Winter Olympics XXIV: Behind the scenes

Winter Olympics XXIV: Behind the scenes

The U.S. Freeski coaching staff weighs in on everything from training strategies to competing in windy, bone-chilling conditions. 

Skogen Sprang

Slopestyle Pro Team Head Coach

Where can athletes shine on the slopestyle course?

Rails are such a core piece of slopestyle. You can’t airbag them [in training]. To be really good at rails you have to put in a ton of work. It might not look impressive to the public eye but people who know what they’re watching should expect to see some cool new progressions go down on the rails in these Olympics.

Any design features you’re excited about?

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

What’s your strategy to help athletes develop new skills?

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

How are you prepping slopestyle athletes to participate in Big Air at the Games?

There’s no warmup. You just drop in and go big and take the elevator back up. It’s going to be a different flow for some of the athletes; they are used to Big Air comps with a rock concert-style vibe at the base, and we aren’t going to have that energy in Beijing.

What are your biggest concerns?

Conditions are going to be challenging. We’ve heard it gets as cold as -40 degrees with the windchill and the wind changes directions. Flat light and ice are also going to be factors. Luckily we have great wax technicians.

Mike Riddle

Halfpipe Pro Team Head Coach

Where are athletes finding inspiration for new tricks?

There’s an obvious influence from other action sports. Many of our athletes also snowboard, skateboard and surf, and that translates back to skis.

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

Our whole sport is risk-versus-reward and those who do well in it are very skilled at analyzing risk and deciding when they’re 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’s a lot easier to safely push the envelope in training thanks to airbags and trampolines.

Any tips for keeping calm ahead of a big run?

I typically advise against watching other runs. If someone crashes, they’re your buddy and you have to compete next it can mess you up. Or if everyone else is killing it you might start to think you’re not good enough. If I see someone getting stressed I remind them not to compare themselves. It’s you-versus-you out there and it’s supposed to be fun.

The crowds are such a part of the Olympic vibe, how do you prepare the athletes for the possibility of empty stadiums?

There is potential we’ll have some Chinese spectators, but it’s not looking like we’ll be able to have friends and family [in attendance]. We tell the athletes to not 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 be thinking ahead to the Olympics.

What are your biggest concerns?

They built a wind wall at the pipe, so you know it’s gonna be windy. I’m also worried about what I’m gonna eat for breakfast. I don’t do congee.

Matt Voss, Athletic Development Coordinator for the U.S. Ski & Snowboard teams shares three key strategies on how the athletes maintain their mental prowess in stressful situations:

*Group mindfulness and focusing technique sessions

*Guided meditation app Headspace is a hit with athletes in all stages of  preparation

*Keeping it fun with cross-discipline games, surf sessions and team dinners

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