The following article was written by Senior Alberta World Cup Academy athlete Kevin Sandau and was published on his blog.
This past spring I was kicked off the National Ski Team. After finding out I was cut from the team, I really wanted to quit. I could not see any future for me in the sport I’ve loved forever, even though I knew I had made big improvements that previous season. Cross Country Canada wasn’t filling quota spots, I kept hearing excuses about this or that, and after all was said and done, they fired Tor Arne Hetland as the Head Coach and swept all of last season’s problems under the rug with him. While skiers were starting the new training season, I was going back and forth on what I really wanted to do. At the end of May I met with my old coach Mike Cavaliere to talk things through, and I guess I sort of knew prior to sitting down for coffee with him that he was going to convince me not to throw in the towel just yet. And he did, and I’m thankful for that. I should really also thank my teammates, coaches and everyone else that reached out to me with their support in the spring to keep charging. I’ve had a great and productive summer of training, and this year is all about racing my best at the 2016 Ski Tour Canada – seven World Cup races across Canada in March competing against all of the worlds best. As simple as that. No politics. No Bullshit.
The National Ski Team was like family to me, and I am grateful for the five years spent on the team representing Canada. It was a huge goal of mine to earn a spot on that team when I first moved to Canmore almost a decade ago and a big benchmark for me when I finally earned a spot in 2010. I loved repping red, white and often times a bit too much neon green on the international stage, working with the staff within Cross Country Canada and having the cool opportunity of trying to get Klister the Jackrabbit to Sochi (spoilers: he didn’t). So after all that, it was a bit unsettling to not be told I didn’t make the 2015/2016 National Ski Team directly from the NST head coach, nor the High Performance Director, or I guess anyone within CCC. Instead the news came from an Academy coach whom I had never worked directly with in the past and who should not have had to carry that responsibility. So yeah, that stung.
Last season I started to see an unsettling path Cross Country Canada was guiding our sport towards. With their new focus on supporting the “next generation” of skiers, they have also begun to ignore and even deliberately push out older skiers. I witnessed this firsthand in March at the World Cups in Lahti, Finland, where CCC tried to deny Andrea Dupont from her NorAm start spot because she was too old to fit within their mystical International Performance Benchmark curve. Ironically after having to fight tooth and nail to remain in Europe to race the spot she had earned, Andrea went on to finish as the top Canadian in the sprint. There was a definite feeling of animosity in the air that evening from the coaches.
I won’t deny that the younger round of skiers are inevitably the future of our sport, and that will always be the case, but our veteran skiers are the mentors, role models and competition they need to get there. Growing up as an Under-23 skier, I had guys like Gordon Jewett, Dan Roycroft, and etcetera to train and race against. While older and faster than me, these guys helped me expand my knowledge and limits of the sport. They were the brains I would always be picking; asking about their international racing experiences, what worked and didn’t work for them over the years, stuff I just didn’t know. I don’t think I could have ever gotten to where I am now without having these guys to look up to. Had the majority of these racers quit years earlier like what is happening now, I would not have had that competitive drive and probably would have become stagnant in my drive to be better. And that’s ultimately what I think is the best thing for us here in Canada: competition. From all levels and all ages.
I really want to get an open conversation going. Free speech in our sport by athletes and coaches is far too often suppressed in fear of retribution. With more and more use of discretion in selection criteria’s, athletes really can’t speak out. Perhaps there are some within CCC that have become too comfortable at the top, and it’s time for a fresh vision. I’m hopeful to see where our new Executive Director takes us and I hope he is more of a leader than our last. CCC has been constantly saying that “Now is our time”, but the way things are headed I think that is too narrow of a vision. Our women’s depth is dwindling, we have just one woman racing World Cups this weekend, and Alex Harvey can’t keep carrying us on his shoulders season after season. We can’t be a top-8 nation if we don’t fill quota spots. We won’t have skiers to fill those quota spots if we cap success and support at 25 years or younger. And we won’t have many skiers skiing past their early twenties if the message they receive from Cross Country Canada is, if you’re not the best every year, there isn’t room for you. Our sport is still relatively small compared to the rest of the world; let’s not start making it even smaller.
P.S. Along with my fresh new website, I made a video to go along with it’s launch detailing a brief summary of my summer. Enjoy.