post-olympic Shuf­fle

SkiTrax - - Contents - by Jack Sas­seville

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

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