"Raising the value of our sport is one of our major goals".
Virginia De Martin
Virginia De Martin: "Cross-Country must regain its ancient value, and this new format stability is a good start ".
At the end of 2010-11 season, Italian women's Cross-Country team suddenly had to face the retirement of Marianna Longa and Arianna Follis which had been the leaders of a movement that was always in top positions following the royal path of Belmondo and Di Centa's golden age. At that point, Virginia De Martin emerged as its most valid international representative, especially in distance races and in her favourite technique: Classic style.
During the six seasons of the World Cup that goes between 2012 and 2017, Virginia was the most continuous Italian Cross-Country racer, individually managing to enter the top 20 several times in distance races in World Cup and leading several times the "azzurri" girl's relay in first leg to prestigious positions.
Her best season was undoubtedly 2015-16, in which she got her personal best in January, finishing in seventh place mass start race on homeground Val di Fiemme, penultimate stage of Tour de Ski.
That was a season to remember.
"Virgy" ended up 28th in the overall ranking with 274 points, showing great continuity of results even if penalized at sprints races.
In summer 2016 Virginia received a prestigious invitation from the coaches of the US Nordic team and joined her friends Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall for a collective traning camp in Alaska - what she recalls as one of the most beautiful moments in her skiing life.
From the Eagle Glacier of the forty-ninth American state, De Martin came back home well strengthened, with an higher international status as athlete and with a lot more experience.
After a positive year 2016-17 competing at Lahti World Championships, the past season was undoubtedly the worst seasons of her career as a Cross-Country skiier.
Several illnesses and minor injuries have tormented her throughout the year which she never managed to overcome and fully recover throughout the entire season. Due to her instable physical state, Virginia had only three appearances in World Cup races without registering points. Thus, Virginia did not get the ticket to take part in the Pyeongchang Olympics and on top of that, the Italian Ski Federation excluded her - after a decade - from the national team.
Despite these two setbacks, Virginia did not slow down during her summer. In addition to having to train by herself for the upcoming season, she was able to get a degree in Physical and Sport sciences at the Verona University. Together with the Finn Martti Jyhlä, Virginia De Martin continued their work as athlete representatives during FIS Congresses following their main goal, trying to stabilize the discipline that she says has been searching its historical identity for too long.
Interview and text by Paolo Romano
How did you get your position as a FIS representative for all athletes in Cross-Country?
That was quite simple: I was missing a few days at the start of the Tour de Ski and I got a text message from Kikkan (Randall ndr), at that time representative of the athletes, asking me when I had time for a Skype call. The next morning we spoke and after announcing that she will leave that position to run for the IOC Athletes Committee, she proposed to me to fill the role she left vacant. I practically had no idea what I was going to do; but her trust in me and the motivation to make a change let me overcome my fears.
What important goals have you and Martti Jylhä achieved in these years as athlete's representatives so far?
In the first year as representative we managed to reach an important goal that Kikkan had already worked on: extending the prize money to the first 20 classified in World Cup races instead of only the first 10. This forced us to "steal" something from the first three: in fact, we are working on a plan to promote sport with the LOC's so to "recover" that gap. In general, going back to raising the value of our sport is one of our major goals.
What are the main needs or shortcomings expressed by the World Cup athletes that you and Martti have reported to Cross-Country committees or are you going to submit to FIS in future meetings ?
Surely an important point is the raising of prize money, which compared to other sports is quite low and has been unchanged for many years. This is strictly connected to the need to increase the value of Cross-Country skiing, for example with collateral events, entertainment and better promotion of sport and athletes.
Other are the needs to create appropriate spaces (changing room, family room) for athletes and preverse healthiness of the same: no one wants to get sick in the middle of the season. Lastly some needs related to the disposition of the World Cup calendar: for example, having more regrouped races with a few more free weekends.
During the past ten years, Cross-Country skiing has had a certain decline in popularity (especially in Alpine area) compared to Biathlon. What is your personal vision of how Cross-Country should be relaunched and developed in future to regain the media and fans' audience?
My vision is in line with the idea of most of the World Cup athletes: regain value through collateral events, create more entertainment and give a better promotion of the sport that we do and create more attention mediatic with the athletes.
Let's talk about the calendar. As from this season 2018-19 the FIS Cross Country Committee decided to stabilize competition formats and to put an end to the many experiments and changes over the past years. What is your personal opinion about next World Cup calendar ?
The next calendar is still a bit of a "work in progress", but I agree with the path taken by FIS: stability in formats, as well as preventive decision of the calendar to subsequently assign the locations. It will take a few years, but this will ensure a certain constancy and annual recurrence, useful for create a certain loyalty for public and fans.
With the end of last Olympic season and with a new four-year period ahead of us, we will no longer see Bjørgen and Kowalczyk in the World Cup, instead Johaug will make her return. What are your predictions for the upcoming women's season in World Cup?
I foresee a return in great style from Therese Johaug, but I am sure that there will be more than a few athletes, not only Norwegian, to give them a hard time during races.
This summer - for the first time in many years - you have been training without the support of the Italian National team. What has changed in your summer preparation?
I was already training alone at home in the past, when there were no national camps and I must admit that I like it (I am a bit "'wild"). This year during my society camps I did a lot of training with the guys and I have to admit that it is fun and stimulating.
Do you still see a development in the future of the Italian women's Cross-Country skiing team?
Absolutely yes: there are many girls, both in team A and in junior teams, which - in addition to their athletic skills - have the right enthusiasm and combative attitude.
I would like the Italian Ski Federation to make long-term investments, working methodically and trusting technicians and athletes. I believe that good team work is seen not when one wins, but when the whole team is able to express itself at considerable levels.
What is the real essence of Cross-Country skiing, at and besides competitions?
What attact me most is the challenge I got with myself, knowing my own ultimate limits and knowing my fears that we face in the sport.
In your blog you define yourself as a white butterfly in freedom, after your last unlucky season, are you ready to take off again and return to your high previous levels?
I've been working hard all summer to get there.