Take 5: World Cup telemark skier Tommy Gogolen
It’s been four ACL surgeries and untold hours of PT, but Tommy Gogolen is finally back in the groove.
Last weekend, the 34-year-old Summit County local traveled to small Crotched Mountain in New Hampshire for his first major telemark races since blowing out his left knee at the FIS Telemark World Ski Championships in Steamboat last season. The wait was rough and the rehab was rougher, but he knew what to expect: he’d already gone through reconstructive surgery on his right knee three times, all to repair damage done by skiing just so he could get back to skiing. So it goes in the mountains.
This time around, when his left knee blew out for the first time, Gogolen took a more patient and calculated approach — until it was time to get back on the snow. The U.S. Telemark team member waited nearly a full year before returning to the circuit, beginning with the Telemark National Championships at Crotched.
The wait was more than worth it. Gogolen came away with two third-place finishes and two near misses (one fourth and one sixth) over the weekend. It was exactly what he needed to make up for all the time spent sitting, waiting, biding, recovering and — more than anything, almost — wondering if his body was up to the challenge.
Now, Gogolen heads to Muerren in Switzerland with the U.S. squad for a round of FIS Telemark World Cup races, including classic, sprint and parallel sprint, the discipline recently approved for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Before heading overseas for the World Cup, Gogolen (also coach of the Tigers boy’s soccer team) talked with the Summit Daily about his rehab, his return races and exactly how telemark racing works. Hint: It includes gates, a jump and something known as “the wrap.”
Summit Daily News: You recently returned from the Telemark National Championships out East. How’d things go for you?
Tommy Gogolen: It was great. I had low expectations because my goal was actually safety, to be honest. I just wanted to make sure this was a good opportunity to get my feet wet, dive back in and get ready for the World Cup. We had four races and I was happy with the results. I got on the podium twice, and any time you can do that at Nationals that’s a good thing. Getting on the podium was a surprise — I just felt healthier and stronger than I expected.
SDN: Those were your first races in a while, right?
TG: Yes, I’m on my fourth reconstructive ACL surgery. Last year in the World Championships — those happen every two years — I blew my knee out in the actual competition. That was a big emotional blow because I had blown my knee out three seasons before that. It’s hard to come back from a knee injury. You’re laid up for three to four months and you don’t even get cleared to do anything for eight or nine more months. It’s been a lot of behind-the-scenes work to get back — working out at home, physical therapy. It’s also the mental side. You just have to learn to trust it, and every time I returned I felt like I could compete. This time around was the same thing. I had the butterflies and doubts, but that Nationals week was a boost of confidence.
SDN: Good to hear you’re back in business. Now explain telemark racing — I’m not really familiar with how it works.
TG: It’s a very unique sport. If you’re familiar with giant slalom, it’s that with a few variations thrown in. You have giant slalom gates and every time you go around a gate you have to be in a telemark lunge. They have a gate judge at every gate, and if you don’t have that lunge you get docked a full second. Then there’s a jump about halfway through. In ski racing, getting air typically isn’t good, but here you’re jumping about 25 yards down the hill. You have to land that in the lunge at a high speed. It’s wild.
SDN: Definitely wild.
TG: There’s more. Once you get to the finish area, where , you reach a toilet bowl sort of thing. It shoots you out and you go into a quick skate section. You go into this toilet bowl — it’s called the wrap — and then you get spit out. Then it’s basically a sprint, maybe 75 yards, with some curves and twists and turns. The sport is a combination of how good you can ski the giant slalom, how good you can jump and how good you can skate. That’s the endurance side of things.
SDN: So the parallel sprint almost gets like boardercross in the end, with contact and carnage and all of that.
TG: Yes, exactly. I have a park background so I’m pretty good on the jump, and then the wrap is good too with the transition. I like the head-to-head competition. It’s definitely exciting, maybe a little dangerous, but it’s just a totally different element. I did well in the parallel this weekend and that was a surprise. It’s a newer event but it’s already intense, especially at the World Cup level.
SDN: Is it part of the Olympics yet?
TG: Not yet, but we’ll be there in the 2022 Olympics. The IOC (International Olympic Committee) said add a variation, make it more exciting, don’t be too similar to alpine. That’s why we’ll have the dual (parallel sprint), with racers right next to each other. They’ll shorten the course a bit and it ends up being super-duper exciting. This sport is very popular in Europe. It’s not as common here, but you go to Europe and you’ll see it on TV.
SDN: You’ve been on the U.S. team for several years. Is the telemark race scene here growing, or is it still a pretty small sport? I can’t think of any youth clubs that train for this.
TG: We want this sport to grow in America. It’s big in Norway and there, but just not quite here. We had 60 competitors out at Nationals, and we have one of the top guys in the world on the U.S. team, Tanner Visnick. He’s from Steamboat. I think as soon as this becomes an Olympic sport it will be huge. Prior to that we need to just grow the awareness. We had a World Cup race in Steamboat last year and the Europeans loved that. Steamboat is the U.S. Team’s home base, the place everyone collects for this sport.
SDN: Now that Nationals went well, what are your hopes for the World Cup races? Another podium?
TG: Personally, I have modest goals for the World Cup — I’d say top 15 or top 20. I had the race of my life about three years ago, in 2013, when I took sixth overall in Spain, in Espot. I will say that I’m coming back from injury, again, and so top 15 or 20 is more realistic.
I had a slow start to this season, but I wanted to be patient. It was better to do that than working around the clock to get fit. I took 12 months this time and that helped, and to be racing with the top guys in the world is awesome. I didn’t know after that fourth ACL if I would ever be able to race again, but I’m proud to be back. The confidence boost at Nationals helped, but the scene over there is different. It’s televised, there’s a live stream — everything. Competing at that highest level is what I’m most excited about.
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