Skieologians: How America won all that gold (in 2030)

A call back to their plundering of the 2018 Olympics, three “architects of Norway’s sport system” shared key ideas for nationwide sport development in an Aspen Institute article titled, “How Norway won all that gold (again).”

The Beijing Games saw Norwegian winter athletes win a record 16 gold medals. As Aspen Institute editor Tom Farrey notes, “The performance burnished Norway’s reputation as having the best sport system in the world.” 

The authors listed seven important elements to their system, one of which brought me back to my Adams State exercise physiology graduate thesis proposal course:

“Norwegian sports facilitate learning across sports. We have joint research and development projects, and arenas, where athletes and coaches meet across disciplines. This form of competence sharing has systematically been valuable. Few countries, if any, match Norway in this area.”

My fall of 2018 class was filled with about a dozen other exercise science graduate students, many of whom were current or former Grizzly runners. We had an 800-meter All-American whose indoor 1:50 5th-place accolade — far loftier than anything I could have dreamed of — would no doubt render him totally anonymous in the running mecca’s school history books. There was a 24-year-old who had “only” run 14:34 for 5k in college but was pursuing the 2:18 Olympic marathon trials standard post-collegiately, something he’s continuing to strive for today as a member of the “Alamosa Track Club Project,” a team comprised of numerous ASU alums whose fire for growth in the sport is far from flaming out. 

Like most of our class, these individuals’ master’s theses focused on the sport they’d grown to love through years of involvement. These people weren’t signing mega contracts or going to the Olympics, but they were joining forces with thousands of other high-level runners in DIII, DII, and even DI, who hoped to leave a personal mark on the sport. 

As they searched for gaps in the running literature, thousands of recently published studies — dozens of which were in the humble Alamosa college’s computer lab from previous students — would be readily available. Meanwhile, my bold plan of conducting a Nordic ski study seemed … impossible. Finding an American student from any of the last four decades who had trailblazed this topic for me felt like walking into the woods to locate a timberwolf. Sure, they must be out there, but there’s probably a reason to leave them alone. 

Thankfully, I could turn to Norway’s research, where I came across one name more than any other. Oyvind Sandbakk, the director of the Centre for Elite Sports Research at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, was deservedly labeled as one of the three “architects” by Farrey. Sandbakk is as busy as his titles betray, but generously aided this humble American in his research, of which he will be a co-author. A former high-level athlete himself, he and his co-writers bring up a valid reason for Norwegian winter sports success in the quote pasted above: R and D. 

At NTNU, Sandbaak shepherds half-a-dozen students (many of whom were great skiers) through a PhD program every year, and much of the Nordic ski-specific research conducted involves world-class or national team members serving as willing subjects. 

It’s a far cry from America, where the number of graduate papers is about four per decade, and subjects range from teenage athletes to reluctant NCAA “B” teamers.

If you think the solution to this problem is to simply throw money at U.S. Ski and Snowboard to hire high-level sports scientists, you aren’t thinking foundationally. Of course, the reason you read this column is so that we can do that for you.

Not only is there no money to be thrown around — there is no one to throw it at. We have to go back to my ASU classroom to find the reason.

Most sport researchers and coaches were once student-athletes.

They fell in love with their craft, participated through college, and desired so strongly to stay involved they dedicated their degree to sport, continued competing and training beyond graduation, or went into coaching. More than likely they did all three, like my colleagues at Adams State. This pattern rings true for American track and field, where we are the globe’s best, but it is far from true for skiing.

The result of having 53,000 NCAA track and field athletes across DI, DII, and DIII – compared with 386 male and 374 female NCAA skiers — means infrastructure to support research and development exists in one sport and not in the other. 

The success of the United States track and field program is built upon the wide-talent pool it pulls from, and that talent pool depends on thousands of exuberant coaches, parents, and volunteers. If the NCAA system continues to shrink, as the study linked above clearly indictates (there are almost half as many NCAA skiers now then there were in 1995-1996), so will the pool we pull those leaders from. This is basically point no. 2, by the way, from Sandbakk’s article, which states:

“At the same time, we recognize that Olympiatoppen sits on the shoulders of a sports movement dominated by volunteer coaches and administrators across the country. The cooperation between community clubs and leaders driving elite sports is the jewel of the Norwegian performance culture.”

High school and college teams are the American version of Norway’s vibrant club team template, where athletes from Rena to Oslo and Trondheim to Lillehammer can receive teaching, training, racing, and more for as long as they’d like.

Afforded an opportunity to continue their sport in college, people are empowered to positively chisel their own signatures into the pipeline’s foundations. The epiphany here is that U.S. skiing only catches up to Norway in terms of research by growing the opportunities for athletes beyond the prep level.

Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Maine, etc., have robust high school leagues with thousands of athletes … just like in running. The latter group can go on and pair their academia with their sport, a combination which also would contribute to a development of the whole person — point no. 3 from Norway:

To be the best in the world, you must train the best in the world. At the same time, the training philosophy in Norwegian sports involves taking responsibility for both the social, mental and physical development into being a top athlete. It’s about developing people!

Sadly, most skiers give up the sport after their last state meet, unless of course they remembered to combine their free and open scholastic invitation to the skinny ski lifestyle with an elite, costly club experience (which hopefully garnered at least a few Junior National podiums .. without putting mom and dad into too much debt).

They give up the sport altogether, that is until their sorority’s ten-year reunion schedules a wave 8 pub crawl of the Birkie amidst a sea of disoriented Wisconsinites hoping to avoid a crash on some random hill outside of Telemark. You know what the Norwegians say: When the Beats pill guy blasts Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Let it roll, down the highway,” for the 17th time, that’s when you know you’ve really found true Idraet.  

All jokes aside, fewer college athletes means fewer people going on to study the sport, fewer coaches to inspire the next generation, and fewer people showing up at the citizen race starting lines, the group which lives out a lifelong love of the sport more than perhaps anyone else.

More college athletes means just the opposite.

At some point, it might even mean we get to write the article: “How the U.S. won all that gold (….just like Norway).”  

Published by rsederquist

My name is Ryan Sederquist.  I am a man of many passions and dreams, and this website is the outlet for many of them. I am currently teaching 5th grade remotely in the Adams12 school district in Colorado. I have been an elementary music teacher in Alamosa, Colorado, as well as a 7-12 band director at Lake County High School in Leadville, Colorado. I am also in the final, final stages of acquiring my M.S. in Exercise Science from Adams State University. In 2018-2019, we spent a year in Presque Isle, Maine as I coached the UMPI Nordic ski team. I currently live in Leadville, Colorado with my wife Christie, a special education teacher, and our border collie-German shepherd mix, Ajee. Even though it is not my full-time job, ever since I was a child, I had the desire to do one of three things professionally - pro sports, writing about pro sports, or being a radio talk show host. This website is where I pretend to do the latter two, and when I'm out pretending to do the former, I listen to podcasts, think about topics, and pursue my wild dream of someday, at some event, in either running, biking, or skiing, wearing a team USA uniform. This website contains articles, podcasts, pictures, and journal entries that have to do with my passion and involvement in endurance sports. Our flagship project is the Seder Skier Podcast, which talks mostly about nordic skiing and attempts to interview influential individuals in the ski world. I also rant about the Big 4 sports, with a lean towards Minnesota teams (Vikings, Twins, Twolves, and MN Distance Running). I sometimes try to write Sports Illustrated like 'feature' articles about athletes as well. In addition to a focus on sports, you will find the occasional article or show that discusses the intersection of theology and society ...which is ...obviously everywhere. We place these in our Skieologians podcast. The heading at the top of my homepage reads, "Search for Truth. Play with purpose. Strive for success." It is the underlying theme for my coaching philosophy, which can be downloaded from this site. Basically, I'm always looking to search for the truth in my pursuit of knowledge, whether that is knowledge regarding the best methods for waxing skis, training a quarter miler, or defending my Christian apologetic. Searching implies a dedicated pursuit for knowledge, and that is what I'm about and what this site is about, even if it is simply for providing viewers with an accurate description of a product. Play with purpose has to do with living out our passions because they are fun. I ski because its fun. I play music and teach young kids because there is joy in it. This blog is about celebrating the joy and fun that inherently exists in the pursuit of excellence and in the activities themselves. Finally, strive for success is built on the principle that true success is the realization that we gave 100% effort to become the best that we could possible be. It requires 100% in preparation, competition, reflection, mental effort, etc. If something is worth doing, I believe it is worth doing with that level of effort. Someday, I hope to race the Visma Classics - the entire season, wear a Team USA singlet, and have a job that involves writing or talking about sports or theology all day. If you know of any body I can reach out to to help me accomplish these goals, please email me at sederquistrd@grizzlies.adams.edu

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: