Training Under Coronavirus; Adjustments and Flexibility
The coronavirus epidemic first changed the closing weeks and later ended the BMW IBU World Cup season prematurely. Since then, the world has changed dramatically, with quarantines, lockdowns, and border closures. As the athletes begin preparing for the 2020/2021 BMW IBU World Cup season, training will in some ways look very different with things like social distancing, frequent video conferences, health checks, less travel and smaller training groups all part of the “new normal.”
Two teams, the US women and Sweden, have adapted to this new situation, staying flexible while revamping their plans to fit the circumstances. Both teams are in a unique place. US women’s coach Armin Auchentaller is at home in Antholz, his team at their homes in across the USA with “some having good access to training while others no so much, because of different rules in each state.” At the same time Swedish Head Coach Johannes Lukas is at his home in Munich, while his whole Swedish team is living and training in Oestersund.
Suddenly, this spring, video conferencing has become a way of life for both coaches and athletes. Lukas commented, “We have had a lot of online meetings, almost full days over the last weeks. It actually went quite well, but it takes much more time. We had our coach’s evaluation of the season, planning for the new season, and then the evaluation with the athletes online and as well as changes for the next year. It was a lot of meetings but I think we managed it quite well.”
Auchentaller admitted that he spends a lot of time connecting to the USA. “We do video calls, presentations on Zoom, individual calls with athletes and in a few days, we will have a group introduction to the season. We are lucky that the technology is so advanced that we can do these kinds of things.”
Adjusting to an “Unprecedented Situation”
Both coaches admitted that their best made plans have been thrown for a loop by coronavirus, but they have adjusted and will continue to do so as necessary. The US coach commented, “We planned in a normal way, thinking what would be the ideal plan for the season. From that ideal plan, we will do adjustments, for sure, because in the US, the East is different from the West. For example the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center (the team base) is not open yet but it will open in a safe manner when possible. Adjusting plans will be a big part of this early season: May, June, July; some things we will deal with on a daily or weekly basis and see what we can do best for training and development." Continuing: “I am used to this long distance coaching, but this is different because in the past I could go to a camp and now I cannot. We cancelled our spring ski camp in Bend Oregon. We plan to have a camp in June, but that is up in the air, because this is an unprecedented situation for all of us worldwide. We will see how things go in the coming weeks and make last minute decisions if necessary. We have to be flexible and have a Plan B or Plan C…Creativity and improvisation are two things that you need to have in these times.”
Self-drive and Motivation
Auchentaller sees this as a special time for his athletes to take control of their own destiny when they are training at home very much independently. “It is a challenging time. Everyone can take it as an opportunity to work even more focused; you have to talk more, pay more attention. For the athlete, it takes more self-drive and discipline to improve. They can get to know themselves better even though there is not a coach there.”
Big Change for Sweden
Although Lukas is in Munich and separated from the team, he has a big advantage with the team concentrated in Oestersund and four coaches also living there. Still the coronavirus completely upset his training plans. “It was quite a big change for us; we are a team that travels quite much for camps. We are a team that travels and trains together. Our season works on a camp plan where we have different focuses. Our Crete camp in the beginning of May has a lot of biking. Then we normally go to the Alps to get in a lot of high altitude and to Ruhpolding and maybe France in July. Those were already in my season plan; we had to change that and the whole organization around how we would manage our training. The weather in Sweden is quite special at this time (May); in middle Europe they get warm weather and do long biking sessions. In Oestersund, there is still some snow and zero degrees. It is quite tough to make long basic aerobic sessions. That is why we enjoy Crete and warmer places at this time. We had to adapt the training; I think we did it in a good way. I am very positive about our new plan.”
Advantages, Disadvantages of Staying at Home
However well the living/training set-up in Oestersund works, Lukas admits this season will be a test for everyone. “We have a great situation with everyone in Oestersund; it is working very well. We can use a gym which is not allowed now in Germany for example. Of course, will be interesting to see if there is some boredom by July; training at home with the same people, same area, and same roller track. We have plans to split up the groups and have some home camps; change some small things to keep the motivation up. Still there is a big positive with less travel days, much more time home with family and better recovery.”
Every team and federation is and will be taking extra precautions to stay safe and healthy in this new training environment. The US and Swedish teams both have plans to fit their unique situations.
Although it will be a while before Auchentaller and his team come together for a camp, they will be well-prepared to stay safe and healthy. US Biathlon CEO Max Cobb said, “The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee provided us with a detailed set of guidelines for conducting camps with appropriate health protocols. They include testing, testing at camps, temperature checks, cleaning protocols, self checks and cleaning protocols among other things. Of course some of these are already part of our routine. We put athlete’s health and well-being as a top priority while the athletes are also very conscious of taking care of themselves.”
No Risks for Sweden
Of course in this new training environment, both athletes and coaches are taking extra precautions to stay healthy. The Swedish team is operating in a bit of a bubble; limiting outside exposure as much as possible. “As a federation, we are trying to do things so there are no risks at all. We do not go to public gyms. We have built up our own gym now, but we keep it limited to no more than five athletes at one time, even though it is quite a big room. We cancelled our A and B team kickoff event where we bring everyone together for some fun. That was the thing to do, not take the risk. We are trying to isolate the team as much as possible. At the same time, each athlete has a personal responsibility. They have to train some alone, in groups only with the team and also think about where they go and which people they meet. I have to say that everyone has accepted the situation really well.”
This is just an example of how two teams are handling the return to training under the shadow of coronavirus. Every team will be taking precautions to make sure their athletes have a healthy and safe new training season.
Photos: IBU/ Jerry Kokesh, Christian Manzoni