Summer camp benefits skiers
July 29, 2006
SOLDIER HOLLOW – Two-time Olympic cross-country skier and new-this-year U.S. Head Coach Pete Vordenberg and his staff like what they’ve been seeing so far from the flock of athletes nominated for this season’s U.S. Ski Team.
The troupe – 14 athletes, including six World Cup team members and eight Continental Cup skiers – is the largest in two decades. Most are packing this weekend after intensive workouts over the last two weeks in and around Park City and the Olympic layout at Soldier Hollow as most of them get set for the annual midsummer, on-snow camp in New Zealand.
Former University of Utah All-American Pat Casey, co-coach of the Continental Cup squad with Matt Whitcomb, was joined by his wife, 2002 Olympian and another ex-Ute, Kristina Joder, in checking readings. Matt Whitcomb, the other co-Continental Cup coach, took blood, too, and spoke quickly with the athletes as they completed their eight- or nine-minute roller-ski loop out of the Soldier Hollow’s parking lot. Three-time Olympian Justin Wadsworth, who also has joined Vordenberg’s staff, and his wife – Canadian Olympic champion Beckie Scott – added to the experience level; Scott retired in the spring but still powered her way through the interval session.
Chatting a few days under a scorching early morning sun at Soldier Hollow as he and his crew monitored interval (speed) training, and checked heart rates and lactate acid levels with blood tests, Vordenberg said the Ski Team is striking a balance between short-term urgency and long-term patience.
"I think it’s important to look at this whole thing as a long process, but not one day escapes, either," he said. "Every single day is as good as it can be…every single day.
"It requires patience but also a kind of urgency. Every day you get out of the van and you know what you need to do, and you’re ready…and you do it, so that at the end of every day you’ve made a step forward, even on a rest day.
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"It’s about details and being professional."
Two-time Olympian Kikkan Randall – who was born in Salt Lake but grew up in Alaska – won three more U.S. titles last January at Soldier Hollow, then produced the best all-time U.S. women’s Olympic or World Championships cross-country result in February (ninth in the sprint), and then topped that with the best U.S. women’s World Cup showing (fifth in a sprint in Sweden). She echoes her coach.
"We’re getting things done every day. This is great," she said. "There’s something new every day."
Andrew Johnson took leave from Middlebury College in 1999 and moved to Park City to start the Ski Team’s residence program. He’s never left, but – like Randall – he’s gone on to compete in two Olympics and three World Championships. He agrees with her assessment.
"This training’s fun. It feels very productive. It’s high quality training and feels like every minute of every workout we’re accomplishing exactly what we want to do. There’s no wasted time," Johnson said.
One problem with intervals, Vordenberg said, is that the high-sped, short-burst drills can be a meatgrinder. When he was an athlete, the mantra was "go as fast as you can for as long as you can." It made for brutal training sessions.
But, time can bring changes in philosophy. The 34-year-old Vordenberg – a member of Trond Nystad’s national team staff the last four years – said approach them the right way, figure out how you can profit from the workout, and they’re not necessarily the devil in eight-minute packaging.
"I think people are afraid of intervals in general" the coach said, "and it’s because most people do them way too hard. We’ve been monitoring it very closely and making sure every workout has been accomplishing what we mean for it to accomplish.
"To do that, it’s got to be at the exact right pace. That’s something we’ve made a big focus this year, and we just had our testing and the goals we set out for them they accomplished.
Olympian Leif Zimmermann, who is rebounding from mononucleosis, said the size of the Ski Team means there are a lot of things in play during the camps, not just go out and run through the hills for three hours and lift weights for two hours. Fitness is a major goal according to Vordenberg, but away-from-the-arena activities are just as vital.
"It’s not just go to camp, go to a meeting, go home and watch TV, or whatever. We have a cook – Pat’s mom is here, so we’re able to come together and eat together, prepare food together and talk to each other so it’s not simply training and training talk," said Zimmermann, who lives in Bozeman, Mont., and has been on a couple of development squads but this will be his first season on the national team.
The goals for each camp – in May, last week, in New Zealand, and in Lake Placid in October – begin with fitness, Vordenberg said. "That’s No. 1 for us, in general. Fitness is always the first goal, and if we only achieve that goal, that’s okay – but we ARE going to achieve that one."
Progress, though, isn’t simply a matter of emerging, new technology, he said. It’s largely a matter of using what’s already here.
"I don’t think there’s much change in technology; it’s just that we’re taking better advantage of it. We really have good people to help us – I mean, I’m not a physiologist but we have good physiologists, we have a great strength coach. And we’ve got coaches who are really willing to utilize all these experts.
"So, it’s not so much the technology is new, but it’s our ability to use it."
You mean technology is no good if you leave it on the shelf? "Exactly," Vordenberg said.
For instance, the team went to the Olympic Oval in Salt Lake at the start of the camp and sent everyone through a series of sprint workouts using speed traps over a 120-meter course, which helped measure acceleration, velocity and where an athlete started to lose speed.
The team started that testing a year ago, he said, and is employing it in conjunction with strength training. "Our theory is that strength doesn’t necessarily make you faster, but strength combined with velocity will make you faster," he said. "I think where weight programs have failed is in making that transition – maybe people do get stronger, but they can’t apply that strength quickly enough to make themselves faster."
So far, so good, though, for the Yank skiers, he said.
With improved results from, among others, Randall and Andy Newell – another sprinter, who had the first U.S. World Cup top-3 in over 20 years when he finished third in China last March, the cross-country program has moved up the Ski Team food chain in terms of support, Vordenberg said. Sports Science has been a major contributor to the improved training, he said.
"The whole organization has come under us; it’s a great platform as we move forward," he explained. "Probably the biggest partnership is with Sports Science … we take better advantage of their expertise, and they’ve hired people to help us with medical and physiology…
"The goal is to have no excuses, and we’re getting there. In the past," he went on, "we’ve always talked about, ‘We can’t do what we want because we don’t have the money to do it, and we don’t have the support’ – but that’s just no way to get it done, so we’ve got a goal of no excuses, and when we get four or eight years down the road – 12 years for some of these athletes – we can look back with pride and said we did it as well as we possibly could."
Vordenberg also credits a growing willingness within the U.S. Nordic community to have club athletes train harder.
"It’s obvious why we haven’t been as good until now – it’s training and preparation, and training is just one part of being prepared. We haven’t prepared well enough…and that," he said, "is exactly what we’re working on now – working harder to be prepared to succeed."