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Nikolai

Mon, Nov  23, 2009 - By Pete Vordenberg

I met Nikolai and Antonina at the USOC in Marquette where they were coaching.  Over the years I spent up there I was fortunate enough to receive some coaching and advice while an athlete both at NMU and the USOC from Nikolai and Antonina.  I was not one of their athletes but I did seek out their advice and advice was freely given.  It was a formative crew of coaches I worked with up there and I have certainly taken from all of them to form my own style of coaching now as well as ability as a skier then.  Man was I lucky.

While Nikolai had much to teach about skiing I think his biggest impact on me was more inspirational. I remember vividly Nikolai's method of video review, which was humorous, focused and always blunt.  Another vivid memory is hearing both Nikolai in his deep voice and Antonina in her piping voice cheering for us athletes in races and in training.  I recall a bounding workout in the changing leaves one fall most specifically…Here is a short write up by Chad Salmela about the two.  Let me conclude by saying Thank you Nikolai and Hup! Hup! Hup! Hup! Hup!

From Chad:

Nikolai came to the U.S. in 1989 as an exchange between the U.S. and Soviet Olympic Committees, in which the US sent a freestyle skiing coach to the Soviets and the Soviets sent us Nikolai in exchange for cross country.  I believe it was a sort of exchange of sports each of us struggled/excelled at--the Soviets at XC, us at Freestyle. 

After Nikolai was sort of let go by the USST at the USOC Education Ctr. in Marquette, Brad Nelson's (Brad was a skier both for NMU and the USOC) brother Tim started the Gitchi Gummi Sport Association in Duluth in the early/mid 1990s.  It was an effort to give Nikolai and his family a means to earn a living without needing to go back to Russia, and an opportunity for the athletes who were working with him to continue to do so.  The program included Olympian John Bauer and World Championship Team member in biathlon, Grant Ernhart, as well as a bunch of national-level skiers like Brad Nelson, Bruce Bauer, and Jayme Schricker, and have influenced current racers like Nikolai Jr. and Andre Watt.

I'm not sure when GGSA stopped offering programs, but Nikolai and Antonina have continued to work, though retired, but offering masters groups over the past 8-10 years.

I will let the others copied on this email chime in.  I will say about Nikolai that I have  spent a lot of time around elite level athletes and coaches, and I can't say that I know anyone in my experience as honest, caring, and passionate, with as much raw integrity as a person, as Nikolai.  I was never coached by him personally, but the peripheral experiences I was fortunate enough to have with him made me envious of those who worked with him extensively.

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