March 27, 2017

Dario Cologna

(info about Dario Cologna)

The preparation of a cross-country skier

Thomas Kieller

Photos – Copyright Swiss-Ski

Dario Cologna: Cross-country skier.

All-around athlete, Dario appreciates all kinds of races, from sprint to 50 km races. It remains that the man from Santa Maria Val Müstair, a small village in the East of Switzerland, is more dominant in distance races, in both skating and classical techniques. Often, he has left his opponents behind. In all competitions that he took part in, he won more than 40 times. With those successes, he finished, four times, in first place of the overall ranking of the Cross-Country World Cup of the International Ski Federation (FIS). Besides his four big crystal globes, he had also his share of victories at the national championships where he won the great honours nine times. With a beaming smile and a fighting attitude on the tracks, the Switzerland man won his first Olympic gold medal in the 15 km freestyle in Vancouver, Canada in 2010. Three months before the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, a ligament injury to his right foot was troubling him. Nothing was sure concerning his participation in those games. Nevertheless, he won there two more gold medals, one in the skiathlon and one in the 15 km classic. Because of the circumstances, those Olympic victories have a special meaning for him. One thing is sure, Dario will still compete fervently on the snow-covered tracks because cross-country skiing passionate him quite a bit.

The interview took place on March 18, 2017 at 18:30 at the Hilton Hotel during the Cross-Country World Cup in Quebec City, Canada.

Prelude – Dario arrived in the lobby of the hotel quite relaxed. Earlier that day, he finished 6th in a 15 km classic race with a mass start.

Physical conditioning required

Thomas Kieller: First of all, how many races you do per season?

Dario Cologna: It’s between 30 to 40 races per season.

Thomas: Is there a place for even more races or that’s the limit?

Dario: I think it’s possible to do more but not much more, because we have a short season. We have to race when there is snow which is from the end of November till March. I’m doing all kinds of disciplines, from sprint to 50 km races. Also, it’s important to have training sessions to keep our performance high. If we consider all this it’s already quite a lot but it is possible to do more.

Thomas: The more races you do, does it make you more exposed to injuries?

Dario: No no! In our sport, there is not a big risk of injuries. When we fall, it’s not that bad. However, it is possible to over train. If we consider from the point of view of the race, it will be possible for the body to do more.

Thomas: By the way, what are the most common injuries in your sport?

Dario: There are many shoulders problems because we use a lot of the upper body. In my case, I don’t have this but some other skiers have it. Otherwise, we don’t have big injuries. The risk is to do too much, to over train and be tired.

Thomas: Obviously, you prepared yourself for this high level of competition. What do you do for your cross-country training (cardio wise)?

Dario: After the end of the season, we will start our preparation. The first part will be long training sessions at low intensity. After that, in the summer, we will do more intervals where we will reach our threshold. We do a lot of roller skiing and running during this period. It is an important aspect of our training.

Thomas: This World Cup in Quebec City, is it the last race of the season for you?

Dario: Well, it’s the last World Cup race. After, I will do the Swiss Nationals and some smaller races, but it’s the end of the season quite soon.

Thomas: How long is your break and are you going to relax during this time?

Dario: I will use the snow before it’s all gone away in Switzerland. I will still do some training on snow to have the feeling of it as long as possible. I will also do some ski tests. After, I will take a break which is approximately two weeks. Normally, I’m always doing something but in general at the end of April it’s more relax. I will look how I feel. I’m thinking to have really a break this year in order to be fresh. I am fighting little injuries right now. I hope this break will help me to be ready for the next Olympic season. I think it will be a good time to have a real break for two weeks. And after, in May, I will start the training camp with the team.

Dario Cologna: Going uphill.

Thomas: We already talked about your cardio training, but do you do workouts in a gymnasium for other things?

Dario: Yes, the gymnasium is also really important in our sport. We need a lot of strength for the double poling technique that we use in the classic discipline. In this event, we use the upper body without the kicking motion. So, it is important that in the gym we do maximum strength exercises. For the endurance aspect required in our sport, we are doing it when we ski. In the gymnasium, we will focus on developing maximum strength with weights.

Thomas: Are you a very disciplined person concerning your training?

Dario: I think so. I’m training quite a lot and I’m doing a lot of hours of training if I compare with my colleagues. As an athlete, you always want to do a little bit more. It’s not always the right solution! However, I believe we need a lot of training because it’s a tough sport which requires a lot from our body.

Thomas: I asked this question because I read that you are (or were) a sport-soldier. Could you elaborate on that?

Dario: Well, I’m not anymore a sport-soldier. It is possible to have the support from the military in Switzerland like in many other countries such as Italy and Germany. Some athletes work as a soldier or a police officer. In Switzerland, it is a very small program. Twenty athletes can benefit of it. In my country, everybody has to do military education and I had the opportunity to be part of this. You get some money in order to train.

The purpose of this is to support young athletes. At the beginning of my career, it was really important for me. After my good results, I did not need it anymore. Nevertheless, for young athletes it is very important. I was in this program for six years, until I went to the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Thomas: With your coach Ivan Hudac, what do you want to improve concerning your physical conditioning or anything related to the technical aspects of cross-country skiing?

Dario: There is always something to improve. You can always find something. Besides, our sport is always developing. I cannot say I’m happy with everything. I want to work on my agility a little bit. I have an old problem with my foot (an injury) and I want to work on this. I want to improve myself in sprints in order to have fast legs which are important for sprint and for the mass starts. Also, one must be very fast at the end of the races. That’s what I want to improve for the next season.

After the races

Thomas: Yesterday, you did the 1.5 km sprint event. Today, it was the 15 km classic. Tomorrow, it will be the 15 km freestyle. After a race, do you have a routine in order to evacuate the physical stress?

Dario: The most important thing is to cool down. For that, I do some running or if it is possible I will ski. After, I will drink. For example, I can get a fresh recovery shake. Then, I go back at the hotel where I eat. I can get also a massage. That’s the normal routine. Sleeping is quite important which is not a big secret.

Thomas: Sometimes you do a 50 km race and a week after you do another 50 km race. It’s quite demanding…

Dario: You know when you are in good shape, you can recuperate faster. We can compare our sport to cycling. In both of them, it is possible to do a very long race and to do it once more a week later. If we compare it with running it’s different. When you run a marathon, you will need a long recovery because of the impact that one has while running. It’s possible to do back to back races in cross-country. Nevertheless, it’s important to recover well to be back at the top level.

Thomas: In professional tennis, the players jog after a match to evacuate the acid lactic. You have explained it a bit… Do you do something similar to that?

Dario: Oh yes! The active recovery is the most important one. Massage comes after, like in fourth place in term of recovery. Like today, after the race I went skiing to cool down and to evacuate the acid lactic, the pressure, etc. Also, I will go running a little bit later for an easy 20 minutes.

Last words

Thomas: What a spectator should expect when he comes to see a cross-country skiing event?

Dario: The spectator can see an endurance sport at high level. It’s one of the hardest sports because you need the whole body. It’s different form running and cycling. In cross-country skiing, you need the upper body. Also, you can expect a good atmosphere. For example, in Norway, they are crazy about skiing. They can be 150,000 persons at an event. So, you can have a good time.

Thomas: Thanks Dario for this discussion.