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Real Racing

Mon, Nov  10, 2008 - By Rick Halling

Team Atomic, aka The Thin Red Line, handily won Nordic skiing’s most impressive title this last winter.  Anders Aukland won the FIS Marathon Cup in one of the most competitive years ever.  This FIS sanctioned series is made up of Marathons in ten different countries.  The races begin with the La Sgambeda in Italy and end with the Birkebeiner in Norway.  We caught up with Atomic’s Nordic Race Director, Roman Toferer, at the world headquarters in Altenmarkt, Austria to discuss winning the overall title

Anders Aukland on his way to the overall FIS title.

RICK HALLING:  Congratulations on winning the Marathon Cup with Anders Aukland.  That boy definitely knows how to represent.

ROMAN TOFERER:  Ja, thank you.  Two seasons ago The Thin Red Line won the Worldcup title for sprinting.  That was fun and kind of exciting, but not real serious, not real prestigious.  The highest level of Nordic racing is the marathons, so as a team that is what we really went after.

RICK HALLING:  Why do ski company teams place higher value on winning marathons than sprints?

ROMAN TOFERER:  You have to ask?  The sprints are like American drag racing.  You go crazy nuts for a few seconds and it is all over.  Drag racing does not say much about cars, sprinting does not say much about skis.  Look at classic sprint, they do not even put kick wax on the skis.  What kind of test is that for overall performance of a classic ski?

RICK HALLING:  And the marathons?

ROMAN TOFERER:  The challenges of the marathons are the contradictions.  A good race ski has to be very stable or even strong racers will be exhausted if they have to control fast but unstable skis.  At the same time, this very stable ski has to be fast or it is too much work to keep up with the pack.  For a marathon the ski must be very light or no way the athletes will win.  But this light ski needs to be rugged like an old touring ski or it will break with the demands of a marathon.  That is why winning a marathon in skiing is like winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in auto racing.  Those cars are fast but stable, they corner great and they are very rugged.  Winning Le Mans for an auto company is more prestigious than winning a drag race.

American drag racing. Entertaining and amusing, but not the best test of a car.

World Cup sprinting – not the best test of a ski?

RICK HALLING:  Roman, you have to be careful what you say about sprinting.  The US has its best results with sprints and the American ski community is very proud of our sprinters.

ROMAN TOFERER:  Then maybe you are taking what I said out of context.  I have a very high regard for the men and women who are sprinters.  They are fantastic athletes and excellent skiers.  I am talking about the equipment.  I am just saying that winning a sprint does not say how a ski performs in the real world like winning a marathon.  Worldcup sprint skis can be crazy stiff for the short man made tracks in big cities, you would never use those skis outside of a sprint.  Like I said, sprint classic skis usually do not even have kick wax on them, what does that say about the ski’s wax pocket?  A good marathon ski is a good ski for all distances and snow types.  That is why we were mainly concerned with winning marathons this past year.

Vintage photograph of les mans. 24 hours of being driven hard at red line. A good test of a car’s true character.

RICK HALLING:  What are some steps the US could take to produce better marathon skiers?

ROMAN TOFERER:  I do not want to get into trouble with US coaches so I go careful here.  Maybe you need to add some 50km and 30km races to your NorAms early in the year before you send a team to Europe.  Now, you only have long races while all your best skiers are in Europe.  Maybe you need to add 50km and 30km events to NCAA skiing? 

The Thin Red Line’s Seraina Mischol putting in the distance. Like Les Mans, a good test of character for athlete and equipment!

RICK HALLING:  A 50km at a college carnival?  I don’t see that happening.

ROMAN TOFERER:  I don’t know.  I am just a ski guy living in Europe, I wish I knew more about your race programs.  But I do know it would be very exciting to see an American win a major Marathon. 

RICK HALLING:  Who do you see as the next American to pull that off?

ROMAN TOFERER:  Many top US men and women right now are sprinters.  Your best distance skiers have shown their peak and I do not think they will win major marathons.  However, the US has some very good young skiers who show the ability to win long races.  I think in a few years Lindsey Dehlin for women and James Southam for men could win events like Vasaloppet in Sweden or Birkebeiner in Norway.

RICK HALLING:  Is that why you recruited James Southam this summer?  He is now a part of the Thin Red Line.

ROMAN TOFERER:  Definitely.  I can see him as first American man on top of the podium at Sweden’s Vasaloppet.  James is fast Alaska boy who can go the distance.

RICK HALLING:  Thanks for your time.  I will see you on the Dachstein.

ROMAN TOFERER:  Ja, and don’t forget to bring over some Leinenkugels.  I tried for first time at American Birkebeiner last year.   That will taste good after a day of glacier skiing.