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Fly, glide, fight!

A Peek Behind the Scenes

Fly, glide, fight!

sport.tirol accompanies ÖSV Austrian Nordic Combined Ski Team athletes during competition training in Seefeld.

Text: Klaus Erler, Picture: Stefan Voitl

It becomes obvious during a training day in Seefeld with the ÖSV Nordic Combined Team: not only are competitions tough in the combined discipline, training for a Nordic Combined World Cup packs quite a punch too!

It is very obvious that Seefeld is preparing for something big: security staff wearing high-vis yellow jackets are in force all over the town, directing the noticeably increased flow of traffic and visitors in the right direction this Thursday before the competitions. Things are even busier at the venues where the Nordic Combined World Cup will be held from Friday, 26th January 2018 to Sunday, 28th January 2018 as a Nordic Combined Triple, as a dress rehearsal for the 2019 Ski World Championships is taking place.

Maintenance work on the landing area of the Normal Hill in Seefeld during training

Clearing snow with chainsaws

Large excavators are trying to shift the masses of snow left behind by the heavy winter weather of the previous few days. Members of the Federal Army are using chainsaws to carve their way through the metre high walls of snow at the roadside. The route to the Toni Seelos ski jumps and competition start / finish area must be clear by tomorrow. Work is progressing rapidly, although the World Cup sports facilities are still undergoing reconstruction and much of the paths and infrastructure that had hitherto been in good functioning order, is being reorganised.

Containers are standing around; a semi-underground system of paths and pipes connects the ski jumps with the cross-country ski trails. Nevertheless, the plan is to prevent the expected influx of visitors from congesting anywhere, or for any bottleneck situations to be caused by the many refreshment stalls, which are also being set up right now. Stages are being built in the outrun area of the ski jumps, cameras are being positioned and hectic instructions given on the ever-present walkie-talkies. 

A dramatic sport

Ten o'clock: a muffled thud is followed by the distinct whirring of ski edges: those who have come to watch the early training session suddenly swivel their attention from the refreshment stalls to the finish area of the Toni-Seelos ski jumps: ÖSV Nordic Combined athlete, Bernhard Flaschberger, has opened training with his jump, which reaches the 90-metre limit. One thing is immediately apparent: Nordic Combined Ski Jumping is nowhere near as dramatic on TV as it is in reality. "Only those who witness the tremendous speed with which ski jumpers race towards the outrun area after their up to 100-metre long flight will be truly aware of the forces that are inflicted upon the athletes during training and competitions,” enthuses a German tourist, who has travelled here especially to watch both the competitions and training runs.

A total of 55 international athletes will test the Normal Hill during two training runs this Thursday morning. A provisional competition run follows just after noon, the so-called "Pocket Jump". The results of this jump are only relevant for the overall rankings if adverse weather makes it impossible to complete the jumps on the coming competition days. This seems unlikely, considering that Seefeld is bathed in radiant winter sunshine today. In other words, optimum conditions for the eleven Nordic Combined ÖSV athletes, with Bernhard Gruber, Willi Denifl, Lukas Klapfer and Mario Seidl.

German fans in Seefeld:

"Only those who witness the tremendous speed with which ski jumpers race towards the outrun area after their up to 100-metre long flight will be truly aware of the forces that are inflicted upon the athletes during training and competitions.”

Packed training plan

They all arrived late yesterday evening, together with Head Coach Christoph Eugen, Jumping Trainer Christoph Bieler and Cross-Country Trainer Jochen Strobl. Now, after breakfast, they are already completing the third point in their packed training plan, which started on Wednesday evening. New, tailor-made jumpsuits had to be fitted, regardless of the late hour. This is a great challenge, especially for the coaches, as competition suits are only permitted if they fit the athlete perfectly and are not too big. If suits lack the regulated amount of air permeability, an athlete may be disqualified. 

Relaxed mood

In the changing room on the first floor of the main building, trainer Christoph Bieler passes instructions on to the first ÖSV athletes who have already jumped, while the race announcer gives a running commentary on the latest jumping distances, in a constant battle for acoustic dominance with the pop hits echoing from the loudspeaker. “Watch where you put your hands", Bieler tries to give Nordic Combined athlete Mario Seidl a few words of advice on style, and replays the detailed sequence of Seidl's first jump on the laptop. In the meantime, there is a great deal of coming and going in the rest of the room: The athletes extract themselves quickly and expertly from their competition suits, which are then hung up in the cabin between training runs.

On competition days, the protected zone begins here behind the changing room door, where the athletes can finally give vent to their feelings, away from prying camera lenses. It doesn’t matter today, as everyone is relaxed. The level of disappointment or delight about how a training run has gone can generally be gauged by the amount of energy used to close locker doors. The Austrian jump skis, currently being serviced by two technicians next door, are amongst the fastest when it comes to distances jumped, which probably explains the relaxed atmosphere.

A similarly nonchalant vibe can be felt a few hundred metres away, at the perfectly prepared cross-country ski competition trail. A large service vehicle and container field is within sight of the start line and final straight. The ÖSV's ten-strong cross-country skiing service team has also set up shop here. It is pleasantly warm and bright in the two ÖSV trucks. The smell of wax, whose basic olfactory structure has never altered over the last few decades, lies in the air. On the wall of Service Truck 1 there are around 300 pairs of skis for eleven athletes, arranged by brand and labelled with signs and abbreviations only the pros can decipher, which provide information on which skis can be used at what temperature.

Service technician Guido Scheiber makes sure the skis are as fast as possible.

Service technician Guido Scheiber explains the core responsibilities of his team: "We make sure that our athletes' cross-country skis are not only fast in the race, but as fast as they can possibly be". To ensure that happens, many individual measures have to be timed perfectly. The brand-new cross-country skis were in fact given a base sanding the previous summer. For today's training day, two service staff will be on hand throughout the morning to select the models that glide best under the current conditions - very cold snow and minus seven degrees. In the meantime, Guido Scheiber is hunting for the right wax. Different wax structures are applied to 30 test skis, work that requires the use of a gas mask, as the special powdered wax becomes toxic the moment it is heated. Scheiber checks every single one of the prepared skis for their gliding properties over a distance of around 200 metres. A tester covers distances of between 20 and 40 kilometres on just one competition day.

Guido Scheiber ruminates on the difficulties service technicians are confronted with:  “Sometimes, it is immediately obvious which wax will be the fastest, but other times it takes hours of painstaking inventiveness to select the correct wax type.” Only when the right ski with the fastest wax has been found, can a special layer of extra wax be applied in the second service truck, making the ski even faster.

Back at the Toni-Seelos Ski Jump, the Pocket Jump ended at around 1 pm. Lukas Klapfer is Austria’s best result today, taking sixth place. The Nordic Combined athlete from Styria is cautiously optimistic after this training result. It will emerge later, however, that Mario Seidl is the best ÖSV Combined athlete, ultimately finishing tenth in the Seefeld competitions. Despite a good cross-country performance, Lukas Klapfer will only finish in 14th place. Be that as it may, these results will only become apparent in three days’ time, and lunch is a much more pressing matter right now.

Unfussy eaters

The ÖSV athletes are staying at Hotel Hochland in Seefeld, where they now meet for a quick lunch. The athletes are unfussy eaters for hotel manager, Johann Seelos. "The Nordic Combined Team eat a similar diet to that of a normal health-conscious guest. However, they need food that is rich in carbohydrates at lunchtime and in the evening”. Pasta and rice are important staples, eaten together with beef, turkey and chicken. Pork is avoided. Salads and vegetables come from the buffet, as well as starters, soups and desserts. Drinks come in the form of water or fruit juice. 

Carbohydrate-rich lunch: ÖSV Nordic Combined athletes Paul Gestgraser and Thomas Jöbstl fortify themselves before the afternoon continues.

Not all ÖSV athletes, however, can take time to enjoy this lunch today. The next point on the busy training plan has to be dealt with at 14:30 hrs. Lukas Klapfer, Willi Denifl, Mario Seidl and Bernhard Gruber are scheduled to answer questions from numerous journalists in the Seefeld World Cup Hall. Nordic Combined media advisor, Clemens Derganc, moderates the interview in which Head Coach, Christoph Eugen, states that the team’s form is not as good yet as in previous years. The athletes talk about their great Olympia dream and consider their own chances for the upcoming World Cup weekend to be good, especially on the hill.

ÖSV Combined athletes answer journalists’ questions at a press conference in the Seefeld World Cup Hall.

Reserve energy for the weekend

Following this press conference, a quiet cross-country skiing session brings the entire team together again. The athletes are careful not to waste any energy during this training run because - as lead runner Lukas Klapfer says as he straps on his skis - “we need to reserve our energy for the weekend”. This training session is more about loosening up and inspecting the course, only a few athletes are gearing up for competition modus today. The course is 2.5 kilometres long, it will be completed up to six times successively during the days of the competition, and corresponds to the official World Championship course of 2019. It has changed a lot in recent years and now has longer flat sections, which could present a tactical challenge for the team. The run is relaxed at the moment, however, as this afternoon training session is intended to provide a welcome antithesis to the more static jump training of the morning. The afternoon run takes between 30 and 60 minutes. This is followed by some quiet time, which is also used to arrange evening massage appointments with the accompanying team physiotherapist.

Dinner follows at 7 pm, followed by the trainer and athletes going through the individual video sequences of their training jumps. Afterwards, the athletes retire early to their double rooms, where they prepare themselves - each in their own way - for tomorrow's competitions. Watching telly, computer games, lying on the couch, anything that induces relaxation is permitted. Tomorrow is a big day, for which the athletes should ideally be rested.

After the hard training day, Combined athlete Lukas Klapfer receives a massage from physiotherapist, Gernot Landerer. © Clemens Derganc

Nordic Combined Triple:

The Nordic Combined Triple has been held in Seefeld since 2014. On the first day of the competition, there will be a jump and a five-kilometre long run. A jump and a ten kilometre race takes place on the second day, when the field of participants has been whittled down to 50, thanks to the rankings from Friday. The points and time differences are used to determine the starting order and overall rankings. Only the top 30 athletes will start on the last day of the competition. They compete in a jump and 15 kilometre run.

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