When I ask Peter Foley how old he is he has to think about it for a second. “Thirty-six. No wait, 37. I was born in 1965, so you do the math,” he says with a laugh. Aside from this being a standard interview question, I am dying to know because he seems young, so not what I expected the head coach of the US Olympic Snowboard Team to be like. I guess I was thinking he’d be crustier, or more weathered, or super serious and intimidating like those guys you see on TV with head radios and paunchy jackets who order everyone around.
But this is snowboarding, after all, and even though Foley has a job that he takes very seriously, he’s a perfect fit: totally experienced and knowledgeable, but still the kind of guy you’d want to shoot the shit with over a beer. First of all, he chuckles a lot; it seems to punctuate at least half of what he says, denoting a casual attitude and instantly putting whoever he’s talking to at ease. He always wears a baseball cap and he has no facial hair to speak of, unlike that crusty coach stereotype I mentioned earlier. He has one of those boyish faces and you can bet he probably looked pretty much the same in high school as he does now. He’s from Colorado but for the past several years he’s lived in Oregon. Back in the day he hung out at Mt. Bachelor along with Northwest greats like Michele Taggart and Shannon Melhuse. Yeah, he ski raced in college. But he raced snowboards professionally, too. And he’s been coaching the US Snowboard Team since 1994. Yes, there has been a US Snowboard Team for eight years now, so there.
Until recently, the whole concept of a snowboard coach (outside of racing) has always been somewhat of an anomaly in our carefree little sport. Most sponsored pro freestyle riders mainly rely on themselves, each other, and team managers to push their limits. The only real competition, it seemed, was who could win the most sponsorship support: a contest that goes well beyond raw skills in the halfpipe.
It’s a known fact that riders who chose the FIS/US Snowboard Team route gave up the financial and individual freedom to solicit independent sponsorship deals. But it’s really a simple tradeoff. You don’t have to look further than the success of Foley’s team riders to see what benefits coaching has to offer: four out of seven athletes going to the Olympics have at one time or another been members of the US Snowboard Team (Ross Powers, Tommy Czechin, Tricia Byrnes, and Kelly Clark). Because they don’t have to deal with sponsorship hassles, US Snowboard Team riders can focus exclusively on their riding with no distractions. They also have coaches who focus on their riding full time as well as a year-long intensive training program to develop and refine their skills. Throw in all the resources provided by the United States Ski and Snowboard Association and their corporate sponsors (everything from a full time staff of various specialists all expenses paid travel), and it’s looking like a pretty good deal.
“More and more it will take a serious program like ours for athletes to be competitive,” Foley says. “The level of the sport is moving too fast and soon people won’t be able to get by on natural talent alone.” Well if that isn’t the bottom line, we can’t tell you what is. We caught up with Pete last weekend just after the US Olympic Team announcement press conference in Breckenridge (one of the finer free food and booze shindigs this freelance journalist has seen in quite some time) to get the Olympic Countdown lowdown:
TWS: What are your thoughts on our US Olympic Freestyle Snowboard Team for 2002? What can we expect to see from them in Salt Lake?
I’m totally stoked with the team. On the men’s side, Ross and Tommy are the consistent performers and Danny and JJ are a little less consistent, but they can come up with a run that’s really insane. You know that Tommy and Ross are going to do well. With JJ and Danny, you’re not quite sure where they’ll end up, but have the potential to do great. I think it’s going to be a good mix.
All three girls have great medal chances. Ideally, if Kelly could add a 720 to her run it would be pretty much be unbeatable. Shannon’s run will also be strong if she could bring the amplitude up. And If Tricia can nail her McTwist, that run could be really strong as well.
Who do you think are the gold medal contenders?
I think all of them are. With the Olympics, anything can happen. I learned that in Nagano.
What countries and riders are the biggest threat to the US?
Stine Brun Kjeldaas is probably going to do well and of course Nicola Thost: those two women are really strong. In the men’s side, John Simmons has had some good results, Daniel Franck, Heikke Sorsa from Finland and Kim Christinansen from Norway.
What’s it going to take to win it?
You have to think that somebody’s going get away with throwing a run that’s kind of over their head. I think everybody has to throw down a great first run and the second run they just have to go mental. It has to be huge but everything has to be completely clean. It’s such a hard combo, but somebody’s going to pull it.
At the press conference, all the riders talked about pulling a few new tricks out of their hats at the Olympics. How realistic is that?
If Kelly could learn a 7, that would be huge. I know that Ross would like to bring back his upside down 900, but it’s nothing new, he just hasn’t been doing it lately in contests. He just needs to practice it some more. No one else needs to learn anything new they just need to go huge.
Four out of seven freestyle riders have been US Snowboard Team members. Do you care to comment on that?
We had some other really good contenders who didn’t make the team like Gretchen Bleiler and Andy Finch as well. More and more it will take a serious program like ours for athletes to be competitive. The level of the sport is moving too fast and soon people won’t be able to get by on natural talent alone.
Do you have any specific coaching strategies for the freestyle team going in to the Olympics?
It’s going to be different for each individual rider for sure. When we have our Olympic training camp in Park City prior to the Olympics, we’ll be able to help them figure out what they want to do with their runs and what’s going to work best for them. The bottom line is we want to win medals and so we need to be the best. The coach’s job is to figure out how to be of assistance to make it happen.
Stay tuned to Transworldsnowboarding.com for more Olympic Countdown Coverage. Coming Soon: The Man Behind The Golden Pipe and Meet The Team athlete bios.