Impressive depth

Dave Kearsey
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Nine Newfoundland and Labrador athletes off to national nordic ski championships in B.C.

CORNER BROOK  Today’s verson of an elite nordic skier is a far cry from when Mark Tierney was in his prime.

Caitlyn Pink of St. Anthony makes her way to the finish line at the 2013 national cross-country ski championships in Whistler, B.C. Pink finished in ninth place in the 10-km interval classic race with a time of 34 minutes, 30 seconds.

Tierney is a coach with the Newfoundland and Labrador nordic team that just sent nine athletes to the national cross-country ski championships in Whistler, B.C.

A Corner Brook native, Tierney was impressed with how the provincial team held its own against the top cross-country skiers in Canada, posting some of the best results in recent years with a number of skiers getting top-10 finishes.

“It’s pretty amazing to see sort of the depth of the team,” Tierney said of the team’s performance at Whistler. “We had lots of skiers who were competitive fighting for top 10 and medal contentions in the mass start. They were really competitive and sort of go with the pack until you can’t hold on anymore and we had a lot of people right in there until the end.”

Tierney, who was a member of the provincial nordic team that represented Newfoundland and Labrador at the 1999 Canada Winter Games in Corner Brook, suited up for the provincial team as an elite skier from 1992-2000. During his stint as a competitive skier, Tierney said,  every once and awhile a skier from Newfoundland cracked top 10 on the national level and sometimes a couple of skiers did well in a particular year, but it’s been sporadic at best and this year’s results were certainly the best showing in a long time.

“We realy have a collection of athletes, male and female, who did really well at nationals,” he said. “We had a few kids place in the top 10.”

Tierney believes his athletes worked hard all year to get some positive results, and that commitment involved a heavy workload in the gym with some of the skiers doing weight training as much as three times per week. He also believes the team was serious about competing this year because they put a lot of dryland training work in before the snow arrived and he applauds their level of commitment when faced with the challenge of having to train on their own or in small groups because of the geographic challenges that exists on the island.

“The saying is skiers are made in the fall and that’s definitely the case with the kids,” Tierney said. “They did a lot of roller-skiing and they are geographically spread out across the province so one of the things they generally do is train alone or in small groups, which is unusual.

Most of the teams they compete against have professional coaching daily. So we’re able to compete against teams where the skiers train with a coach who is a full-time coach and our athletes we’re all sort of volunteer so in Newfoundland they don’t get that for coaching so it’s amazing they do it on their own in a lot of respects.”

Tierney, Annette Hiscock of Corner Brook, Will Fitzgerald of St. John’s and Erik Charron of St. John’s share the coaching duties for the provincial nordic team because there isn’t money available to hire a full-time coach like the big guns on the national nordic radar.

While the odds are always stacked against provincial teams once they hit the mainland, this year’s squad got a helping hand with ski manufacturer Madshus and Cycle Solutions teaming up to provide the team with $3,00 worth of wax testing equipment to help the team keep on an even keep with the rest of the country.

According to Tierney, it proved to be a worthwhile venture as he noticed a big difference in the performance level of his athletes.

“It allowed us to have better skis, faster skis and probably contributed a second or two or maybe a place or two for some of these athletes’ improvement,” he said.

“It’s something we didn’t have before that everyone else had and now it kind of evens the playing field and it’s part of the sport becoming so professional and competitive you sort of need those things.”

While having the best in technology at your dispossal is certainly a help, Tierney believes the drive of the athlete has just as much to do with the quest for success. He likes how his athletes are driven to be their best and are willing to do what it takes to make it happen and that brings a smile to his face.

“You can’t really make it as a cross-country skier if you aren’t that way. You have to be self-motivated to improve,” he said.

Tierney sees how the sport has changed for the better with Canada now a leading force in the nordic ski world. He has noticed that the quality of the athlete and level of competition has been taken to a new level and believes what was required of him as a junior to win a medal back in his day would only be good enough for 30th or 40th place.

According to Tierney, all you have to do is look at how the sport has evolved on the international scene to get a good understanding of how Canada has developed as a nordic ski country. There was a time when Canada could barely put somebody in the top 30 on the international scene, but in the past couple of years there have been Canadians rising to the top in the sport on the world scene.

“We’ve gone from barely being able to put somebody in the top 30 to one of the top ski nations in the world now,” he said.

dkearsey@thewesternstar.com

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, Whistler B.C. Corner Brook B.C.A Corner Brook

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