New Coach: Similar Program with Long-term Focus
Stian Eckhoff moved into the Women’s Head Coach position for Norway when his colleague Egil Gjelland shifted over to the Men’s Head Coach job. Ironically, as he moved to the top coaching spot, his sister, Tiril moved into the top spot as the best Norwegian woman after her sterling Olympic performances. Her two Bronze medals in the mass start and women’s relay plus the Gold medal in the mixed relay and a sparkling personality made her a media favorite.
Now as a new season approaches, Tiril looks like the immediate successor to the retired Tora Berger, as her brother guides the team towards continued success in retaining their top spot in the Nations Cup standings. When the dust settled last season, Tiril landed in 7th position in the World Cup Total Score, a big jump from her 29th the previous year. Beyond her Olympic results, the 24-year-old had a consistent season that included a string of top 10 finishes. She also sees no issues with her brother guiding the team. In fact, according to a recent interview in Oslo’s Aftenposten, Gjelland asked for opinion regarding her brother coaching the women’s team. She agreed, at the same time asking if Gjelland would still consult with her this season; end of any concerns. Still, the young woman admitted in the same interview, “That my worst nightmare was and is that there would be divisions in the National Team because he is my brother.” There has not been an inkling of this problem.
Solemdal Battles Mono
Although Tiril was the Olympic story for Norway, there were and are other top-flight women on this team; the cupboard is far from bare. Synnøve Solemdal looked like Berger’s heir apparent with three podiums and a win in Hochfilzen last season. Yet she broke down after December last year and never regained form, with just 35th and 36th place results in Sochi. Just after that, medical tests revealed Mononucleosis. She recovered after several months of rest. Now back she told Aftenposten, “Stepping back from the sport, I gained a different perspective and now I have new momentum, (with a smile) plus I am a year older!” Health issues aside after a solid summer of training, these two give Norway a strong 1-2 punch.
These two plus Fanny Welle-Strand Horn make up the team’s early selections for the World Cup season. She has been a solid World Cup performer who finished last season ranked 27th and was as thrilled as anyone with her Bronze Olympic relay medal at the post-competition press conference. The diminutive Hilde Fenne, who Gjelland a year ago called “the strongest woman on the team pound-for-pound is also back after some health issues that kept her out last season. At the same time, Marte Olsbu, a past IBU Cup winner who also picked up a top 10 World Cup result last season is a strong addition to the National Women’s team.
With these five alone, Norway’s women can be a formidable group, that according to Coach Eckhoff has worked effectively all summer; building base, getting stronger and working on basics as they look forward to the World Cup season and especially, the 2016 IBU WCH at Oslo’s legendary Holmenkollen Ski Stadium.
Stian Eckhoff: Easy Transition
In an interview this week, Stian Eckhoff, a former World Cup winner as well a coach offered a glimpse of his transition to Head Coach and his team’s preparation for the new season.
BW: Coming in as the new women’s coach, did you make any big changes in training or did you try to build on Egil’s work in the past few years?
SE: I worked together with Egil during our years on the A team. I have a good understanding of his approach to athlete and training philosophy. We have the same background and I believe there were only minor changes. Still I think I have a lot to contribute to the team. We have done some small changes. Basic training has been #1 priority and the goal is to have a better and stronger base ahead of next season (2015 IBU WCH in Oslo). I believe it is a very smooth change of Head Coach since the rest of the coaching team remains the same.
BW: Did the athletes have any extra rest after the hard Olympic season or did you start training on a normal schedule?
SE: Some of the athletes had some extra weeks in the spring; mainly because of the intense pressure from media after the Olympics.
BW: Did the retirement of Tora and Ann Kristin put more pressure on the other women to improve both their results and consistency?
SE: I don’t think so. The athletes are very focused on their own training and progress. Remember that we still have athletes with good results despite the retirements of these two women.
BW: Do you expect Synnøve and Tiril to step up as “team leaders?”
SE: This has been a remarkable well working team this summer. The athletes have worked together and solved issues together. There has been no clear leader but a variation based on the situation. Tiril and Synnøve have historical the best results. They will probably be our top athletes until the rest step up to that level.
BW: What was your main focus during this summer’s training—shooting, power and strength, ski technique?
SE: Basic training: endurance, power related to technical skills. No altitude or summer snow training. Shooting: increased knowledge on individual performance, better base shooting.
BW: How is Hilde Fenne doing after her problems last season?
SE: Hilde is back and in good shape. She has been a part of the team the whole summer with only a minor adjustment in the May program.
BW: Was there one training camp that was outstanding; you went home with the feeling that everything went perfectly; if so, when and where?
SE: There will never be a perfect camp. I will always search for improvement.
This has been a very interesting year. We have several quality camps this year. I still feel the pieces are coming slowly together. The highlight is yet to come…