SAN DIEGO/SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. -- Fun in the sun? Well, not exactly! While the annual mid-July "on-beach" camps of the men's and women's U.S. Alpine Ski Teamalways offer a diverse break from normal training, the snow skiers were clearly the hardest-working athletes on the beaches this month!
After early-July on-snow training on the high glacier of Mt. Hood, Oregon, the training ground moved south -- first for the men with a July 12-19 camp in San Clemente and Mission Viejo, then the women from July 19-26 in San Diego and Del Mar.
Each of the week-plus camps featured physical conditioning testing, plus a mixture of traditional strength and conditioning in the gym, beach and surf workouts, and some diversions including football for the men and rowing on San Diego's Mission Bay for the women.
"It's a great break from on-snow training, for sure," said U.S. Ski Team Sport Science Director Andy Walshe. "But it's also an important conditioning and team building opportunity."
While the men didn't bring in any strong personal experience in football, you could hardly tell it from watching them. A lanky Bode Miller had no problem snaring long passes out of the outstretched hands of defenders, and World Champion Daron Rahlves did much of the same. Top-ranked GS skier and big-time Buffalo Bills fan Erik Schlopy made an NFL-level diving catch late in the game. "These guys are athletes, great athletes, and you can see that by how they adapt to different sports," said retiring Head Men's Coach Bill Egan.
Egan, who grew up in San Clemente and later coached football at nearby Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, brought his men to his alma mater for two days of football workouts. Day one was education -- learning skills, teamwork and strategy. Day two was the Super Bowl -- highly competitive, as you would expect from world class athletes.
Walshe took the men through a grueling few days leading up to the annual Oceanman competition, this year pitting two teams of 12 athletes and coaches against each other in 'surf lifesaving' drills. In one drill, an athlete took a sea kayak 200 meters offshore, and then had to be "rescued" by his teammates as he came back towards shore -- the team having to hold the 150-pound kayak, with the paddling athlete, high above their heads and run a 100-meter circuit in the sand on shore!
The women, meanwhile, took their beach action 30 miles south to Torrey Pines State Beach near Del Mar for much of the same. An aggressive Sarah Schleper was first in the surf and first out as the girls combined swimming, surfing and beach running. Also on hand among the nearly 20 athletes were World Cup winner Kirsten Clark, a healthy Caroline Lalive, and returning veteran Katie Monahan, fresh from her second successful on-snow camp after an injury which knocked her out for all of last season.
"One of the really encouraging things we're seeing is the conditioning level of all of the athletes," said Walshe. Walshe and his staff develop personalized conditioning programs for each athlete. Prior to each camp, athletes undergo physical testing to check their progress. "It's great to see the progress we've seen the last few years. The athletes are all doing a fabulous job keeping up with their conditioning programs on their own."
Head Women's Coach Marjan Cernigoj echoed Walshe. "We really had a great camp at Mt. Hood and now here in California. The girls are really in great shape!"
While Southern California has been a traditional stop for the U.S. Ski Team on-and-off for a decade or more, Walshe has spiced up the program the last three summers. A native of Australia, Walshe has brought the popular sport of "surf livesaving" to the Team with his innovative beach workouts. It's hard work, as the teams find out every summer. In the men's Oceanman on the beach in San Clemente, Walshe put them through a nearly three-hour workout.
Still, it wasn't too much to dull their enthusiasm, as the hardier surfers were oout every morning at dawn and back again at sunset to catch some waves.