U.S. ski racers cram for Europe
November 17, 2006
J. J. Johnson calls it the countdown. A few more weeks in North America, then bye- bye for five months. See you in the spring, when the flowers are blooming, when the birds return, when the World Cup season is over. Ski racing fans forget sometimes. As much as the 80-mph speeds, as much as the fame and (every so often) fortune, as much as the daredevil public profile and coveted status, life as a U.S. Ski Team racer also includes a lonely Christmas, lots of reading, TV reruns, suitcase living and, yes, that lovely little delicacy known as mystery meat. Everyone thinks its so glamorous, American star Lindsey Kildow said. Its not. Living out of your suitcase is not fun. And so begins Johnsons countdown. Whereas so much of the current attention on the U.S. team focuses on its preparation for the World Cup Are they ready? Who will be this years breakout star? Can Bode Miller shine again? the racers and coaches have much more on their minds. They are preparing for a winter on the road. With only one World Cup stop per gender in the U.S. ( Beaver Creek for the men, Aspen for the women), these next two weeks are all they have. Then its off to Europe for the never-ending village- hopping and apartment living. Each U.S. team member has a slightly different routine in cramming for the coming months (and a few actually look forward to it). Johnson, for instance, tries to eat as much Mexican food as he can, because it is either not available or not trustworthy in Europe, he said. He watches enough football games, too, to tide him over for the rest of the season.
Its all gone once we get over there, the 29-year-old Cup veteran said between Wednesday morning training runs at Keystone. You cant even really get PB&Js in Europe. Scott Macartney, a two- time Olympian who grew up in Washington state, makes the most of his two days between the end of the Colorado training camp and the opening World Cup speed events in Lake Louise, Alberta. He said hell fly home to Seattle just to get one day of freeskiing at his home hill, Crystal Mountain, with his friends. As for logistics, Macartney learned the hard way that the bills dont go away when their owner does. You kind of dont think about it, he said. You pay your last credit card bill, then you go on the road. Then a month and a half later, youre like, Oh, crap. I gotta take care of some stuff. So I have everything set up to be paid automatically now. Stocking up on the essentials is a must, though the definition of that word varies by racer. Tech specialist Jessica Kelley said she and some of the other girls have made a habit of picking up TV series DVDs, the big two being Greys Anatomy and Entourage. They gather as a group and soak up the Americana whenever theyre bored. More solitary types like Kaylin Richardson and Kildow turn to the written word. “You gotta make the stops at the bookstore and just stock up, said Richardson, 22. When were over there, thats my main source of entertainment. Just find the best- sellers so you can keep yourself occupied in between runs when the weathers bad, or if you get a couple days when things dont go right. If Im over there for three or four months, Ill buy six or seven books. Of course, there is little to ease the homesick feeling around the holidays. For the U.S. racers required to spend Christmas overseas, no time is more trying. The group of guys we have now is pretty fun, Johnson said, but when youre sitting in your apartment at Christmas time with no one else He trailed off. We always get a Christmas tree, get presents out, have fun. We have a little tradition. The opposite here, of course, is the European racers. During the many two- or three-day breaks in the Cup schedule, they often travel home to their families and pillows, an envious prospect to the Americans, many of whom take no chances in preparing for their hiatus. I just pack a lot of crap, said Kildow, one of the few four-event skiers on the womens circuit. I pretty much pack four huge bags like, my life and that way I know Ill have everything and wont get over there and be like, crap, I forgot my underwear.
Racing prep Despite all of the scurrying to prepare for Europes tiny villages and unpredictable food Macartney said he once came across what he thought mightve been horse meat in France the priority was hard to miss Wednesday morning at Keystone. These athletes are preparing to do what they do better than any other skiers in the country: race downhill. The two-week cram period on the hill involves many facets, perhaps none more important than two equipment selection and ramping up the intensity from training mode to race mode. Phil McNichol, the head coach of the U.S. mens alpine team, is no longer expecting his racers to train for hours on end, not with the bulk of the World Cup schedule this close. Instead, hes aiming for what he calls race pace within their runs. Were trying to add stress to the training, he said. In terms of, whos fast, whats it mean to be fast, whaddya get if youre fast, whos going to what races, a lotta qualifying, a lotta jockeying going on, a lotta bragging rights. We try to encourage that, because right now we want intensity, we want execution in a stressful environment, because thats what racing is. At the World Cup level, racing is also about perfecting your equipment so that nobody has an advantage over you. Bryon Friedman, one of the top speed skiers on the U.S. team, spent much of Wednesday evaluating his skis, figuring out which work better in which conditions, then recording the observations so hell make the right calls on race day. We write down everything about them, every day: how they felt, what kind of snow temp, how they ran. Its kind of like a ski log, said Friedman, who estimates hell take eight pairs of super G skis to Europe, along with eight pairs of downhill skis and three pairs of GS skis. Believe it or not, traveling with that many skis is the norm on the World Cup. And with such a long, grinding season ahead of them, the smart ones do like Macartney does when he packs his bag. Powder skis, he said. I always throw one pair of powder skis in there.
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