This article was initially published in June
That’s when GB Snowsport decided they had to act.
In conversation with Professor Mike Loosemore, GB Snowsport’s chief medical officer, Performance Director Dan Hunt decided that it was time to bring the athletes home. At seven that evening there was a call between the senior leadership team and the decision was communicated to the support staff and athletes.
For the two weeks prior the team had been having daily meetings surrounding the rise of coronavirus, ensuring that they were prepared to do what was best for their athletes at any stages. In many regards they were ahead of the curve.
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Freestyle skier Katie Summerhayes remembers getting the call.
“It wasn’t a hard decision but we had a World Cup still on, still scheduled,” Summerhayes tells Eurosport.
“When we got the call I was kind of on the fence but GBS said they weren’t entering us even if it was on so it made the decision pretty easy.”
Alpine skier Charlie Guest shares a similar story. “I was in Sweden at the time (Are for what should have been the final meet of the season) and was supposed to race the next day.
“On Wednesday evening maybe around six-thirty I got a text from my coach saying ‘race cancelled going home tomorrow at 7am pack your stuff.’ I was like woah, wow.”
As it turns out all those remaining World Cup events were cancelled anyways, ending everyone’s season prematurely. The focus then turned to getting the athletes and coaches home.
Of course for an organisation like GB Snowsport that is a tricky thing to do, at the time they had athletes all across the globe, and not every one of them had to return to the UK. Andrew Musgrave and the rest of the cross-country team for example, are based out in Norway whilst Charlotte Bankes, a dual-national snowboarder, is based in France.
But, thanks to the intrepid work of the operations team it was managed, quickly and avoiding the rush. Then the question came, what now?
In a phone interview with Eurosport Hunt stressed the “sense of humility,” that he and his team had, as most of the winter sports seasons were coming to a close anyways. In fact in many ways they were lucky, this time of the year is normally the quietest time of the year for the organisation. The big thing they missed was some post-season testing of new equipment which usually takes place in April, other than that this is the time for yearly reviews.
Those were handled over Zoom and Microsoft Teams, as you would expect, but there was no sense of resting on their laurels. “We felt we needed to come out of this better,” Hunt told Eurosport, adding “if there’s one thing we can do it is think ourselves through problems.”
As an organisation that has had to constantly punch above its weight in regard to funding GB Snowsport are used to its members going the extra mile. Step forward Jack Birch, the new head of Strength and Conditioning who took up the post at the start of the season.
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Once the athletes were home Birch sprung into action, working with his team and the coaches to devise plans for the athletes. But in typical GBS fashion he went the extra mile, calling in favours with friends and at gyms as well as scouring eBay to make sure the athletes had every piece of equipment they could want.
“In terms of athletes getting better in this phase he’s one of the most important people in this organisation,” Hunt says. “Jack had a couple of weeks there where he was on the rack but to his credit he’s absolutely over-delivered.
“If anything we’ve gained and learned things that we potentially wouldn’t have done had this pandemic not come along. One major thing is how it has driven the integration of strength and conditioning coaches into the daily lives of athletes to a level we’ve never had before.
“Physio team devised online screening, we’re an online team anyway we don’t have a centralised training location so developing these tools enhances our ability to work remotely which is what we tend to do.”
It’s all about make sure that they aren’t too far behind when they can get start training again but for some, like Musgrave and the cross-country team, they are already being allowed back on snow. For those in the UK however they have to keep waiting patiently for those restrictions to be lifted, even if that can mean watching people vagrantly flouting social distancing rules. The work of Birch and the rest of the S+C team has allowed them to put in the work to ensure they stay on top of their game for when they can get back on snow.
Guest tells Eurosport that she is training for “three to four hours a day usually,” with two main sessions and a recovery session.
Head of Coaching Pat Sharples explains that all the athletes “have a daily plan which can guide them on a daily basis because when the gates open we want them able to come out fitter, more refreshed and ready to go.”
Sharples has a unique role, trying to work with Hunt to ensure the performance goals are being hit not only for the athletes but for his coaches as well.
Both he and Hunt stress how many things were already in place as so many of the team work remotely anyway but were delighted to see the way coaches were picking each other’s brains.
“In the winter everybody is so busy and with all the different programmes often the only thing people have in common is that they compete on snow,” Sharples says.” But we’re bringing people together in this time. Cross-country coaches talking to Alpine coaches, Freestyle talking to ski and snowboard cross coaches.”
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There are general coach meetings two or three times a weeks as well as individual catch-ups with Sharples whilst athletes are generally speaking to their coaches three or four times a week.
The organisation is putting other things in place as well. There are daily yoga classes over Zoom and pilates once a week. The athletes may compete under one umbrella but actually it’s been nice for them to interact with each other on a consistent basis, something that rarely happens given their chaotic calendars and different disciplines.
There are other benefits to the lockdown as well. Both Guest and Summerhayes spoke about how it was nice to sit back, take a breath and reflect on the year just gone. Guest would be studying for her university exams at this time normally whilst Summerhayes was supposed to be on holiday in Las Vegas, but both have appreciated the break. And they have a unique perspective as athletes.
“Lockdown has really let me focus on all aspects of training and getting things done with no distractions,” Guest says.
“I don’t feel as if I’m missing out on anything because of lockdown, nothing’s happening anyway so I can really put it all into my training without thinking ‘oh it’s my friend’s birthday party or I’ve got a wedding to go or this or that.’
“You don’t feel as if you’re purposefully ignoring your friends or family.
“What’s been really nice is that my friends and I have all been doing Zoom calls or catch-ups and usually I wouldn’t get to see them all in one place because I normally can’t make it so it’s actually been really cool to see different possibilities of how we can all get together.”
It remains to be seen when the athletes will be allowed back on snow but it is no surprise at all to see GB Snowsport, their athletes and staff all try to use this time in a positive fashion. All focus will now turn to the 2021 World Championships before the 2022 Winter Olympics. That is where they will all be judged.