Chandra Crawford made unusual, and some might say risky, decisions to extend her cross-country ski career.
Burned out, racing in pain and unable to find the speed she wanted, Crawford left the Canadian team in February before the racing season was over in Europe. She returned to her home in Canmore, Alta.
The 29-year-old saw two options ahead of her: retire or resume training with the national team when they returned to Canada.
Crawford believed neither would get back on top of the Olympic podium where she’d stood in Turin, Italy in 2006.
She opted out of the Canadian team’s off-season training program after participating in one summer camp in Bend, Ore., in May. She didn’t join her teammates at other summer camps in New Zealand and California.
Instead, Crawford decided to train on her own in Canmore.
“Deciding to train on my own was actually a middle ground between not skiing and pursuing the Olympic year in the normal way as I have the last 14 years,” Crawford said Thursday at Canmore Nordic Centre.
“I wasn’t happy with either of those. I found this middle ground that was a unique solution for where I’m coming from, with all this overtraining and all this energy stuff and where I want to go, which is the Olympic final on this great course in Sochi.”
Crawford attributes her burnout to overtraining heading into the 2013-14 season, but also to the cumulative effect of travelling around the world, draining her tank in races and also training hard for those races for 14 years.
She’s dealt with foot and lower leg injuries since winning gold in 2006, but has also won seven World Cup medals since then.
Crawford says the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, will be her last. She is still deciding if she’ll race one more season after the Winter Games.
But Crawford has ample motivation to race in Sochi. The women’s sprint final Feb. 11 is going to be a skate-ski race again as it was in 2006.
With her raw power, Crawford has always felt more in her element in skating races than in classic, the striding technique which requires more finesse and less power.
She worked to improve her classic style for the women’s sprint at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., approached.
But on Feb. 17, 2009, a year to the day before she raced the Olympic sprint in the Callaghan Valley, Crawford had surgery on both her lower legs to relieve the pain and pressure of compartment syndrome, a condition that compresses nerves and blood vessels.
She wasn’t able to race any World Cups in 2008-09. Crawford finished 26th at the 2010 Winter Games.
Simply staying home and not flying to other time zones this past summer has helped Crawford recover her energy.
But the consequences of Crawford’s decision to step away from the national team was losing her Sport Canada funding of about $2,000 per month. Crawford also no longer had access to the Canadian team’s medical and equipment support staff.
And while Crawford has already met the criteria to compete in Sochi, Canada’s coach and high-performance director want to see her race again before they’re willing to declare her on the 2014 Olympic squad.
“She’s got to show a certain level of fitness that she’s where she was when she dropped out last year,” high-performance director Tom Holland said. “She has met the nomination criteria for the Games, but we want to see that level of fitness.”
Added head coach Justin Wadsworth: “She chose to decline her spot on the team. Right now, we’re analysing her racing and her training. If she looks like she can be fit enough to race World Cup then she’ll come on the World Cup with us. If not, she’ll stay here and keep training and we’ll evaluate that later in the season.”
Crawford herself doesn’t harbour any doubts that she’ll be named to the Olympic squad.
“I’m qualified for the Sochi Olympics,” she stated. “I don’t what it would take to undo that. I feel totally secure and I’m preparing for Feb. 11. To prepare for that, I want to see indications of my shape more than anyone.”
Her plan is to travel to Sweden next month for some warmup sprints before her first scheduled World Cup in Davos, Switzerland, on Dec. 15.
Crawford participated in a sprint race at Canmore Nordic Centre on Thursday against members of the U.S. team. A track was created from snow stored underground over the summer. Crawford has also been struggling with low levels of iron in her blood in recent weeks.
“That happens to tons of athletes,” she said. “I feel all right. I’m really happy with the training I’ve done and my body is working really well.”