More Coaches and Better Training for US Team
|01.09.2011, Ruhpolding / IBU Inf. Dept. TO/ Jerry Kokesh|
|Training Camp Test: Rossfeld Video|
|Every team plots its own path to success through their off-season training program. It is no different for the US Biathlon team. From the time preparations for the coming season begin in May until the first competitions in early December, every day is filled with a precise amount of work or rest. Along the way to the first World Cup starts, many training camps are conducted and the progress is always tested. Currently, the US men’s and women’s A team is in Germany for their annual summer trip to Europe.|
Clear Distinction between A and B team
The US has made small but constant changes to their training regime over the past five years. The most obvious change this season was the reduced number of athletes training in Europe. Head Coach Per Nilsson explained, “This year the ladies stepped up and there is a clearer distinction between the A and B-team.” He goes on, explaining that this change became possible because Jonne Kähkönen took over as the women’s coach and now lives and works in Lake Placid, as does Patrick Coffey, the IBU Cup coach.
The separation of the teams creates more motivation for all athletes as the A-team gets little extra treats like the current training camp in Europe. Between training camps both teams train together in Lake Placid with Kähkönen and Coffey. The consistent oversight and assistance in their training is another change that athletes and coaches alike appreciate. Annalies Cook commented, “Patrick and Jonne work really well together; they constantly communicate with each other and then they are also always in communication with Per, Armin and Bernd. So if you don’t feel right you don’t have to keep it inside. There is always someone you can count on.” Lowell Bailey added, “The staff has been really good this year at communicating. Even though Jonne and Patrick are technically the women’s coaches they can come over and have a camp with Per and Armin. At the same time, I can work in Lake Placid and these guys there know exactly what I am doing and where I am at. This works really well.”
Nilsson explained why the coaches like this system better as well. “Before, we didn’t see them for a few weeks and then we saw them for three weeks straight so the coaches were excited and the athletes as well. It was more up and down. Now it’s more even.”
Home court advantage
For the current camp the team stayed in Ruhpolding for two weeks and trained at next year’s IBU World Championships venue. They now have moved on to Oberhof to do their first on-snow training in the ski tunnel. The camp is a bonus for the best four male athletes of the summer, Lowell Bailey, Tim Burke, Leif Nordgren and Jay Hakkinen as well as two women, Sara Studebaker and Annalies Cook, with Laura Spector joining the team in Oberhof.
The team has come to Ruhpolding annually for several years, creating some ties to the village and the surrounding area. The athletes and coaches have made friends outside of biathlon there and some staff members live nearby. It helps Bailey look forward to the World Championships in Ruhpolding, “We have a lot of roots here in Bavaria and I think it’s a bit of a home court advantage.”
Spirit of the sport
Another advantage is the contact with other teams in Ruhpolding, according to Jay Hakkinen, especially since the range has been buzzing with activity this summer. In addition, the team has taken on Dutch athlete Herbert Cool and Burke’s girlfriend Andrea Henkel for this camp. “One thing we’ve always lacked in former times was the interaction with the other teams on the circuit. Taking on other athletes has helped give us new ideas and get in the mix and also kind of keeps the good spirit of the sport.”
Kähkönen especially appreciates the time Henkel spends with them: “It especially helps to have Andrea with us. The workload is not much more; it’s still the same work no matter if it’s 3 or 5 athletes. But when it comes to our girls, they can train with one of the best in the world.” The improvement in the women’s team has been visible in the result lists last winter and brought the team a fourth start spot for the next season. The good results now work as a motivation as the women’s team tries to close the gap to the men’s team. Studebaker said, “We have not had as many good results in the past as the guys and we now are slowly working on that.”
In order to keep improving, all teams have regular tests throughout the summer, on the treadmill, on the shooting range and on the tracks, if possible with comparisons made to previous year’s results. Improvements show that training is on schedule while performance decreases may mean changes in the training plan. The same is true for the US team and one traditional test is a rollerski trek up the Rossfeld Panoramic drive near Berchtesgaden.
Wind, rain and fog
It is a great opportunity for the coaches to check the athlete’s basic fitness level, uphill power and ski technique over hour of constant uphill effort. “Conditions this year were worse this year than ever before,” said Coach Per Nilsson, referring to the wind, driving cold rain and impenetrable fog that greeted the athletes about 10 minutes after the start and continued until the finish. Adding this to the 1000 meters of altitude change over the 11 km trek with several extended climbs of over 13% and an average grade of 8.9% made for a very hard training day.
However, the US athletes showed that their training is on track as all of the men set personal bests by as much as two minutes. Tim Burke, recovered from major leg surgery last was the first to the top, passing all of his teammates as well as the women who started 2 km farther up the mountain. The pain etched on Burke’s face as he came out of the fog about 56 minutes after the start confirmed his effort. Yet a few minutes later wearing 2 jackets, a long sleeve top and tights to ward off the 9 degree temperatures, he smiled and said, “I felt really good today.” Six hours later, he was back in Ruhpolding on a one-hour recovery run before a well-deserved rest the following day; another test completed on the way to the new season.
Video of the Rossfeld Hill Climb follows.