When the Winter Olympics open next month in Salt Lake City, one Vermonter will be playing a critical supporting role in the cross-country ski competition.
VPR’s Steve Zind reports.
When the Olympic cross-country skiers race for the gold, there will be another competition off the course. John Sackett of Lyndon will be in the thick of it.
Sackett has been hired by Toko, a Swiss ski wax maker. Sackett’s competition will be other ski wax manufacturers. The companies are competing for the prestige and profits that come from having their wax on the skis of a medal winner. Sackett will be helping the skiers who use Toko wax in the classical cross-country events.
(Sackett) “Basically, what I’ll do is I’ll apply the wax to the kick zone. This is just basic grip wax.”
In the classical events, the competitors ski in tracks. Their skis need to glide easily downhill, then grip on the uphills. Sackett says a lot of research has gone into coming up with the right waxes for the Olympics. Chemists working for Toko have been studying snow samples from the race site.
(Sackett) “For the last couple of years, we’ve already been out analyzing the snow crystals at Soldier Hollow. We’ve developed special waxes just for the Salt Lake Area.”
Sackett is a former member of the national cross-country ski team. He’s also competed at world championships. He’s been waxing skis for 25 years.
(Sackett) “Be corkin’ this out in order to get a nice smooth layer of wax underneath the foot.”
Sackett says he won’t be waxing that many skis. Many athletes choose to do it themselves. But they’ll look to Sackett to decide which wax, or combination of waxes, to use. That will depend on the condition of the snow.
Air temperature and snow temperature are the key factors. Conditions and temperatures can vary over the course of a race. Sackett will have to anticipate those changes in order to come up with the best combination out of about two dozen waxes.
(Sackett) “It’s crucial. I mean you have to have the right wax. I mean, you’re gonna have a lot of competitors. The difference between a gold medal and 50th place could be a minute and a lot of that time could be the wax.”
Sackett says he’ll be mainly working with skiers from Italy, Austria and a number of Eastern European countries. He also plans to help out some American skiers. But his allegiance is to Toko ski wax and he’s feeling as competitive as any athlete on the course.
(Sackett) “Yea, they’ll be some pressure, but I’m ready to give it my best shot. I’m goin’ out there with every intention of bringing home a gold medal for some country.”
Sackett says it can take up to two hours to properly wax skis for Olympic competition. He’ll help prepare multiple pairs of skis for each competitor, just in case conditions change right before the start of the race.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Lyndonville.