After dinner push-ups with The Canadian Cowboys

19 January 2011 07:44

By Michael Mastarciyan


Sitting in the chic wood-paneled lounge of the Alpenhotel, a beautiful Tyrolean hotel on the shores of Lake Schwarzsee on the outskirts of the Kitzbuehel, Austria I quietly watch the goings and comings of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team - a very private glimpse into the after dinner world of some of the fastest and friendliest alpine ski racers on the World Cup tour.

The lounge, which is the heart of hotel is a central gathering place of sorts for the Canadian Cowboys each night after dinner in the adjoining dining room. A place to relax, catch-up with team mates and loved ones at home via video-calls made on laptops.

On this night the room is a hive of activity for the Cowboys. On one side of the room Manuel Osborne-Paradis is in deep discussion with Patrick Riml, the team’s Athletic Director. At a quiet table in a cosy nook near Riml and Osborne-Paradis, Shawn Gaisford, one of the team’s ski technicians goes over ski performance information with a colleague who has been testing skis for the athletes.

At the other side of the room reigning World Cup Super-G champion Erik Guay sits in a comfy armchair chatting online with wife Karen and baby daughter Logann. During the conversation he is approached by a fan who has driven all the way from Munich with a portfolio of photos of Guay. Despite the interruption Guay gladly signs the pictures and shakes the man’s hand and compliments him on his photographic work. The man leaves the hotel with a massive smile on his face and Guay quietly goes back to his online video call home.

Not long after, there is a rumble of giggles and a procession of racers and staff enter the lounge led by the team’s sports psychologist Derek Robinson and Matt Price the team’s Director of Sports Science.

Price, who is responsible for the fitness, strength and conditioning of the athletes is playing the role of team disciplinarian on this occasion and is busy working out a punishment for Robinson who has mistakenly missed one of the team’s daily meetings because of a missed communication.

With a big grin on his face Price tells Robinson very publicly to “drop and give me seventy-five push-ups.”

Clad in a vintage Robert DeNiro Raging Bull-style tank top, Robinson drops to the push-up position and gives Price seventy-five push-ups with the entire team watching.

“Yup, welcome to life with The Canadian Cowboys,” Chad Buchholz, the writer chronicling the activities for the Canadian ski team tells me from across room the pointing to a grunting and panting Robinson who is now deep into his push-up count.

As Robinson continues to pay for his meeting-missing sins, Johno McBride, the team’s head speed coach enters the room with a big-eyed smile and compliments Robinson for taking his “medicine.”

Buchholz then approaches McBride and confesses that he’s booked a telephone interview for Guay at 9pm - which is the same time as the team’s last meeting of the day.

“Who should get the push-up penalty for this infraction - the guy who booked the interview or the person giving the interview?” Buchholz asks McBride in a giggly, sheepish tone.

“I think the punishment should be shared!” McBride answers with big laugh.

A few minutes later, Robinson pulls up off the ground in a frothy, push-up-induced lather and breathes a sigh of relief having finally finished his penance. He is immediately greeted with a friendly backslap from Price.

“It was nice to see another staff member do push-ups,” says Price, who admitting the push-up punishment idea was his creation earlier in the year.

“I can’t count the number the of times I’ve been punished by my own rule, but rules are rules,” Price adds with a friendly chuckle.

Price and Robinson are a tag-team of sorts - one being responsible for the team’s physical strength and the other for the team’s mental strength. They are also the squad’s best form of comedic entertainment as they are often engaged in some sort of friendly needling and jibing. It’s clear they have a great working relationship and are integral pieces in the complicated machinery that makes this World Cup ski team function and operate efficiently.

“As a member of this team I’m as accountable as anybody else,” Robinson says with a big smile clutching his throbbing biceps and pectoral muscles swollen from the just-finished “push-up fine.”

“It’s the little things like this that makes a team a real team. It’s a natural dynamic that grows with the team and I’m just here to support the athletes and coaches performance.”