If LEAD™ Masterclass speaker and new Performance Director, Dan Hunt, can do for the Ski & Snowboard team what he did for GB cyclists and Team Sky, then Olympic podiums here we come.
With GB's first but only medal on snow, a bronze won in Sochi in 2014 by Jenny Jones in slopestyle there is definite scope for more podium sucess in ski and snowboard disciplines in the next Winter Olympics. Except the competition is fierce.
Mikie Kitaruth, from STYLE ALTITUDE, met Dan Hunt, newly appointed as Performance Director, to discover whether Olympic success can transfer across sports, what it takes to win medals - and does he ski?
Cycling and skiing, do they crossover? It seems that resorts have caught on that red runs from the winter make great cycling tracks in the summer but can you transfer the skills? I was familiar with Dan Hunt's background as a sports scientist and his previous involvement with Olympic success of the GB cycling team and I really wanted to find out if he could transfer his knowledge and experience to create and sustain successful performances to the snowsports world. As a side note, did you know that in his youth, he had a big love for skateboarding? No, neither did I but it was a good ice breaker (excuse the pun).
Q: So how did your involvement with a sports scientist background help push the performance of the GB Olympic cyclists to achieve such a phenomenal success in the Olympics, 2008 and 2012? And will you use the same training principles for snowsports?
'With the sports science background, it allows you to take a different approach to things, more of an objective approach. You look at what you are trying to do and then break it down into a rational way to build it back up again. But in terms of doing the sports science degree, it didn’t really prepare me for dealing with the Great Britain cycling team at all (laughing).
‘Coaching is about people, and becoming a director gives you the chance to create the environment in which people can thrive and become the best at what they do. You wouldn’t take the snowboard style and apply it to the training for a cross country skier, it’s obvious that it would fail. In the same way, as stupid as it sounds, I wouldn’t take the track cycling mentality and apply it to say pipe or slopestyle as it would just fall on its ass.
‘But the riders are very focused, train incredibly hard, dedicated to what they are doing and compete to the highest level, so at the end of the day they are athletes like everyone else I have worked with and that’s the similarity.’
Q: How confident are you of improving performances of the GB Ski & Snowboard team in just over a year and winning more medals at the next Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, 2018?
'I remember watching the Sochi events a few years ago and thinking for a country without any real snow right on our doorstep, what a huge force that GB team was. It has brought a lot more attention to us as a country involved in the sport and with the introduction of new events, it seems that we are engaging a lot more people and inspiring a new generation.
'The focus has been there for the riders in terms of the training and coaching, but the Olympics isn’t just the only event they have to work hard for. It almost seems as though when you hear commentary from Olympic events, they are stating that the athlete has been training so hard just for that event for the past four years. In reality there are all the other events and games that take place, on a world level and European circuit. From what I have seen the relationship between the riders, the environment they train in and the coaches, we couldn’t ask for anything more.
'Right now everyone is geared up for this winter; we are looking at areas that need a bit more attention but the main focus is that everyone still has that drive and passion. Having been through this with the British cycling team, I am confident that by 2018 we can beat any previous winter Olympic results.'
Q: So how does coaching the snow team differ from other sports you have been involved with and does it feel separated as a sport compared to some of the higher profile sports?
'Though I am not a coach anymore I do understand coaching and I do understand high performance coaching. The fundamentals are the same. The coaches that we have for the British team are something to be proud of. Having been around the UK sports system I have an understanding of how hard these coaches work. Just because it’s snowsports doesn’t make it any different.
'The leadership, communication and technical knowledge is at a high level but add in the event specific experience and you have the best coaches in British sports. But also, they are definitely doing something right as all I’ve seen is happy, smiley people since I’ve been here.'
This year, I have found myself interviewing some of the world's top snow athletes and this one question keeps coming up with everyone having their own spin on the idea. It creates, sometimes, a heated discussion with the division of opinions hard to avoid. So hence my next question:
Q: With the introduction of slopestyle and other events added to the last winter Olympics, do you feel this will increase the amount of people getting involved or do you feel like it will over saturate the sport and find core riders moving on to something else?
'Freestyle sports, extreme sports, action sports are becoming a much bigger percentage of how people engage in sports these days. The Olympics has to reflect the generations of participants in all sports, so to neglect these areas would literally cut off a generation and I think we are going to see a shift in the types of sports that will be represented at these games in the future.
'If you look back to 1904, we think it's "nice" that they had tug-of-war competitions and we laugh about it, but in another 100 years time we may look back and make the same comment about something that has phased out. These are not minority sports any more and the Olympics are always going to showcase mainstream sports so it’s great that it is being recognised and pushed further.'
Q: The feeling I’ve got from the riders I have met, which is common across all of them, is the massive love for what they do. Have you found this and what’s the best way to keep that passion they have?
'That’s exactly it, they got into this sport because they love it. The environment has to maintain that level of enthusiasm otherwise the excitement goes and the lack of drive disappears. With so many other sports, they think that discipline is the main focus, and this team is full of disciplined athletes.
'They are, on a daily basis,, breaking down the next level of trick, working out how can they achieve it and build it back up again until they do it. There’s a similarity between a cyclist wanting to increase their speed times to that skier who is wanting to land that new trick. What they call “trick” is just the execution of a very complex skill, so how is that not the same as learning something in a different sport?’
Q: How strict do you think snowsport athletes should be with their training? What do you think about the athletes who maybe like to do a little apres and party?
‘Let me just set this straight, as I have been asked this a few times recently, ski and snowboard athletes are no different from other track athletes or swimmers. Maybe the territory that comes with the sport overall is slightly different but that is down to the majority of people who participate in snowsports tending to do this while being on vacation, meaning that the apres style drinks is another way of winding down after a day on the mountain.
'You have got to remember that these athletes don’t hit the bar after every time they have done a run or after every training session. We have all seen the amount of celebrating that goes along with winning a medal or a competition, in any sport, and I want the riders to celebrate success. Ultimately what I have noticed is that through the love of the sport, the riders are very focused, they understand the importance of training and if the balance is compromised then they are aware of the things that will suffer.
'There is a common understanding between everyone about the importance of training and the discipline that comes along with it.’
Q: What, in your opinion, distinguishes an athlete who wins medals from other athletes in the same discipline, apart from talent?
'There are some people what have a desire and a need to win, and what I’ve seen across my journey so far in high performance sports is the people who tend to be successful tend to have the ability to hold focus for long periods of time and are prepared to put it infront of anything else. The champions are not depicted just when things are going well, but when you are recovering from an injury or watching a competitor do something that you can’t do, there’s the moment that creates a champion. The ability to overcome adversity and ability to hold focus is what determines a great athlete.
'Everyone that I have coached to win Olympic gold has been through difficult times whether it's personal life or sporting life, but have overcome those factors. The amount of training and time that is put in is down to the rider, having the focus and discipline to keep the momentum going forward; that is something that comes down to not just them but the coaches, too. You can’t just rely on fate to bring results. I have had events where the team I was working with have performed about average but have come out on top because the opposition that day were below average. This is something we can’t rely on; it’s about striving to be at the top of your game and what can set you apart from the rest.'
Q: And the final question which may be irrelevant to the man who was not a cyclist but trained the GB team to Olympic success, who was not a footballer but was Head of Elite Performance for Premier League, but we kind of need to know:
Do you ski or snowboard? And what experiences do you have that might inspire the team?
'I’m just about to hit 40 and there’s a small part of me that thinks maybe I can jump on a snowboard and then I remember my old skateboard injuries and how much they hurt back in the day, I’m just not sure my body can hack those types of fails now. I am a skier and have been skiing since I was 8, but nothing to the level of the guys I have seen here, and if I’m honest in the past, skiing has taken a bit of a back seat.
'But now I am in this role I do plan on getting back out there; I am desperate to. I am looking forward to being in the mountain environment, being involved in this culture and, ultimately, bringing my experience from a sports background to help shape the future and knowing what it takes to win in British snowsports.'