University of Maine at Presque Isle Nordic Ski Coach Alexei Sotskov is heading out on the trip of a lifetime this month when he travels to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics to serve as the Head Coach of the New Zealand Cross Country Ski Team.
Coach Sotskov will depart for Vancouver on Feb. 10 to attend his very first Olympic Games. The 2010 Vancouver Olympics begin with the Opening Ceremony on Feb. 12 and end on Feb. 28. The last race for Sotskov's team will be on Feb. 28.
As Head Coach for the small New Zealand team, he'll be overseeing everything from travel logistics and race entries to ski waxing and his athletes' physical and mental preparation. The members of the New Zealand Cross Country Ski Team are 23-year-old Ben Koons of Dunedin, New Zealand, who has been living in Maine for the past 7 years, is training with the Maine Winter Sports Center and has been on the New Zealand national team for two years, and Katie Calder, 29, of Tauranga, New Zealand, who has been on the New Zealand national team for four years."I'm very excited about this. Like any athlete or coach, it's the pinnacle of your career to go to the Olympics," Coach Sotskov said. "I'm hoping to gain some of the latest knowledge on what other coaches and teams are doing, how they ski, and how they prepare for races of this caliber. I'd also like to take part in the cultural experiences and just enjoy how a huge event like this gets organized. I'm thrilled to see how it all works."
Sotskov calls this opportunity to coach at the Vancouver Olympics the result of a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck. It all started two years ago when he was invited to spend a summer in New Zealand coaching a small group of very determined Nordic skiers. (Summertime in the U.S. is when New Zealand has its winter.) Originally, he was invited to coach the junior development team, but when he arrived at Snow Farm, a training center for cross country skiers, officials asked him if he wanted to help out with the national team as well. So, Sotskov worked with both teams. Because of the success of the athletes and the team, and after two team members qualified for the 2010 Olympics, New Zealand Olympic Committee [NZOC] officials asked Sotskov to serve as the New Zealand Cross Country Ski Team's head coach.
"I've been on the national team a number of times before back in Russia, but I never qualified. I was close, but missed by one or two spots," Sotskov recalled. "But after dreaming about it for almost 40 years, I am going to the Olympics!"
New Zealand Olympic Committee officials are pleased to have Coach Sotskov lead their cross country team at the Olympics, and as a token of this, he will be receiving a traditional pounamu (greenstone) pendant as a symbol of his place in the team. According to NZOC officials, pounamu has special significance in New Zealand Maori culture.
"We're delighted to welcome Alexei to the team," Ashley Abbott, New Zealand Olympic Committee communications manager, said. "Vancouver 2010 sees New Zealand send its first male cross country skier to the Olympic Games and only our second female. Alexei has played a significant role in developing these athletes and we're looking forward to seeing New Zealand's performances in this tough sport continue to improve."
Coach Sotskov also has the support of his team, his colleagues and his University behind him. A Maine Winter Sports Center staffer will oversee UMPI's Nordic Ski Team while Sotskov is in Vancouver.
"We are very excited to see our Nordic Ski coach participate at this most auspicious international level," President Don Zillman said. "When we weighed this rare opportunity against the temporary loss of our excellent coach, a very important element was brought to our attention - the students on our ski team vocalized very strong support of their coach's participation at the Olympics. Several of them indicated how honored they would be to be coached by an Olympic coach."
Coach Sotskov said he's very excited to bring back his experiences and what he learns to his UMPI Nordic Ski Team.
"As a modern sport, Nordic skiing is very technical," he said. "I want to bring all the advantages of current techniques, waxing, training, race preparation - and provide this, pretty much, secret information to our athletes so they can take advantage of this in their race preparations."
Coach Sotskov is writing a blog about his trip to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and will be posting photos and updates on the Games frequently throughout his visit. To view or subscribe to the blog, visit http://wp.umpi.edu/ski/.