Nik Zoricic shared his thoughts by phone with Beverley Smith after winning a bronze medal at a World Cup ski cross event in Les Contamines, France, on Jan. 15, 2012.
How does it feel to get first World Cup medal this year?
I feel relieved to be honest. It was pretty much the worst start I could have had to the season, and disastrous to say the least. I was training well. I don’t know, bad luck, I guess. It’s been testing. But it’s been nice. Today, I could have gone worse, I could have gone better. But it’s nice to stop the bleeding and remind myself that I belong and that I can do this.
Has the equipment change helped?
I certainly hope so.
The equipment change happened so late in the season, I didn’t make the move until the end of November. I’d only had maybe five or six days on snow prior to the first race, so the skis just weren’t moving as fast as they needed to. They’re still pretty slow, pretty new, the boots are different, and even the bindings are different.
It wasn’t easy because things didn’t go well right off the hop, and automatically you start questioning everything, you start wondering: ‘Are my skis good? Are my boots good? Is this working or is it not? Is it me?’ There’s all these question marks. There are so many variables. I feel like we’ve sorted out some of that stuff. We have the best service men in the world for sure, and they’re as much to thank as anyone for the skis coming through and getting better.
Every time you switch equipment, it’s tough. No ski is the same, so you have to change your own technique and find out if you put pressure here, put pressure there. With heavy pressure, what is it going to do? It took a while. That was frustrating. That wasn’t easy. But the last two weeks have been better.
And it should just keep going up from here, I hope.
On the men’s team this year, it’s fierce competition. You had eight guys qualifying at the last race. Brady [Leman]has been on the podium, Chris Del Bosco, Dave Duncan and now yourself. There is some pretty fierce competition going on there.
We definitely feed off each other, and in the past, it’s kind of been the same. Duncan was hurt quite a bit last year and Brady wasn’t around, so maybe everyone didn’t see what level we could all compete at day in and day out. In training, it’s nothing new to us, one day one guy is good, the next day, the other guy is good.
We work off each other. We’re pretty supportive. We help each other out. Smiling faces all around. It works. It’s been good and there’s no reason that it can’t get better from here. All four, five, six, seven, eight of us are capable of winning. The world doesn’t get to see us train. There’s a lot of capable bodies on this team.
What prompted the switch from alpine to ski cross?
I was hurt a bit and I needed something new, a fresh start. It was just kind of stale and old and monotonous, and I don’t know, my heart really wasn’t in it to be honest. I was hurt a bunch of years in a row, and then everything just became a struggle and it felt like an uphill battle. I just needed something new. I needed a reset button.
I started alpine when I was probably two. Alpine skiing, you can say I started racing at eight, but at that age, you don’t know what you’re doing. I made the Ontario team when I was 15. I made Canadian team when I was 19, and went from there. It’s been a life-long passion, a lifelong struggle, a life-long learning experience.
What was the learning curve like switching from alpine to ski cross?
It wasn’t easy. It was a completely different skill set. The basics are the same, turning is turning, arching the ski is arching the ski, but you don’t really know the importance of landing in the right spot, and making all the transitions and carrying all of the speed out of the sections , and there’s someone in front of you and you’re one foot away from them and then they do something, and you’re 10 feet behind,
It definitely didn’t come as fast as I thought it would, or hoped it would. It took a lot of work and a lot of video, and quite a bit of soul searching to find the formula.
Any time you ski well, it feels like it’s worth it, Any time you don’t ski well, you begin to wonder what you’re doing. The ups and downs of this sport is like no other.
Every individual sport is the same, because the onus is on you at the end of the day. There is no one to look at, no one to blame, you have a mirror and that’s about it., Yeah, days like this make it worthwhile. The tougher days are when you kind of struggle. They kind of show your character, I think.
I dug myself a hole this year and it wasn’t easy, I just kept grinding and kept believing, so hopefully there’s more to come.
Born in Sarajevo? When in relation to the 1984 Olympics?
I was born the year before the Olympics, I was born in 1983. I don’t really remember. I know it was a huge thing for the former Yugoslavia. I wish I could recall. I don’t remember anything before the age of five or six.
Talk about winning bronze.
I had a good start. I was out ahead, and then I had Alex Fiva to my left and just kind of gave him a little bit of room. I didn’t want to completely pinch him out. I should have, but I didn’t.
Then he just came in and we were side by side going into the second turn, and he just cut our hill and tried to put me through the panel. I jumped over his skis, and then I remember being pretty frustrated, pretty angry that I let him in and then he pinched me pretty hard. I can’t blame him but I was just charging on his tail. There’s no way I’m going to let you in after that.
I got in behind him and was setting him up and then just kind of hit a hole, bounced really, really low before a jump, then had to climb up hill. Then the guys in third and fourth passed me, and then I got past the guy that was in third, so I got back ahead.
It was strange. It was bittersweet for sure. I was in the right position, I just didn’t do the right thing, I didn’t want to end this race like that. That’s what it is. I should have done it. I put a Swiss guy through a panel in the semifinal, and I thought I had enough room. I thought I was far enough ahead that I could squeeze through there, and not make contact with him.
All in all, it’s fine. If you told me at the beginning of the day that I was third, I would have taken it, but given the position I had and where I was in the final, I should have been able to close him out.
Coach Brent Kehl on Zoricic’s bronze medal in France.
We’re obviously excited for Nik, getting back on the podium. He’s worked really hard this year without getting too many results. But in qualifying yesterday he skid really well.
I called it yesterday. I thought he was going to do really well today and he did.
The track was quite icy today, so it was a much different scene than what we saw at Alpe D’Huez [France at a World Cup the previous week]it was much softer snow conditions, much flatter, which we’re a bit more used to, with bigger features, and here it was more like St. Johann, which was icy, and pretty big turns.
What made the difference with Nik’s skiing this year?
Yeah, I think he’s changed equipment and I think it’s taken him a little bit longer to adjust to the new equipment and in training yesterday, he really got the course dialed in, put in a really good qualifying time, and he finished fifth in qualifying, which gave him a good start position for the heat.
And with his start, he’s got a quick start, he was able to get to the front in most of them, and he ended up in third.