August 15th, 2008
Okay, not a lot of time to write. But I will try to respond.
1. This isn’t personal. I know Dick is a good guy, I assume he feels the same way about me. We both feel it is important to improve understanding of technique in this country. I would love to find common ground, or to persuade him (or be persuaded). My comment about his accusing me (and others) of not knowing what we are talking about was to emphasize that it is easy to criticize the faceless monolith known as the U.S. Ski Team (I’ve been know to do it), but when you do this, you are in fact criticizing a number of talented and dedicated athletes and coaches. Dick can’t accuse the U.S. Ski Team of disseminating bad information without accusing many of these individuals of serious knowledge deficits.
2. Dick demonstrates that he had a far broader knowledge of the literature, particularly the foreign literature, and of anatomy than I have. He points out, for instance, that when I rightly criticized Marty Hall for claiming that the “abs are stabilizers, not movers” I did not accurately describe the location and detailed functions of the different muscles involved. The point remains, though, that the abs are an important source of poling power, and also that skiers 20 years ago underutilized these muscles.
3. I simply disagree with Dick on the importance of the literature in developing technique. This is based on methodological flaws in the few papers I have read along with the simple fact that Dick is far better read than I am and comes to conclusions inconsistent with my experience racing the World Cup, watching the World Cup, and talking to my competitors. The “two oars” in his metaphor, should, in my opinion, be athlete and coach, not athlete and scientist.
4. As another example, I am curious how Smith concluded that V-2 is overused. Was this study done on Red Group skiers? Or did it in fact conclude that less competitive skiers did themselves a disservice when they V-2 as far up a hill as a World Cup skier? At nationals this year, I had a good skate race in part because I was willing to V-1 far more of the course than many of my competitors. This was good for moving me from 20th to 10th place in the country. But against a World Cup field, a skier using V-1 simply could not have held the pace necessary to avoid embarrassing himself. The U.S. Ski Team focuses on the technique it takes to win big races. I am open to the idea that their conclusions may not apply to the vast majority of skiers, but this by no means makes them wrong.
5. The issue that started this discussion was the issue of weight transfer. Dick claims no memory of the way I was taught to skate, that is, in three distinct motions: apply power in the direction of the glide ski, glide, and rotate to face the direction of the next glide ski. I could dig up and old PSIA manual where I have seen this prescription if people need proof.
6. The fundamental question here has to do with whether good weight shift is possible when conscious rotation is minimize. Dick notes at the end of his recent article that rotating the femur outward from the pelvis results in an unstable position with the knee buckled in. This may indeed be his experience, but this is the result of a strength deficit on his part. I struggled with the same deficit, particularly on my right side. In my experience, once one develops the piriformis and glute med muscles to the point that they can stabilize the leg with the hip turned out, skating is noticeably faster and more efficient in this position. Given that Dick agrees with the need to keep one foot from falling behind the other, I suspect that we are indeed closer on this issue than the FasterSkier hyped rivalry might otherwise suggest. I am glad that Dick questions the wisdom of the weight transfer I suggest, rather than questioning is physiological possibility, as Marty Hall did.
7. Finally, I am including a few video clips. The first shows the relay from the Calgary Olympics. Note the long poles, which sometimes lead to people planting their poles above their heads. This forces their weight back and minimizes the role of their abdominal muscles in poling. Not also the extensive use of V-1 on the flat, and the awkwardness this creates. In my opinion, we see a much more mechanical technique here as well; many skiers have a “hitch” in their climbing technique.
The next clip is from 1994. Note the difference between Daehlie and Alsgaard.
After that there are a couple clips of Alsgaard and Elofson skiing. Note how easy it is to read the bibs throughout the clips, and how little torso rotation is happening.
Finally, I have included Northug from 2007. Note how even at an incredible tempo his technique remains both compact and fluid. The contrast between this and the awkward flat sprints of the first video is especially compelling.