Contributing Editor for The Master Skier
Lee Borowski is a master skier and sports writer from Brookfield, WI. He is a coach, author and sports video producer. He was Nordic Coach of the Year 1989. He is the author of Ski Faster, Easier and The Simple Secrets of Skating, video and booklet. His latest book is Optimal Cross Country Training.
Last year, before the Olympics, I went out on a limb and predicted that the way Johann Muehlegg poled using the V-1 was not 'the method of the future' and while Muehlegg himself was fast, his technique was flawed and weaker. The following is directly from last year’s article:
Once the poles are planted in the V-1, there are two basic ways to drive the strong side hand to the hip. You can rotate the forearm around the upper arm, like Muehlegg. Or you can drive the elbow towards the hip like Elofsson.
The Muehlegg method uses a much weaker set of muscles, the rotational group of the shoulder girdle. There is little abdominal compression, very little use of gravity and the lats do not come into play.
Contrast this to Elofsson who falls onto his poles, contracts his abdominals powerfully as he drives his elbow down with the strong muscles of the back (lats), finally involving the triceps.
This is the 'old fashioned' method of Torgny, Gunde and Bjorn. It is still the most powerful poling motion for the V-1.
The Muehlegg variation may be a 'new skate', but it is not the skate of the future.
Wow! Did that little concept get lost in the 'Doping Olympics'?!!
As you all know, Muehlegg just blew away the field in the first event, the mass start 30k skating race. His turnover was incredible. He looked too powerful to be human, almost a super human.
And we now know that he was 'super human,' having titrated (adjust either the drug dose and/or the timing of the doses to get his blood level up to what would be effective without, in his case, being illegal) his blood levels to the legal limits, finally getting busted after the last race. Even non-skiers knew something was out of the ordinary.
Cameroon skier Isaac Menyoli’s wife, Mary, said Muehlegg, '...looked too good to be true.' I flat out irritated a number of people when I immediately said he was doping.
At that time there was no proof, but I was standing five feet off the course on the first hill, and what I saw was enough evidence for me. Everyone else looked like they were slugging through mush by comparison.
Then there was the first day response to Muehlegg’s incredible performance. His skiing looked so powerful, the buzz was that his style was the 'only way' to skate. There was almost a panic change to high turnover skiing.
This 'technique panic' was compounded when Stephania Belmondo won the woman’s mass start skate, also with very quick turnover. What was forgotten was that Belmondo, and a number of other top Italians, had been high tempo skiers for years, even going back to the ?striding only? days.
But after the snow settled and doping was gradually uncovered, the question remained; was there a complete revision of technique after the first day of racing, as some felt? Was lightning-like turnover the 'new' way to skate?
But before we look at the question of whether or not a- new technique had evolved, lets look at my V-1 poling prediction, something that was certainly lost in the shuffle.
In other words, did Muehlegg change his poling from his style of the year before? And the answer is.... he definitely changed.
No longer did he simply rotate his forearm around the elbow. Instead, at Soldier Hollow, he drove his strong side elbow to the hip, using the powerful muscles of the abdominals and back to initiate poling and then finishing off with triceps extension. He just did it faster and more powerfully than anyone else. But then he had supercharged blood.
So the question remains, what about high turnover? Is that the only way to go?
Then there’s the corollary, has skating technique changed much since 1990?
The three top skiers of the 'entire' last season (Per Elofsson, Thomas Alsgaard and Johann Muehlegg) have three distinct styles and dramatically illustrate the boundaries of efficient technique.
All are superstars. All have 'perfect' technique.... for them! Yet there are big differences in how they appear to the casual viewer.
Alsgaard is an elegant glider, who feathers his poling with minimal compression (bending at the waist). Yet he uses both his legs and poles extremely well. He relies more on the lat muscles of the upper back, as opposed to his abs, to drive his elbows to his hips.
In addition he has the incredible ability to turn on the fast twitch muscles in a finishing sprint. He wins at all distances from the the sprint to the 50k.
Then there is World Cup champ, Elofsson. He maximizes both leg action and poling power.
His upper body compression is powerful and his gliding/turnover ratio is somewhere between the floating Alsgaard and the churning Muehlegg.
He maximizes both upper and lower body. His complete poling motion is initiated strongly with ab/torso compression
Finally there’s Muehlegg. He churns, he’s a bigger version of Maurillio DeZolt, the diminutive superstar. So it appears that his technique is different, but it isn’t.
Because of his higher turnover, Muehlegg looks more direct as he rotates his upper torso much sooner to face the new ski. But make no mistake about it, he is gliding, not running on his skis.
When all is said and done, these three are only maximizing their individual talents. Tempo-wise, there is no 'one set' way to ski. Length of stroke and turnover are options.
Finally, has skating undergone a big change in the 21st century?
No way, there has always been the spectrum of individual differences.
Just compare Torgny Mogren, Bjorn Daehlie, Gunde Svan and Maurillio DeZolt of the last generation of superstars.
Their techniques were all sound, with poling and leg actions very similar to the stars of today, yet their tempo and body types made each one unique.
While skating, it is the rate of turnover that determines how long a skier faces the gliding ski.
The faster the turnover, the less time is spent on each ski and the sooner the torso rotates slightly to face the new ski. (And the shorter the poling motion).
Then with slower turnover, more time is spent on each ski and the later the torso completes its rotation to the new ski (And the longer the poling motion).
It’s your job to find out what is right for you. Experiment a little, hopefully under the eye of an experienced coach.
But remember, the answer for efficient technique lies somewhere between excess wandering and a straight line forward.
One handy hint is too feel as if your head is fairly motionless, with your eyes focused straight forward. This will protect against excess side-to-side motion.
Then let the natural poling and skating motions rotate your body where it wants to go naturally, facing each new gliding ski - without too much twisting.
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