This past season I had the honour of being asked to coach the British Team at the 2012 World Junior Freestyle Ski Championships in Valmalenco, Italy. Just like it used to be, I was in charge of the ski cross contingent which for this event consisted of one skier, Marek Behnke. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Marek on and off for a few seasons now and as a ski cross athlete he has really progressed in the past 18 months despite limited training time.
Marek managed to get an extra week away from uni so we headed to Sweden and Norway with Craig Robinson and Pam Thorburn. I think a Dutchman might also have also been in the van somewhere….
The Europa Cup series in Sweden and Norway was designed to blow away the cobwebs, we were focussing on process, not on outcome and by the time we arrived in Valmalenco, Italy for World Juniors (after a journey involving planes, ferries, vans and later a train for me) we were ready to go.
Team GB were proudly supported by TASS for this event (http://www.tass.gov.uk) which meant we had a Chef de Mission, Deputy Chef de Mission and a Team Physiotherapist. The support TASS has provided to freestyle skiing over the past few seasons has been invaluable and we are really seeing a great impact from their support into the performances on the snow.
One of the great things about these championships was that it brought all the freestyle events together in one resort. Whilst ski cross, half pipe, slopestyle, moguls and aerials are all part of freestyle, we virtually never get to meet our freestyle teammates so it was excellent to all be under one roof in the team hotel and to be very well looked after.
Onto the hill!
The week before the champs, the FIS Snowboard Cross World Cup Finals had taken place in Valmalenco so we had the benefit of their track! What a track it was, long, fast and with lots of airtime! Check out this great video of the race!
So with the cobwebs blown away in Scandinavia, we went into the race with one objective. Top 32. Ski Cross races have two distinct parts, qualification and then heats. Only the fastest 32 skiers make it through to the 4×4 action and this is where all the athletes want to be. I’m always wary of setting a target, especially when you don’t know the quality of the field before we get to the race but we wanted to be in the real action so top 32 was set. Sadly though, we lost the official training day as the weather gods remembered it was still winter and the sun disappeared and about a foot of snow decided to fall meaning we couldn’t accurately detail the quality of opposition.
No worry’s though, back to the wax room, re-focus and prepare to do everything on the one day. This meant 2 training runs, 1 qualification run and if we achieve our target, HEATS!
Come race day the weather had improved as you can see from the video and we were left with perfect race conditions! After a two solid enough training runs it was time for qualification. With Marek starting near the back of the field in bib 42 the task was simple. GET IN THERE. Marek skied the best run of his season to finish in 28th place but with 10 skiers to go this meant the most nervous wait of our careers for both athlete and coach. When the final skier crossed the line we started counting back, checking times and waiting…….
The announcer then read out the list of qualified athletes from 1st down to 32nd. By the time they got to 31 we were very nervous. Our count backs suggested either 32nd or 33rd and then they read out “in 32nd, Marek Behnke, Great Britain” and I have to admit I let out a bit of a scream! Marek was under the most pressure of his career and he delivered when it mattered, super proud. This meant we had to get re-waxing and ready for the finals! Qualifying in 32nd does however mean you will have the fastest skier from qualification in your heat and that you are racing in the first heat, the one everyone is watching.
Sadly, Marek didn’t progress through the heat but that’s ski cross sometimes and at least we were in the finals and had a chance. Although disappointed not to progress, we set a target and achieved it. There were quite a few quality skiers who missed out on the top 32 so all in all it was a good days work.
It was a great few days in Italy, topped off with a fun opening ceremony (which took place after our event…) during which I ended up on stage representing Team GB, a proud moment for me!
All in all a great event, fantastic to have a world juniors in central Europe and to have all the disciplines in one place at the same time! Let’s hope we see this again next season!
One final picture which I think shows ski cross in all it’s glory!
Please check out the following web links! Much of what is going on in Freestyle skiing in GB wouldn’t be possible without the support of TASS. The support is much appreciated!
Thanks to everyone who made it a great championships! All the Team GB HQ Staff, athletes, coaches, local organisers and FIS for making it happen! One final mention has to go to all of Marek’s family and “supporters club” who all travelled out to support him at the race and provided us with transport to Italy. The support of friends and family at these events makes a real difference to the athletes!