Whistler, British Columbia Somewhere behind the large group of photographers who were shooting Thursday’s flower ceremony stood the most successful coach in the history of the U.S. Ski Team’s Nordic combined program.
Truth be told, the majority of the photographers and reporters covering the Nordic combined team at Whistler Olympic Park have no idea who Dave Jarrett, or any of the members of his staff, are. But that doesn’t seem to matter to Jarrett, who grew up in Colorado. He started as an Alpine skier and discovered Nordic skiing in Winter Park, and his family eventually moved to Steamboat Springs.
He’s been around the sport, as an athlete and as a coach, since he was a child, and now that the team has completed its most successful Winter Olympics, he didn’t seem to have a need for the spotlight.
“We (the coaches) have not raised anyone to another level. We’ve known that this has been possible for a long time, and it was a matter of getting it out of them. Yeah, we’ve changed the way we approach training and the way we do it compared to when I was an athlete, and that plays a role in it. But those guys still had to perform, and they did it.”
It’s not a surprising response from Jarrett, who handed down his humble personality and work ethic to many of the youngsters he skied with — including Johnny Spillane, Billy Demong and Todd Lodwick. Spillane, who grew up next door to Jarrett, said Jarrett was one of the hardest-working athletes he’s ever known. It made an impression on Spillane, who has followed in his coach’s footsteps.
Jarrett was a member of the U.S. Nordic combined team from 1992 to 1998 and has worked as an assistant or head coach since 2002. He took over as head coach in 2008 and led the team to four medals at the 2009 World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic — including two gold medals for Lodwick, and a silver and gold for Demong. Now, the team’s success has carried over to the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, where the Americans medaled in every event. Those medals consist of Spillane’s silver in the normal hill and large hill competitions, a silver in the team event and Demong’s historic gold medal.
“We’ve been together for a long time,” Jarrett said Thursday. “We just made sure that their average level was as high as possible so that when it came time to do the events, any kind of event, they didn’t have to do anything special, they just had to go out and do what they normally do. I don’t think that Billy or Johnny or Todd or Taylor did anything unworldly or out of their minds today or last week. They just did what they were able to do and what they have been doing all along.”
Former Nordic combined coach Tom Steitz, who worked with Jarrett as an athlete and assistant coach, isn’t surprised by Jarrett’s success coaching the team. He said he always was the voice of reason.
“He was always the coach,” Steitz said. “He was the leader on that team, even though he wasn’t the strongest guy athletically. When we had Ryan Heckman, Tim Tetreault and Todd Lodwick, they’d all fight over where we’d eat dinner, he’d win.”
Jarrett said the fact he skied as an athlete with Lodwick, Demong and Spillane gives him credibility. It also gives him a unique perspective on where those guys are mentally and what they need to stay fresh in a sport they have pursued all their lives.
That might mean mixing the Tour de France with training last summer and not always working on the basics of cross-country skiing or ski jumping.
“Dave’s done a great job. He’s really pushed us and done some different training,” Demong said. “Like in France, we’d do six jumps and ride 50K. I mean, your jumping is still good, but you’re better mentally. That’s more important.”
But shaking up the training routine isn’t the only thing Jarrett has accomplished. He’s built a top-shelf relationship with the athletes on the team and does his best to meet the everyday challenges of keeping his good skiers in place.
“I’m a consultant,” Jarrett said. “These guys have as much experience as I do, and even more in things that I never did as an athlete. We, as a staff, work in a partnership with them. Our relationship with them is certainly different than the one we have with Taylor (Fletcher), Brett (Camerota) or Nick (Hendrickson) or anybody else. They are just on a different level. Two of the three of them are married, Todd has kids, so you can’t treat them the same. The same rules apply to them. ... It’s enabled them to take ownership in what they are doing so that they can get out of bed every morning and do what they are supposed to do because they believe in it and they own it.”
Jarrett will have his work cut out for him the next few years, but he said he hasn’t had any conversations with the big three about retirement.
He knows there will be high expectations for the team when the World Championships take place in Oslo, Norway, (the mecca of Nordic skiing) in 2011. He hopes the team still will be riding on this wave of success.