One of the world’s most accomplished freeskiiers,
Simon Dumont is fully invested in his sport’s Olympic debut this month in Sochi, Russia. The years of nutritional discipline and intense physical preparation — hours of total-body strength training and hundreds of miles of roadwork on his bike — leading up to this moment have yielded a pleasant, if unexpected, benefit: The dude is straight ripped. But while his chiseled exterior is perhaps as much of a spectacle as the high-flying stunts he executes on the slopes, it deftly hides what exists beneath: evidence of a formidable list of injuries that includes a broken shoulder, a shattered collarbone, two busted wrists and a catastrophic ACL blowout. Oh, and spondylolysis, a defect in the connection between vertebrae that can ultimately result in a vertebra slipping out of place. And he’s only 27 years old.
While a body pushed too far eventually pushes back, the allure of Olympic gold can sometimes provide all the pain suppression needed to endure and flourish. Thus, all the time Dumont has spent with physical therapists rebuilding his busted body has taught him the finer points of constructing a lean, muscular physique. Like the Six Million Dollar Man, he has built himself back up better, stronger and faster. But it’s not just strength that has brought him to the threshold of Olympic glory. Freeskiing, which involves snowboarding-esque tricks performed on skis, toes the line between grace and grandeur, between artistry and acrobatics, and in it, body mastery can mean the difference between first place and dead place.
Born: July 9, 1986
Hometown: Bethel, Maine
Residence: Keystone, Colo.
Weight: 145 pounds
When Dumont first heard that “slopestyle” skiing would be part of the Olympics, one word came to mind: finally. “It just seemed like such a no-brainer for me since it’s the same venue as the snowboard half-pipe,” he says. “With how political things are, it was amazing that we finally did get in. I think it’ll bring more eyes to the sport. We have something very appealing here.”
And while the thought of standing atop the winners’ podium on what is now his sport’s biggest stage is a cheery thought, injuries have served to temper his usually high expectations. “Right now, it’s hard for me to look past the ankle injury I have,” he says. “As soon as that’s better, I’ll go to New Zealand and start skiing again. When it comes time to compete and having to put one down when I need to, I can usually do that. But my confidence is there.”
For Dumont, that confidence is built one rep, one taxing ride at a time. “Physically, I know I’m gonna come back,” he says. “I think about how much I’m willing to sacrifice for my goal, and I’m willing to work hard to get there. The workout side of things helps you to recover quicker or get back to where you need to be, and I’ve taken that seriously the last two years.”
The high-intensity routines that litter Dumont’s schedule stand as a stark contrast to the energy-drink–guzzling, Taco Bell–eating persona that most associate with extreme athletes. But prize money has increased, commercial popularity has surged and the competition has had to step things up to get a piece of the pie. Dumont has simply evolved for success. “If you look at the generation before me, if you brought up the gym, they’d laugh at you,” he says. “But I always went to the gym — not quite as regularly as I do now, but I always knew it gave me an advantage and that it would give me longevity in my career.”
Training for Tricks
While the primary physical virtues of a freeskiier are core strength and lower-body stamina, Dumont trains for it all. One way he has fortified his legs for the violent landings that mark every single run on the slopes is by testing himself against high-level athletes on his road bike. It’s not uncommon for Dumont to log 20 to 50 miles in a single day on his bike, usually on a mountain trail somewhere north of 3,000 feet.
“Since I tore my ACL, there are a lot of restrictions,” he says, adding that heavy squats simply aren’t as safe for him as they used to be. “So I got into road biking. It’s really easy on your joints, and there’s not much room to really get hurt. You get your cardio and burn calories to keep your weight down, but with how hard I bike, I feel like it does create strength. And it helps keep that competitive edge. I can bike with people and it’s a contest and a good way for me to test myself mentally to see how hard I can push.”
As any athlete knows, training is only the stimulus; the true benefits are earned through proper nutrition. Dumont admits that he isn’t a perfect eater, but he has learned through experience that food is fuel. “It’s all dependent on what I’m gonna do,” he says. “For a big bike ride, I’ll have more carbohydrates. Too many people take in a lot of carbs without expending a lot of energy. My diet is very high in protein — I eat tons of Greek yogurt. I don’t really eat dessert that much. I work out hard so I can eat whatever I want, but I feel better when I eat certain things.”
A typical breakfast for Dumont includes half a tub of Greek yogurt, granola and fruit. He totes around granola bars for quick energy on the go and usually opts for a protein-and-veggies plate at dinnertime. “I don’t really eat pasta or bread,” he says. “I just go super high in protein or vegetables. I’m a big foodie. I like a nice steak or rack of lamb. I’ll do tons of sushi with no rice — sashimi, miso black cod. No rolls. Stuff like that.”
And he cut out alcohol. Entirely. He hasn’t had a sip in more than a year and a half. “It was just a goal for myself, but I feel great,” he says. “I’m kinda lame and not that fun to hang out with, but I’ll deal with it.”
Clearly, with his sport about to be in the Olympic spotlight, Dumont is leaving no stone unturned in his preparation. And the rest of the world — including the generation of freeskiiers he is paving the way for — is taking notice. “I’m a freak,” he says. “Anything I do, I will do to the extreme. It’s kind of funny because there are a lot of younger kids in this sport now. They know I’ve been here long, and they ask stuff and take notice of diets and stuff like that, and I think people are catching on.”
But isn’t taking the time to share his hard-earned wisdom with the competition self-defeating? Won’t this help the younger athletes earn the gold he so covets?
Dumont laughs. “If they have the time and the work ethic, I’d like to see them try,” he says.
Freeskier Simon Dumont uses this twice-weekly routine to train his core to withstand the rigors of his high-flying pursuits. “A way to keep stability in your back is to build a good, strong core because that’s where you initiate a lot of your spins from. So I focus on getting my core really strong,” Dumont says.
******Keeping his torso at about 45 degrees and his legs elevated, Dumont holds a 45-pound plate or a 30-pound dumbbell and twists from side to side.
Photo Courtesy of NBC Olympics/USOC
Born: Feb. 26, 1986
Birthplace: Hanover, N.H.
Current City: Norwich, Vt.
Weight: 150 pounds
If you’ve never watched someone ski the moguls, you’re missing out on an event that’s at once fascinating and frightening. The moguls take place on a narrow downhill course riddled with miniature hills that the skier must negotiate at high speed by bending at the hips and knees. It’s one of those events that requires incredible physical strength and core control — and that’s just to complete a run without mating your kneecaps with your clavicles.
Hannah Kearney, the defending Olympic gold medalist in the event and a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Ski Team, respects the moguls and trains accordingly. “In this event, one must be strong, powerful, agile and flexible,” she says. “It doesn’t hurt to have good balance, as well. Plus, you must have good air awareness and acrobatic skills. Our backs and knees take a beating, but hamstring and core strength holds us in one piece.”
Oh, that’s right … air awareness. There are flips. Did we mention the flips?
Despite the attention and pressure of defending her title, Kearney is counting on her preparation to see her through.
What’s the main training focus of mogul skiers away from the slopes?
The sort of training we do changes during the year. In the spring, we build an aerobic base with low-level cardio, basic strength and core work. In the summer, we build strength and power by doing Olympic lifts, plyometrics and higher-intensity cardiovascular workouts that call for us to maintain a heart rate of 180 beats per minute for three 10-minute bouts. The lifts are usually squats, cleans, pull-ups and hamstring exercises, usually around eight reps for a medium weight and four to six for a heavier load. As the ski season approaches, the workouts shift to power/endurance circuits with quick movements and jumps with very little rest in order to get our bodies used to producing and getting rid of high levels of lactate. On top of our physical conditioning, we are always training our acrobatic skills on the trampoline and the water ramps in order to increase the difficulty and quality of our jumps. In summary, training for mogul skiing is never boring.
How much time is spent on abdominal or core conditioning? Why?
I do two to three core-specific workouts per week varying from 20 to 50 minutes. I engage my core during my warm-ups every day and strengthen it by bouncing on the trampoline, performing Olympic lifts, doing pull-ups and skiing moguls. Core strength helps prevent injury and contributes to a sense of power and health.
Is there an upper-body demand that people might underestimate?
In mogul skiing, upper bodies remain as quiet as possible. However, shoulder dislocation is a somewhat common occurrence from crashing on the landing of a jump, so we build upper-body strength to keep our shoulders in their sockets. We also do a lot of pull-ups. Two years ago, I could only do about four. Now, on a good day, I can do two sets of 10, and I go all the way down.
What part of your strength or conditioning training surprises people?
A competition run lasts less than 30 seconds and is full of quick motions, so people may be surprised to know that we still go on long, slow jogs and bike rides. Having a solid aerobic base allows us to train harder because our bodies are efficient enough to recover quickly so that we can feel good and train hard again the next day.
When you won gold in 2010, you did it on your last run. What was your thought process heading into that final run, and what did you think when you finally saw those scores flashed on the board?
At the top of the course, I remember thinking, “This is it. It is your time. Ski to win.” I believe I was one of the last people to realize that I had won. You certainly don’t want to celebrate prematurely, and there were so many numbers on the board, I didn’t know where to look. On video, the crowd makes noise before my face registers the realization. At that moment, my teammate and bronze-medalist Shannon Bahrke attacks me with a hug.
As the gold medalist, you’re an automatic favorite, and people will be watching you more closely. How healthy are you feeling, and are you prepared for the pressure?
I have never been stronger! I feel great, and I am excited by the prospect of representing the United States at the world’s largest sporting event. I am not sure there’s any way you can truly prepare for the pressure. All I can do is acknowledge that pressure is just a mindset — it’s not anything physical that I have to overcome. At the end of the day, no matter what happens, my family and friends will love me the same amount, and my life will go on. I can’t let my expectations, or the expectations of the media and sponsors, negatively affect my experience or my skiing.
What else can you tell us about the physical challenge (and reward) of skiing this event? Why should us fitness types tune in?
Skiing a good mogul run is a challenge. Anyone who has tried to ski more than one mogul will appreciate the strength and coordination it takes to navigate the bumps. After 12 years on the United States Ski Team, sometimes I am still amazed by the fact that I flip upside down in the middle of a mogul course.
Photo Courtesy of NBC Olympics/USOC
Born: July 17, 1984
Birthplace: Vail, Colo.
Current City: Everywhere, USA
Weight: 134 to 140 pounds
“I have the attention span of a 5-year-old,” admits skeleton racer Katie Uhlaender, who is set to compete in her second Olympic Games. A look at her list of interests seems to bear that out: She played basketball, baseball and golf as a youth, currently enjoys shooting and snowmobiling, and dedicates a great deal of her “spare” time to Olympic weightlifting. What’s perhaps more notable than the diversity of this list is the fact that she excels at all of them. In fact, she is working to earn a spot on the U.S. women’s Weightlifting Team for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
But for the moment, her focus is strictly on skeleton — a solo headfirst downhill event in which athletes on sleds reach speeds of up to 80 mph. Racers start out in a hunched-over sprint and work to get the sled up to speed before hopping on and controlling the sled down the course, buffeting enormous forces along the way. The timid need not apply.
Skeleton is a “gravity sport,” but gravity doesn’t do all the work, does it?
Skeleton is highly dependent on physics. The faster you can get to top speed and the better you can maintain it, the faster you get from A to B. The start is huge in terms of the momentum that you are able to create. The skeleton start is unique because you don’t stand straight up. You have to be strong and powerful, but you also have to maintain the body position, running at full speed, which is why I also think flexibility is key. But it requires more power than strength. That’s why Olympic lifting is crucial for the sport.
So how do you achieve all that power, strength and flexibility?
I don’t know what anyone else does, to be honest, but all athletes should incorporate Olympic lifting into their training. Powerlifting is not as functional — it’s more about strength. Can you jump higher or run faster as a result? That’s where the Olympic lifts come into play. They blend strength and speed at the same time. I’m unique in the fact that I’m training for two sports.
How does the weightlifting training carry over into your skeleton training?
I’ve had a lot of injuries: I’ve had a blownout knee on my right side; a twice-broken kneecap, one of them into nine pieces; left hip problems; fractured top of my acetabulum [the part of the pelvis where the head of the femur rests to create the hip joint]; fractured cartilage; torn labrum [cartilage in the hip joint]; five surgeries in a year. So weightlifting helped me get back to where I was. It gave me the opportunity to become as good as I once was and possibly even better. The only challenge is that when I go back to skeleton, I’m not in shape for running — there’s no sprint training in weightlifting. The two sports work under the same energy system, but skeleton is slightly more demanding in the amount of time you have to exert that power. I can run up to six seconds pushing a sled that’s 50 percent of my bodyweight.
So how do you strike a balance between weightlifting and skeleton training?
Now it’s almost a CrossFit style of weight training but a lot smarter. I don’t do as many reps as possible. Instead, I go as long as I can maintain proper technique, taking 30- to 45-second breaks. There’s no point in maintaining a lift if you can’t keep technique. That translates over into when I go really heavy. Mentally, you can get thrown off. Doubt is what can kill a lift. That’s why you lift more in training than in competition. Olympic lifts are not meant to be marathons. You need to be smart and pay attention to when your technique starts to break down. Every year, I’ve seen significant improvements. I can’t think of anything else that can help me create more bone density and stability than weightlifting.
You didn’t medal in 2010. What do these Games mean to you personally?
To be honest, I don’t know if I can explain it. This is my comeback. It’s my redemption from the death of my father [who passed away before the 2010 Olympics], shattering my kneecap and hip, losing an opportunity. My life changed when he passed away. Being at the Olympics without him was the hardest hurdle for me to overcome. I felt very alone. I worked my butt off to get there, but it felt empty without him. So I’m representing his legacy, inspiring others to never quit.
Photo Courtesy of NBC Olympics/USOC
Born: April 15, 1983
Current City: Lake Placid, N.Y.
Weight: 233 pounds
At first glance, bobsled might not seem to require a high degree of strength or athleticism. They push, they get in and then gravity does the work. But closer inspection incrementally reveals the true nature of this winter sport. In the two-man event, the minimum sleigh weight is about 375 pounds, while in four-man, that jumps to 463 pounds. In either case, the team has about 35 meters to accelerate said sleigh to speeds close to 25 mph.
These frantic first few seconds of each run are where medals are won and lost and are the reason Steve Langton and his cast of alpha-male teammates train the way they do. “We basically train like sprinters and weightlifters,” he says. As a result, bobsledder physiques are not at all what you’d expect. At 6 feet 2 inches tall and 233 pounds, Langton is built more like an archetypal NFL wide receiver — wide through the shoulders with visibly powerful quads and hammies. A former competitive sprinter, Langton has squatted 585 pounds and box-jumped onto a 62-inch platform. In other words, the dude is legit. And this month, he hopes to put his physical credentials to work in his Olympics debut.
Explain how you ended up in bobsled and what your role on the team is as a push athlete.
I ran the 100 meters at 225 pounds, so the transition to bobsled was easy for me. You’re borderline obese at that weight, but in bobsled, it’s perfect. This catered more to my physical attributes. It’s demanding. It’s a heavy sled, and the start is extremely important and correlates to your downtime. My main job as a push athlete is to accelerate the sled.
What is the actual ride like? Is it tough on the body?
People think it’s smooth, but even with a perfect ride, it’s like a controlled car crash. You have four guys who are 225 pounds fighting for space, essentially. It’s pretty jarring, and you never really get used to it. It takes a physical toll. On certain tracks at certain turns, there are four to five Gs on the body.
People have different roles to play on the team, but are there commonalities?
Speed is the most important trait. Most guys are 225, and a few are between 235 and 240. Basically, you have to be fast and big.
What kind of training do you do over the course of a week?
We’re on the track three days a week, doing two acceleration days and a top-speed day. We’ll also double up Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with sprints in the morning, then the weight room in the afternoon. Tuesdays and Thursdays are more like recovery days, with some tempo runs up to about 800 meters, with some ab and core work. We’ll do more sport-specific stuff as the season progresses, working on a push track, which is a bobsled on wheels.
How do you expect things to go in Russia? Two more golds like at 2012 Worlds?
I’m very optimistic. We are at the top of our game. Nobody can beat us at the top of the ramp.