Striking out on your own, outside a National Team, can be a daunting prospect in ski racing.
The cocoon of support for elite athletes, from access to Training Centres, management of programs, coaching and tech support to physios and strength trainers is intended to build excellence and compete with the best.
The irony, is every successful ski racer – no matter what country – to some degree is independent of their National Team program. Hirscher, Vonn, Guay, Cook or Gagnon have sought out individualized elements of their training program to meet their specific needs. They realize success must be tailored to meet the specific demands to compete at the highest level, so they go out and find what they need.
Some are fortunate enough to have the support of independent groups like B2Ten (a privately financed group who support select Canadian athletes) or Red Bull. Others have been forced by circumstance to seek out support – be it a training group, coaching, strength and conditioning or physio. There is a lot of independent activity by athletes in the world of ski racing.
The key lesson, is to understand success comes and is maintained by seeking out the very best program for the athlete. But you need objective and thorough evaluation of performance to determine where the gaps are … and then fill them.
Which brings us to Zermatt and our training session with Team Croatia.
When financial limitations meant we were mostly on our own for the 2015-16 season, we saw opportunity. The first step, as we could not wait until July to find out if any sort of training would be extended to ‘invitees’, was to find a high quality training group.
I’ve known Ante Kostelić, patriarch of the Croatian program since his daughter, Janica, burst onto the World Cup scene in the mid-1990’s. Several years ago, in a chance encounter at the Lake Louise World Cup, Ante had said to me “I would love to train your boys”. So, not being shy, a request went out through Ivica (whom we have gotten to know well through our mutual relationship with Fischer Skis) if we could take up the offer.
Spin forward two months, and here we are: into week two of an intense session covering superG, giant slalom and slalom on the top of Switzerland.
This is a strong training group. Beyond Ivica Kostelić (ranked 4th in the world in Alpine Combined and who would be the best known Croatian athlete), the peer group includes Matej Vidovic (ranked 90th in SL) and Filip Zubcic (26th in GS), along with two top juniors: Istok Rodes (146th in SL) and Elias Kolega (163rd in SL).
In the next lane to us is the newly formed US National University Ski Team, made up of top NCAA prospects. And on the other side, Schladming World Cup winner Alexander Khoroshilov along with Russian teammate Pavel Trikhichev (ranked 76th in both GS and SL).
For a Canadian athlete looking for honest evaluation in superG, GS and SL – and focused on learning to score top 30’s in World Cup, it’s a great opportunity. Further, with the renewed emphasis by the FIS on the Alpine Combined, who better to work with than the athlete who has dominated the event with 16 podiums, 9 wins and 3 medals over the past decade?
So filling the first gap of the new season: finding a compatible peer group to train where we could lift our competitiveness and have clear evaluation of equipment and setup – has been addressed by the generosity of the Croatian Team. And we have been made to feel very welcome.
Any insights we can share?
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