There is no question that the Tour de Ski grows in interest and popularity every year. It is also true that the Nordic World Championships are highly prestigious as the Nordic community gathers to watch its best. However, the Olympics are still number one as the event that Nordic athletes and their supporters want to win most. We have to admit that Nordic skiing is one of those sports that only receives truly extensive worldwide viewership once every four years at the Olympics. The end result is epic pressure will be placed on coaches, athletes and manufacturers to perform at the highest possible level. We called Roman Toferer, Atomic’s Nordic Race Director, to discuss what it is like the summer leading up to the Olympics.
RICK HALLING: Roman, the pressure is on. I know that if Atomic does not bring home a required number of Gold and overall medals you are out of a job. Not only are you out of a job, but I know the Pongau valley has a zero tolerance policy for failure. What will life be like in Altenmarkt for the Nordic race director if Atomic fares poorly at the Olympics?
ROMAN TOFERER: I have discussed this with my friends and family. They realize that a bad Olympics means I would be forced to move to another part of Austria. I am very skilled with my hands, perhaps I would make violins in Vienna. I am not too old to begin an apprenticeship.
Roman's new profession?
RH: Don’t be talking that crazy talk!!! You can be such an Austrian sometimes. Athletes and coaches have been telling me that the new Featherlight construction is sinfully fast and stable. Some of the Finns told me the new ski is basically a form of cheating. The boots are pretty well dialed in and just look at the athletes you have on board. There is no way that the Thin Red Line could end those Olympics without a hefty medal haul.
RT: Ja, but I tell you this. When you are like the big rooster in a farm full of hens and you strut around thinking you are the big thing, that is when you get into trouble. It does not matter how good your skis are or how strong your athletes are. Leading up to the Olympics, you must tell yourself that nothing is good enough and you have to keep working to be ready.
Obsession with perfection. Roman works around the clock for dominance in 2010.
RH: Okay then. Instead of worrying about the Olympics, just remember that you are working hard to make sure things go right. Step one must be to make sure the skis are fast and the boots do what they are supposed to do.
RT: We are definitely doing that. Did you see the World Cup at the end of the year in Falun, Sweden? Riita-Liisa Roponen started the skating leg so far behind the rest of the field and then she pass them and win by big margin! Did you see her on the downhills? She just pull away from the other skiers. Most people do not know her. I hear the coaches ask what is going on here? They talk about the new skis and they say the new Featherlights must be evil, they must be bad they go so fast. I just say ha, ha, ha!
Riita-Liisa Roponen was overwhelmed when she tried the new Featherlight in competition. (AP Photo)
RH: Well, let’s talk about these new Featherlight skis.
RT: No, shut up. It is too early, we should not talk about this design yet.
Riita-Liisa at the factory reviewing her base grinds from the past season. Data was stored on every grind that was test for each race.
RH: Okay, but another reason you don’t need to worry is the athletes. You have the two American rocket boys, Todd Lodwick and Billy Demong, it’s going to be pretty exciting when one of them wins America’s first Olympic Gold in a Nordic event. You have Riita-Liisa who proved to be the fastest woman at the end of the season. You have Giorgio di Centa, the Gold medalist in the 50 K at the last Olympics and he is looking strong. You are pretty much guaranteed Gold in Biathlon with Andrea Henkel. Who am I missing?
RT: The young Norwegians. They are calling me. They want to be part of the Thin Red Line. We now have a contract with Norway’s top girl, Marthe Kristoffersen. She has best long term potential of any Norwegian skier now. Also, do not forget what James Southam did in Pursuit at Liberic. He can beat the best in Europe. James was your country’s best results at Distance Nationals, that makes him America’s number one skier for distance events. James is on our skis and boots. He could do something.
Marthe Kristoffersen. Part of the next generation of Norwegian super stars.
RH: So, you have the skis and boots, you have the athletes, I think your biggest fear should be if you will have enough clean skis on hand for athletes to carry to the podium.
RT: Look at US Track Team at the last summer Olympics. They were supposed to dominate. But both the men and women dropped the batons in the relay, they tripped on hurtles, they made so many little mistakes. Jamaica came home with more medals than USA for sprinting. I will not stop worrying until the Olympics are over.
RH: Worrying like that is just crazy. No wonder Sigmund Freud was an Austrian.