Catching up with John McBride
John McBride is one busy man. As the head coach of the U.S. Ski Team’s speed disciplines – downhill and super G – McBride travels, mostly in Europe, almost constantly from November to April. Leading up to the holidays, a brief break in the World Cup circuit allowed the Aspen native to return to his Old Snowmass home and spend a few days with his wife and daughter.By the morning after Christmas, however, he was back on a plane to Europe. “He’s a badass,” McBride’s younger brother Pete told Skiing magazine in October. “He’s as fit as his athletes. And he works so hard you don’t want to disappoint him by not doing your best.” His hard work seems to have rubbed off on the racers this season, as U.S. racing phenom Bode Miller is currently the overall World Cup points leader, Daron Rahlves is having another great season, and the team in general is the strongest it’s been in 10 years. The U.S. Ski Team appears to be on a roll, and McBride helps provide the momentum. McBride’s responses to the following questions were sent via e-mail from Bormio, Italy, where the U.S. men were racing between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Q: How would you describe the season for the U.S. Ski Team so far? A: We have gotten off to a really good start in all events, but mostly from our superstars. I will be really satisfied when I see all the boys ski to the highest level they are capable of when the pressure is on. There is a handful of younger guys like Bryon Friedman, JJ Johnson, Ted Ligety and Jimmy Cochrane who are doing a fantastic job of stepping up to the competition at the World Cup. We have a lot of other guys who are not quite there, but I am confident they can be contenders from what I saw during our summer training.Q: How does this team stack up to teams of the past?A: I would say this team is better as a whole than it has been for the nine years I have been with U.S. Skiing. There are often superstars but as a group we have more depth than in the past.Q: Bode Miller is having another incredible season. How would you describe his racing style and technique, and what makes him so dominant?A: I am not sure if I have enough paper to answer this question, but I will give it a go. Bode is first and foremost an incredible athlete who strives for the perfect feeling as opposed to the best result. He is very aware of his equipment, his body and his goals. At this point I would definitely say he is the best all-around racer in the world because he is a threat on any given day in any discipline. Bode has an incredible sense of timing, he is diligent with his equipment setup and very confident of his abilities. One thing most people do not know about Bode is that when he was 17 years old he won every discipline at the Junior Olympics on the same pair of skis. So he has had the ability; it has just been a process of refining to make it all work on the World Cup.
Q: Miller adopted a somewhat unusual practice last season, using his own RV and cook to travel from race to race in Europe. Could you explain?A: Bode has his friend Jake drive his RV from race site to race site, and he cooks for Bode as well. This has been very productive for Bode as he can have more freedom, less moving gear around, a big comfortable bed and the kind of food he wants to eat. It is more challenging at times from my perspective because he is often at a separate location than the hotel we stay in, but we seem to be able to make it work.Q: How is Carbondale’s Jake Zamansky doing this year?A: Jake is a fantastic skier who has not yet reached his potential during competition. He is consistently one of the fastest skiers in the summer but has not been able to capitalize on this during the competition season. He had his first World Cup downhill with me in Val Gardena this year and did a great job. He has great potential as a speed skier but will need to dedicate more time to training in these areas so that he can be more in tune with the finer details of speed.Q: Who is really performing well, and who are some up-and-comers? A: I mentioned earlier Friedman, Miller, Rahlves – these boys are on track for putting some great results together this season. JJ Johnson just got his first World Cup points in Val Gardena with a 24th. Scott Macartney is returning from injury and has scored a few times. Wade Bishop is a very talented young man who is currently having some equipment issues but is very capable. On the technical side, Bode is always a threat and Daron has had his best-ever GS results this season. Ted Ligety is a newcomer with a bright future of fast skiing. Jimmy Cochrane of the famous Cochrane family is also doing a fantastic job and getting better every World Cup start. Tom Rothrock had his best slalom finish ever with a sixth place in Sestriere. We have a number of up-and-comers who are starting to move. Jake Zamansky from Carbondale (as mentioned), Steve Nymen, Jeff Harrison, Kevin Francis and Paul McDonald are just a few.
Q: As the head speed coach, how does it feel to have such a successful team, and what have been the keys to success? A: It always feels great to have success when you are involved with a team. I do not think it is one thing I did or somebody else did that has led to this. Right now we have a fantastic team environment where we communicate well, we all work for the athletes’ best interest, everyone is willing to help out the guy next to them, and we enjoy ourselves and have a lot of laughs. The athletes have also really began to pull for each other and there is a pride in the team and not just the individual.Q: What led to your being named the 2003 USSA coach of the year?A: I imagine it was because we had strong speed results and Daron’s seven podiums and a second place in the overall downhill title. For me, I share all of this with my staff. I think we all bring our little piece to the puzzle but as a whole staff we bring a lot of positive energy.Q: What was it like growing up in Aspen, and racing for the Aspen Valley Ski Club? A: One of the best experiences of my life. The Aspen Ski Club and Junior Hockey were my life as a kid in Aspen. I had the good fortune to be in the club when there were ski team athletes like Mark Tache, Dave Stapleton, Mike Farney and Johnny Buxman all here in the valley training when they were not out with the team. I loved every minute of my experiences growing up in the ski club, and it was equally as great to be a part of coaching [late 1980s and early ’90s] and giving back for six years at AVSC.
Q: Describe your own racing background, and how you eventually began coaching.A: I began the ski club when I was 6 years old in 1972 and raced through my freshman year. I was part of the U.S. Development Team in 1980 and 1981 and then I went to the University of Vermont where I raced for them. I got into coaching soccer and hockey initially and then got into ski racing after college. I thought it would be good to give back to the program that gave me so much growing up. My initial contact with the U.S. Ski Team was when I gave a skating clinic to the team athletes in Boulder. That led to an invitation to help at a camp, and then they asked me if I wanted a job. Sure sounded like a dream job.Q: How does World Cup racing in Aspen stack up to other venues in the U.S. and Europe? A: Aspen has a fantastic venue for giant slalom, slalom and super G, and a very good venue for downhill relative to other venues that we see. I would love to see the men’s events come back, and I would love to bring my crew here to Aspen to train on Aspen Mountain. If that ever came together, the Euros would really have to look out.Q: Is it somewhat frustrating that ski racing isn’t more widely embraced in the United States, especially at this point when the team is so good? A: Yes, it is frustrating, especially since ski racers are rock stars in Europe. I do not think they need to be treated like they are in Europe, but I would like to think people in North America understand what a technical, dynamic, difficult and dangerous sport ski racing is. I think very few people in the United States appreciate what these athletes are doing day in and day out.
Q: Is it a feat to have so many competitive skiers from the United States, when the sport has typically been dominated by Europeans? A: Yes , it is a feat. If you grow up in Europe as a ski racer you are put on a pedestal. Europeans also have the advantage [since] all but a handful of races are in Central Europe, so when there is downtime everyone goes home to family and friends. We do not have this luxury and from December to April the boys will be lucky to get home once, if at all.Q: Do you feel there are any problems with youth racing and development in the United States? A: I think it is still not as accessible as it could be to every kid, but programs like AVSC are an awesome step in the right direction. It is always a bummer when kids’ opportunities are limited because of finances. From a speed perspective, it has become very difficult for programs to provide adequate speed training because of liabilities. If we are going to continue to develop speed athletes that can compete on the World Cup, we will have to address this as a nation.Q: As for training, what does it involve, how does the U.S. program compare to the rest?A: I would say I have learned a lot from watching European teams operate. They have great attention to detail and I think we have greatly improved in this area. We do some things differently and have experimented with big blocks of time off for athletes during the summer so they can clear their heads and come back with fire in their eyes. I think we do a good job of giving guys peace of mind that they are part of the process, and I believe as a team we are starting to inspire each other.
Q: How would you describe the U.S. Ski Team right now, from athletes to coaches to team management? A: We are still growing but have a good thing at the moment. The staff has been consistent and we are all operating like a big family. This is a great group of people and I am fortunate to be able to work with them.Q: Who has been the most influential figure in your life?A: I have had lots of influential people in my life including many of my coaches like Pete Whitmore, Jamie Knowlton, Michael Whitcomb, Ken Sauer, Peter Looram and Chris Hanson. The most influential people in my life have been my family. My folks and siblings have always encouraged me to follow my passions, and I feel fortunate that I have.Q: How does it feel to get a little time off and spend some time at home?A: Always nice to come home and see friends and family. They are ultimately who we are, so you can never deny the power of returning home, even if just for four days.Steve Benson’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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