Canadian women ready to fight for medalsTweet
Canadian racers Erin Mielzynski and Marie-Michèle Gagnon say they’re ready to fight for Canada’s first Olympic alpine skiing medals in 20 years after honing their skills in the boxing ring as part of an innovative off-season training program.
The talented duo and the rest of Canada’s women’s team have spent the past three summers developing their agility and speed as well as their strength and balance – and the result has been a big step forward in athleticism as well as overall fitness.
A unique Alberta-based dryland program developed by strength and physiology consultant Matt Jordan has seen the team use dance, gymnastics, cycling, roller-skiing and even diving, as well as more traditional weightlifting and gym workouts, to prepare Canada’s young skiers to take on the best in the world. Weekly boxing sessions, in particular, seem to have struck a chord with a group of athletes who have embraced Jordan’s off-season workouts with a strong work ethic and great intensity and enthusiasm.
“We’ve grown to love boxing and really develop our technique,” said Gagnon, a multi-discipline skier from Lac-Etchemin, Que., who could be a medal threat at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in slalom, giant slalom and combined. “It’s a great workout. I really like the diversity we have in training and boxing is one of my favorites. It’s just so intense – it’s amazing.”
Mielzynski, from Guelph, Ont., has developed excellent technique in the ring and coaches say her timing is so good that she punches as hard as some male boxers.
“I don’t punch people for fun anymore – it’s no longer a joke,” said Mielzynski, who in 2012 became the first Canadian since 1971 to win a slalom World Cup. “We are learning how to punch harder; how to use our bodies and put force into every punch.
“I love boxing. It’s such a great workout,” Mielzynski added. “It’s really hard on your arms but also your legs. You have to be quick and the stakes are high if you are not quick! It’s a way to get intensity without having to sit on the bike for a long time. Slowly we are getting better, learning new punches, slips and rolls. I can see everyone getting faster and stronger.
It’s a great way to learn to be tough and focused even when you are tired.”
Jordan said boxing is a great sport for developing fitness while also helping athletes with skills such as spatial awareness, hand-eye co-ordination and balance.
“You have a complex movement pattern and the athletes have to react to the pads, the instructions, their balance and work on their equilibrium,” Jordan said, adding the girls don’t trade punches with each other but they have progressed to the point where they can get into the ring and train with real boxers. “Having stuck with it for three years now there’s been some skill progression. We started off just learning how to throw a punch and now they can literally go into a ring and actually box.”
At 24 and 23, respectively, Gagnon and Mielzynski are young leaders on a very young team but as a group the women are showing signs of making great progress on and off the hill.
“This team has really matured since we started this program after 2010,” Jordan said. “What we are seeing is a team that is now able to compete on the world stage. They have a tremendous work ethic and tremendous commitment.
“To win an Olympic medal is the hardest thing any athlete can do and the reality is that in your preparation, you want to leave no stone unturned. This team has done a tremendous job of embracing that and it’s showing up more and more. There are some great athletes on this team but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Jim Pollock, head technical coach for the women’s team, has been monitoring his team’s progress at the daily workouts in Canmore and Calgary and he likes what he sees.
“One thing that’s been a constant this year is that we always bring them out of their comfort zone,” Pollock said. “We are challenging them on skills, new sports and activities and pushing them on the ones they already know. It’s always pushing, pushing, pushing. The end result is that we get a better athlete, a more skilled athlete, a more confident athlete.
“Erin and Mitch (Gagnon) are the most seasoned and most veteran athletes on the squad and the most successful to date. They both lead by example – they do everything as well as they can. They both encourage each other and the whole team. They are genuinely supportive of each other’s successes and challenges – it’s a great pairing.