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Season Review

Fri, Apr  10, 2009 - By Pete Vordenberg

Lots of photos and some words about the season and seasons to come inside.

Here is a short review of the season. You will see that the review of last season blends quickly into plans for this and the next. We are always engaged in analysis. While waxing skis, while skiing, while driving, late night, at meals, via email nonstop we look at this thing and by spring the next summer already has shape, the next season has dates and locations and pencil marks in the margins.

In review we’ll start with facts and then look at the details of those facts. Even some of the most objective information has an important back-story and some facts are only relevant in light of that back-story or in light of other facts. Sometimes the facts that are left out are as important as those listed. With that here are some stats from this year.

USA World Championship Medals: 1

USA World Cup Podiums: 0

Top USA World Cup results: 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 11th (x 2), 12th (x2), 14th, 15th.

Top USA World Championship results: 2nd, 4th, 12th, 15th.

US Skiers in the Red Group for fall 2009: 3

World Cup points by the USA: 501

US World Cup points including Worlds: 705

What facts are missing that are as relevant as the ones listed? In the 07-08 season we scored 100 more world cup points then we did in 08-09, unless you include World Champs. In that case we scored 100 more in 08-09 than in 07-08. That is an example of the same fact telling different tales. The reality is that on the world cup we did much better in the 07-08 season and even in the season before that than we did this past season. Our best World Cup results in 07-08 were 1st, 2nd, 4th and two 5th place finishes. The year before we also had podium and top 5 results, the year before that we had our first podium in 23 years. So on the World Cup our results didn’t show improvement. Especially in light of the opportunity we had in Whistler, an opportunity we were not able to capitalize on.

There are plenty of World’s and Olympics over the past few decades to compare our 2009 World’s results to. Obviously the medal is our biggest success and it is our best ever World’s result.

For me that still has to soak in. That is our best ever…

The 4th place finish was equal to our best in 2003 and certainly is one of our best results ever as well. Another bright light was our improvement in women’s distance racing with a 15th, 17th and 22nd. These results are equal to the best I could find in US ski history and came from ladieswho are under age 23 while our past top results came from skiers generally in their 30’s.

Our World Champ results in general, like our world cup performance this season, left potential un-actualized. While it can’t be considered a positive to have not done as well as our skiers are capable of doing, it is a positive to have to have legitimate podium potential. And of course the questions we constantly work on are, how do we better develop and actualize that potential and how do we bring in more skiers with that talent and potential so that we can develop it?

The good new is that potential is still in our stable. And by trying hard and failing, and as importantly by paying damn close attention to what we tried and why we failed we have learned and can better answer both those questions. What we learn we will apply to what we do.

We have put a lot of emphasis on sprint over the past 8 years. We have put a lot of emphasis on partnership and program building in the past 3 to 5 years. We have put an emphasis on women’s skiing in the past 3 years. The past two seasons we put our emphasis on peaking at premier events rather than looking for results all season. Last year we didn’t succeed at that. We didn’t have our best results at the Pre-worlds or the Canmore World Cup both of which were target events. This year we did better with our results at Worlds, yet we still have a way to go to get everyone flying on time. These areas of focus were answers to areas of weakness and also areas of opportunity that we though needed to be addressed or taken advantage of. This explains why we have skipped events like the Tour de Ski and not entered relay teams at times. It is a question of strategy and management toward achieving set goals and not just throwing darts at every event, every weakness, and every opportunity that comes along. To hit a target you have to aim at it. Anyone that has ever tried bird hunting knows you can’t aim at the sky or even at a flock of birds. You have to pick one out and follow through with the shot. Then aim for the next.

We had no women on the national team in, I believe it was 05-06. We addressed that and have a lot more work ahead. Our lack of results in men’s distance, the 4th place result excluded, reflect a major area of weakness that we are only starting to address.

The main thought that constantly floods my mind is how much work we have to do on our strengths let alone our weaknesses. While that is a fact it isn’t really meant to be a negative statement. This is cross country ski racing and if the thought of a lot of work is a negative one this isn’t your sport. We have work to do in sprinting, in women’s distance and certainly in men’s distance. And even with our medal at worlds this year and even with medals next year, in my view success depends on those results but also on putting the pipeline to future success in place, in making sure that programs outside the USST are strong, on helping raise the level of youth coaching in the US to at least that of our competition. And the USST program itself must continue to build and evolve its programming.

Regardless of any or all podiums now or in the next few years if we face another 25 years with no medals and a decade of 40-point world cup seasons then that success comes with a mean asterisk.

How we shape the team and our programs is a constant process of refinement, in some cases all out change and in others an attempt at stability and continuity. The process is similar for the athletes – what is working, what isn’t? It is spring. And spring is a good time of the year. But it isn’t really great for the reason most would think. It isn’t all boat drinks and high fives.

The best part of spring is looking forward with enthusiasm, confidence and the makings of a plan. Around the first of May I’ll share some of those plans. The thing about plans is that at some point they hit the road and the road is full of reshaping realities. So before I share some of our plans we’ll let further work go into them and the reality of the dollar sink its teeth in as well. That could be a good guideline in general, don’t fall in love with the beauty of a plan. That’s a sure way to keep doing the wrong thing even after you see how wrong your doing it. In the meantime some things are clear. It is the USST’s job to get ahead and win at the highest level. To do that we have to decide the best way to get that done regardless of how many or how few resources we have at our disposal. When we look at the results and FIS profiles of our current top skiers and look at the path they have taken it is clear where we need to invest our time and resources. We must train more young skiers to a higher level earlier and we must invest in the skiers who from a young age both show promise and commit to training and racing at the closest level to the best that we can design and carry out. Ultimately of course we must be preparing better than anyone in the world as evidenced by the fact that we are winning at the highest level of sport. And one more thing we know, the USA can win medals in cross country ski racing.  A medal is now the floor, no longer the ceiling.

Finally, in all this talk about work and next season and all the seasons to come there should be a moment reserved for congratulations. We have had success. We have marked major progress. Congratulations are in order and this isn’t about the USST it is about US Skiing. Our community is strong and has become more and more cohesive over the past few years. Our success is as shared as the work. Congratulations to the programs and coaches and supporters who have been actively involved. Congratulations to all the staff. And most of all congratulations to the athletes.

There is some stuff involved.  (Nathan Schultz.  www.bouldernordicsport.com)

Fast stuff.  (BNS)

Faster stuff.  Arritola and Randy Gibbs.  (BNS)

Stress is writ, panic? Never.  (BNS)

Whitcomb gets after all jobs.  (BNS)

The Odd School is Old School.  1971.  (BNS)

Then there is the APU School.  Erik Flora helping out on his own time and his own dime.  APU buddies James Southam and Erik Flora.

Nathan Schultz from Boulder Nordic Sports, like Erik payed his own way to come help at worlds and in Lahti.  Here with Wadsworth, Torin Koos and Oleg Ragilo.  Intoit.  (Phil Bowen.  www.philsgood.com)

Pat Casey and Andy Newell seeing which skis are the fastest.  (philsgood.com)

SVSEF bring 'em up.

Newell, so close this seaon you don't even know it.  Hard work pays off and Newell isn't afraid of hard work.  (philsgood)

Who out there thinks you can come in at anything less than ALL IN?  Well, good luck.  (philsgood)

5 to 14 coached sessions a week summer through fall.  (philsgood)

Keep Hammering!  Chris Cook.   (philsgood)

Leif Zimmermann.   (philsgood)

Joakim Augustsson, Peter Johansson, Grover and Wadsworth - on all the time.  (www.philsgood.com)

A lesson in the fine art of just hammering.  (PV)

Andy Newell.   (phisgood.com)

Some things are fundamental.  (phil bowen - www.philsgood.com)

...   (philsgood)

Long day?   (PV)

Challenges met.  (PV)

Laura Valaas via CXC and APU.   (PV)

Hammering even though she is having a straight up bad race... a week later 15th at worlds.   (PV)

Hammering even though... yeah, bad race but who cares, they happen... and 10 days later 22nd at worlds.   (PV)

Morgan Smyth coming up.   (PV)

Torin Koos isn't afraid of hard work, hard work is afraid of him.  Torin is one of our three starting the 09-10 season in the Red Group.   (philsgood)

Kikkan Randall.  Silver Medal 2009 World Championships.   (philsgood)

Phil Bowen www.philsgood.com paid his own way all the way from Africa where he lives to come take photos and help out.  Thanks to Nathan, Phil, Erik and also Eli Brown of the U of U who all paid to come and help.  Thanks again to all the other great supporters of US Skiing, the US Ski Team, Team Today, www.NCCSEF.org and the parents, coaches and volunteers that both make it happen and make it fun.

Sunrise in Italy.  The new season is on.   (PV)

Come back to TT for more in review and info on the up coming season, as well as an update from running in Kenya, skiing all over, training...

As always:  Train Hard, Rest Well.  There is no other way.

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