XXIV Olympic Winter Games: behind the scenes

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The US Freeski coaching staff helps with everything from training strategies to competing in windy and frigid conditions.


Skogen sprung

Slopestyle Pro Team Head Coach

Where can athletes shine on the slopestyle course?

Rails are an essential part of slopestyle. You can’t airbag them [in training]. To be really good on rails, you have to put in a ton of work. It may not look impressive in the public eye, but people who know what they’re watching should expect to see some exciting new progressions unfolding on the tracks at these Olympics.

Design features that interest you?

Shark fin jumps with angled side take-offs and quarter pipe take-offs are really difficult for athletes because it puts them on a different axis [upon takeoff]. These secondary features are going to allow athletes to separate themselves from the rest of the pack with new innovative features.

What is your strategy to help athletes develop new skills?

We collaborate; we discuss how they feel [performing] turns and make sure they understand how rotations and body control work in the air. Allowing them to figure things out on their own gives them the confidence to be self-reliant under pressure. I oversimplify and like to break down two or three key elements of each of their runs into an external cue or movement that can help them unlock that run under pressure.

How do you prepare slopestyle athletes to compete in Big Air at the Games?

There is no warm-up. You just walk in and go big and back up the elevator. It will be a different pace for some athletes; they’re used to Big Air compositions with a rock concert-style vibe to the core, and we’re not going to have that energy in Beijing.

What are your main concerns?

The conditions will be difficult. We heard it was down to -40 degrees with the wind chill and the wind was changing direction. Flat light and ice will also be factors. Fortunately, we have excellent wax technicians.


mike riddle

Head coach of the professional halfpipe team

Where do athletes find inspiration for new tricks?

There is an obvious influence from other action sports. Many of our athletes also snowboard, skateboard and surf, and that translates into skis.

What’s the secret to improving tricks, especially after an attempt ends in injury?

Our whole sport is a game of risk versus reward and those who succeed in it are very adept at analyzing the risks and deciding when they are willing to take those risks to get the reward. If you want to get good, you have to learn to trust your training. Today, it is much easier to push the limits of training safely thanks to airbags and trampolines.

Any tips for staying calm before a big race?

I generally advise against watching other races. If someone breaks down, it’s your buddy and you have to compete next, it may bother you. Or if everyone kills him, you might start thinking you’re not good enough. If I see someone getting stressed, I remind them not to compare themselves. It’s you against you there and it’s supposed to be fun.

Crowds are such a part of the Olympic atmosphere, how do you prepare athletes for the possibility of empty stadiums?

There is potential, we will have Chinese spectators, but it does not seem that we will be able to have friends and family [in attendance]. We tell athletes not to dwell on it and encourage them to focus on the “now” and what they want to accomplish at the start of their season, rather than thinking about the Olympics.

What are your main concerns?

They built a wind wall at the pipe so you know it will be windy. I also worry about what I will eat for breakfast. I don’t take leave.


Mast Voss, Athletic Development Coordinator for the US Ski and Snowboard Teams shares three key strategies on how athletes maintain their mental prowess in stressful situations:

* Group sessions on mindfulness and concentration technique

* Headspace guided meditation app is a hit with athletes at all stages of preparation

*Keep it fun with interdisciplinary games, surf sessions and team dinners

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