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McGrath's Notes From Norway, Entry Two: These Women are Serious


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August 2002

Saas Fee, Switzerland

We had just come off 4 days of perfect skiing and training on the glacier in Saas Fee, Switz. The women were skiing very well, the coaches were satisfied and the next day was off from training. Of course this was an opportunity for all of us to unwind a little, get to know each other better and relax. I made reservations at a pizzeria in Saas Fee for a team dinner that night and knew the coaches would drink a little because I had been warned by Rolle Johannsen, Erik Skaslien and Kjell Tore Bjarnehaug (my colleagues) “To get my drinking shoes on! The alcohol was about to fly!” My job as head coach was still in its early stages and I had not been in any social situation with my colleagues.

When I raced the WC circuit a decade ago, days off were always an opportunity for us to unwind. I guess we felt we had earned it after working so hard on the glacier the previous four days. Generally coaches will schedule three or four days of training with the next day off. In our minds, “Day off” meant take the opportunity to forget we were in Europe travelling 200 days a year and sort of “check out.” You know, relax! Have a few beers. This became habit for most of our team and once a week on average, we would go for it. We were never concerned about the consequences of the actual “day off,” seeing as we would get bombed the night before it. But I quickly realized there are few similarities between the current Norwegian Womens’ World Cup Team and the Mens U.S. Ski Team I was on over a decade ago.

We enjoyed dinner at the Pizzeria and it was nice to see the women in a “non-training camp environment.” We coaches sloshed back a couple of brews but the women drank zero alcohol. I curiously asked Rolle, “Not even one small beer at the pizzeria the night before a day off in August?” He said “No way! Never, they rarely drink!” “Wait for the World Cup final,” he said, “then you’ll see!”

This was rather startling news to me, if not refreshing, because these women range in age from 20-28 years old. In other words, they are adults and as their coach I would allow them a glass of wine with dinner in this situation. But I am also not one to mess with a good thing: these women are dream athletes, no booze and they all hard work!

However, coaches are not athletes. After dinner Rolle, Kjell Tore, Erik Skaslien and I went to the local bar to play some pool and drink a little more. Instantly, Kjell Tore ordered up four beers and four schnapps. Boom those were gone, four more ordered, gone! I started to worry because these guys had been telling me for some time I better get ready for this night. It appeared to me that maybe they were “checking me out.” On the other hand, I needed to escape because I was not capable of going the distance with these Norwegians this night. I slipped 50 Euro on the bar and sheepishly slid out the door.

To my relief, I felt only a little pain the next morning. However, Rolle, Erik and Kjell Tore were a different story as they put a huge hurt on themselves. By early afternoon, they started appearing from their rooms and proceeded to one by one heckle me relentlessly for bailing out on the night before. I found out later that Rolle and Erik had a childish fight over a pool match they lost and I chuckled to myself happily. They all warned me that there would be another time, and if I bailed it would be rude. I escaped potential disaster this time, but I’m a little concerned about what I was in the middle of. The next day on the glacier, Erik Rolle and Kjell Tore were all business again, working at their feverish pace. “These guys are rugged,” I said to myself as I wondered if they thought I was a wuss.

Stay tuned for more from Felix McGrath as he tours the World Cup circuit with his Norwegian women.