Thursday, April 23, 2015

2015 World Championships - Medals

I've been involved in a lot of really cool ski racing over the years. And up until very recently, when someone would ask what my favourite race was that was always an easy answer for me: December 22, 2009. Olympic trials. 30km classic. Must win situation. And Madeleine won in dramatic fashion.

That is still my favourite day of ski racing. But now it's a tie with February 24, 2015 when team USA won two world championship medals in the same race in Falun.

I've been asked 100 times what happened, what was it like. And I've never really gotten around to writing anything down. Luckily, Zach did.

Here, word for word, is an account Zach sent a couple of months after the race. I could not have described it any better. 

Is this real life? Some very happy waxers. (Zach Caldwell photo)

The medals ceremony at World Championships is a fun thing to attend. Especially when your team has won two medals. (Zach Caldwell photo)

Falun World Championship Report (by Zach Caldwell)

Every championship series has its up and downs. But sport is always defined by the triumphant moments, and Falun this year was all about one really huge day for the US team. Medals are the goal, and everybody acknowledges that hitting that goal means that everything has to go exactly right. So what does it mean when you get two medals? Obviously, it means that two American women showed up with their best performance on the biggest day, and it means that the entire staff produced something close to perfect skis. But it has to be acknowledged that two US medals also means that some other players did not show up. That is sport, and nobody is going to apologize for it.

However, it’s worth asking the question on skis alone; how does a small program like the US produce superior skis at a championship event against a country like Norway? I can tell you that it’s not a question of being smarter than everybody else, or of working harder than everybody else. The US service staff always works hard, and is among the most critical and open-minded groups I’ve seen. But if they were just plain better than the rest of the world, I think we’d see it more often!
I think the answer has to be someplace in the procedure, and in the comparative scale of operations. Let’s take the example of Jessie’s skis – she has twelve or fifteen pairs of skate skis and she can only race on one. Jason Cork is her service tech, and he will often put eight or more pairs on the snow on a given day. That means that on a given day, Jessie might have two thirds of her total available skis on the snow – suggesting that a pretty broad cross section of materials and represented conditions is being covered by testing.

Marit Bjorgen, on the other hand, might have three (or more) times the number of skis that Jessie has. But it’s unlikely that her service techs have the resources to test too many more skis than Jason will test for Jessie on a given race day. So a narrower range of selections have to be made simply to get the skis on the snow. Marit’s eight pairs are likely to more closely target the expected range of conditions than Jessie’s eight pairs.

The same thing happens with wax, and hand structure. The more options you’ve got, the more options you’ve got to exclude from the testing, and therefor, the more targeted the testing becomes. This guarantees that, when conditions behave according to expectation, you’ll capture more of the very small range of advantages available in those conditions. Norway is the best service team in the world because they consistently win the war of small margins.

But what happens when conditions don’t behave according to expectation? What if, for some reason, the fully transformed and wet snow inexplicably responds best to skis, structures and waxes that you’d normally use in newer and drier snow? In that case, the systematic work of a large program with huge resources is likely to be focused on the wrong quadrant of the conditions map. While a smaller team like the US might have less chance of winning the tight battle for primacy in the range of expected conditions, it is well poised to pick-up a massive advantage on the rare day when conditions simply don’t behave as they’re supposed to.

The day of the 10K at World Champs was interesting because the testing unfolded pretty much as it normally would. The team always works hard to test as much as they can, and the procedure for the 10K was the same as always. When all the ski prep was done and we were headed out onto the course for the race, somebody got on the radio and said “hey, it’s really starting to snow.” Gus Kaeding was the first guy to reply, and he said “…we’re waxed for that!” at just about the same time that I was thinking the same thing. We didn’t wax in anticipation of the snow, but the wax that tested fastest was really good for the falling snow. If we hadn’t cast as broad a net in ski and wax testing, we wouldn’t have landed on that combination. There is no way I would have bet on the final combo before the testing was finished, even if somebody had proposed it to me. Which is probably why it all worked out so well.

I’ve seen that sort of circumstance before – where a team puts up hugely over-representative results. It’s a rare thing, and most often I’ve been on the wrong side of the break. In general, it’s a better bet to focus on putting the athletes in the race, and to accept the minor disadvantage that comes from a massively uneven playing field in terms of service resources. I feel really lucky to have been present for that 10K race in Falun. The result generated the kind of raw happiness that isn’t normal outside of childhood. It’s not just the happiness of success, it’s the happiness of being smiled-on by amazing good fortune. It’s the opposite of entitlement. And it was all enhanced by the amazing number of congratulations that the staff received from pretty much every team and industry supplier at the event.

Sometimes we lose track of the fact that it’s all sport. It’s good to be reminded that it’s not a war – it’s a game. Your competitors are going to come and give you heartfelt congratulations when you win. Make sure that you’re always prepared to do the same.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Scando 2014 - the rest of the pictures

I'm sitting in the SAS lounge in Heathrow right now with about 40 minutes until I have to head to my gate to come home. It seemed like a good time to post a few pictures. Here is what happened on the rest of the trip.

As a disclaimer, I didn't take a lot of these pictures.

The Rest of Drammen:

When we went outside the morning of the Drammen race, it was raining. Grim conditions for ski racing.
Me and Jason putting on a brave face in the shuttle to the race. As it turned out, the rain stopped just around the time we needed to be outside testing. That was very good news.


The first few days in Oslo consisted of a lot of fog.

Despite the fog, everyone kept their spirits up in the wax cabin.
The athletes were allowed to exchange skis each lap. That means a lot of work for the techs in a 50km race as we would then have to race to remake the skis. These are the pits for each athlete where their exchange skis are stored.
With a field of ~80 men, it was important to know which pits belonged to our athletes. It would be a disaster to put the skis in the wrong place.

As luck would have it, the sun came out on the day of the race! What a nice surprise.
This is the main ski depot where we operate out of during testing.

The weather seemed almost too good to be true.
The Oslo World Cups are a big deal. People camp out for several days in the woods to get their preferred spot on the course. Crowds (like in the picture) line the entire race course.
Cory, me, and Randy in the stadium.
Packing the van to come home. We roll with a LOT of skis and gear.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Drammen - short update

Drammen was a lot of fun. Kikkan clinched her third consecutive World Cup Sprint Championship.

Kikkan lunging for the line. Cool shot that shows the massive crowds lining the course

You can see a very cool GoPro video shot by one of our USA athletes on a lap of the course in the video below. The direct link is also here -

This is for sure worth checking out!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Lahti - PodiumS!!!

Saturday was a big day for us here in Lahti. For the first time ever two American ladies were on the podium at a Nordic World Cup. This was a BIG deal.

The crowds were awesome and really loud. Having tons of people out makes ski racing a lot of fun.
First we waxed some skis. I left my favourite scraper and brush behind accidentally after the last trip. Then the team left for Sochi. But as soon as we got to Lahti, Matt found all my stuff. This was a great start to what would soon be an even better day!

Skate sprint finish. Sophie (#25) on the far left and Kikkan (#11) second from the left.

Then this happened. Sophie is at the top of the picture and the red line is the finish. It couldn't get much closer than that.

Wait, what?!?

Isn't Lahti a nice place to put two ladies on the podium?

Flower ceremony!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Czech Republic (belated)

In January I was in the Czech Republic. I didn't take many pictures, but luckily Barbara did! It was fun to meet up with her in Nove Mesto at the races.

Next week I head to Lahti, Finland so it seem like it was time to post a few of these.

It was pretty green around the ski trails. You can see the ribbon of snow in the background.

Our hotel was right at the venue. That almost never happens. This was standing on my balcony surveying the scene early one more.

This is Kikkan. She won the skate sprint this weekend in Nove Mesto. As of today she has 19 World Cup podiums (including 10 victories) and 2 World Championship podiums (including 1 victory). She skis fast.

Wax trucks.

Testing, hours before race time.

Our hotel. A 90 second walk from the wax cabin to my room.

Nove Mesto drew one of the biggest crowds I have ever seen. And they were LOUD!

On course.

Saying something important on the radio.

At one point the giant inflatable banner fell down... MID RACE! Someone had to take charge.


Where's Waldo?

Cheering for Sophie.
Later we went to Prague. That was pretty neat. This is Cory (one of the other waxers) and me in the main square.

Monday, January 6, 2014


Davos might be my new best place. Needless to say, it has been pretty pretty awesome here.

Amazing tracks, sun, and the entire valley to ourselves. Thanks Simi and Andy for bringing me along!

Sun, bomber tracks, and striding on Rode Super Extra.

Hands down the best day of classic skiing of my life. No question..

Yeah... this was fun!
It's not all striding in the sun. There is still work to be done.

Even more sun today! What a classic ski.

A cool picture that Sophie put together. Seriously... how cool is this place.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Tour de Ski - 2014

My time at the Tour de Ski 2014 has come to a close. Tomorrow I head to Davos, Switzerland with Chris Grover (USST Head Coach) and most of the athletes for a pre-Olympics camp. Here is what happened so far.

The Tour venues for this year. I was in Oberhof and Lenzerheide.

Some new technology coming to light, invented by Oleg.
Wax truck central. Also, mud central.

Oleg, mating irons to obtain the most desirable characteristics of each.

One Way poles - useful for propping up the low end of a wax truck. At least they are good for something.

Not the most snow in Oberhof. But the rain stopped a while.

Ready to make a test.

Oberhof, back to normal. Where is the stadium?

It's a blockade of Leningrad. You can have only 200 grams of bread.

Cory and me. He's a good dude and great waxer - watch for some more pictures of him down the page. He has had an amazing Tour.

Oleg and me. Love this guy.

Classic Oberhof. All the wrong weather at all the wrong times. Now it snows. Awesome.... on the road to Swiss.

It was dark when we arrived last night. Opened the curtains this morning to find this. I love Switzerland.

This morning I test with Sophie.

The testing went well. Sophie had a big day and made her first appearance in a World Cup sprint final! A huge accomplishment. She is bib #9 (the middle skier) in this photo.

Cory and me enjoying some sun.

This is Simi Hamilton. He also made his first appearance in a World Cup sprint final. As it turns out, he WON the race. It's hard to overstate how big of a deal this is.
You can watch the video of Simi's race here - - I highly, highly, recommend that you take two minutes and check this out.

Post race. World Cup gold medalist.

So proud of this guy!

Enjoying some downtime with Cory.

Jessie is a World Champion (2013, team sprint). She wanted to see what it was like to be a waxer.
Tomorrow morning is going to be awesome. Our departure isn't until 10:00, so we get to sleep in and leisurely pack.