Europe 2003/2004

Tim Retchford Interviews... Paul Murray

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Apparently Sweden has more going for it than just its beautiful women. Australia's best performed sprinter Paul Murray gives the inside scoop into being a full time skier in possibly the strongest skiing nation in the world.

Paul you have spent the past two seasons in Sweden. Why Sweden?

In Sweden skiing is huge. It is part of their culture. Thousands of people turn out to watch ski races and if a Swede performs well in a world cup it is likely to be on the front of the national papers.

Additionally I can train here with some of the best skiers in the world. It is amazing how much you can learn by just following these guys.

You have been lucky enough to get a place in the Falun Borlange club. Tell me a little bit about the club.

Falun Borlange is a relatively new and incredibly exclusive team. It currently has 9 members of which about half compete on world cup regularly and most have finished in the top 15 in the Vasaloppet.

After beating a few of the guys in Swedish cup sprints last year I was fortunate enough to be added to the team this year. The benefits are great. We get plenty of racing and training kit, training camps, race accommodation and entry fees for races paid. Aside from the financial benefits it is amazing to be part of a team that nearly always has success at all levels of racing.

Obviously all the training is paying off with your recent fantastic results. Your 38th position in the sprint was the second best result by an Australian at a world cup.

It was really satisfying to have a good result there. I had been really focusing on that race for some time. My training this year has been less than ideal with problems with sickness during the Australian season and then the start of the European season. However over the last two months things have gone much better.

Fortunately I have a heap of sprint races coming up in the next 3 weeks with three world cup sprints, a Swedish cup sprint and the Vasaloppet so hopefully I can jag a few more results while I have good form.

Do you think you have become a classic sprint specialist?

I have always had the tendency to be better in classic than skating maybe because I am stronger in the upper body than in the legs. However, prior to the world cup in Stockholm my best result was in skating. I am looking forward to the next skate world cup next week to see how my skating compares this season.

I am pretty excited that my classic is going so well given that next years world champs in Germany will be in this technique. The other motivating factor is that about 16 of the guys ahead of me in Stockholm will not be eligible for the worlds. (only 4 competitors per country can start in the individual events at the world champs. Whereas in the world cup the top rated nations can have up to 8 starters in each race. The host nation can have up to 15 extra competitors.) So that's given me the belief that a top 30 at worlds next year isn't out of our reach if things go our way.

The Scandinavians, particularly the Norwegians, dominated the sprint qualifying and the finals. Why do you think they are so good?

Classic skiing is much more entrenched into the skiing psyche in Scandinavia compared to Europe and America. So many people go classic skiing for recreation here rather than skating. In Europe the opposite usually applies.

I think the other reason is that the two countries have identified that they can go well in these events and have invested a lot of time and money into developing athletes for classic sprinting.

Has your training changed much as a result of seeing how athletes here train?

It hasn't changed a lot, but I'm certainly training harder than ever before. I suppose the main changes have been more emphasis on specific strength training rather than weights based and more regular intensity training.

Although I trained a fair bit with the local skiers before the season I haven't done a heap during the season. Generally everyone had very structured programs during winter and much of the season they are away racing.

Despite the fact that sprint races have only recently been introduced to the Australian calendar, Australian team members have already had great success internationally. How has this been possible?

I think there have been a number of factors involved. To become elite at sprinting does not require the same years of training needed to become competitive at distance racing. As a result several people in Australia have been able to become competitive reasonably quickly on the basis of their strength, power and technique rather than relying on huge aerobic motors.

The fact that a number of skiers in Australia have focused on the event has helped push the standard up locally. Making the national team has now become quite difficult. This invariably leads to improvements in the standard of the team.

The other major factor has been that Australian Coach Finn Marsland recognized early that we could become competitive in sprinting and encouraged athletes to train more specifically for it.

So being a full time athlete you must have a lot of time on your hands. What do you do outside of your training?

I have become incredibly good at grand theft auto (computer game), I watch a lot of TV and on occasions try and improve my Swedish. My Swedish has improved significantly thanks to my patient girlfriend Sanna and my flat mate (and medalist from this seasons world cup) Martin Larsson. At a night sprint relay about a month ago the commentator was extremely surprised when I was able to understand and answer his questions in Swedish. I am not however at the level of Finn Marsland.

How do you go for support while your over here racing, money, gear and sponsor wise?

I am fortunate enough to get funding from the Australian Olympic Committee through Skiing Australia which financially supports me while I am racing world cups, as well as my Victorian Institute of Sport scholarship and my club back in Australia, Birkebeiner NSC. Every single cent counts. Fischer support me with fast skis, and Mountain Designs and Oakley sunglasses sponsor me for kit, so I would say I am very fortunate to have generous and supportive sponsors.

What are your plans for the next few months?

I am off to Norway tomorrow to compete in two world cup sprints. After that I have the Vasaloppet (90 km classic race) another sprint world cup at the Olympic site in Pregalato and then there are the Swedish nationals. I am eligible to ski because I have been living here for long enough. My plan is to enter most of the events with the aim of lowering my distance points and if I am not too stuffed after that to make the final 16 in the sprint. That would be an amazing result for me given the depth of talent in sprinting here.

At the moment I am planning to work here for a while after the season, maybe planting trees and then training hard with my club mates in the lead up and during the Swedish summer. I will probably be back in Australia in mid to late July for the domestic races.

I am looking forward to having a bit of summer over here. The last proper summer I had was back in 2000. I am really missing the beach and its killing me! If all goes to plan I might be able to squeeze in a week or so of surfing in Queensland after the season.

There are rumours aplenty that some of the top Swedes and maybe even Martin Koukal (world 50 km champ) may come to Australia this year. What do you know?

At this stage they are purely rumours. It would be fantastic if they did come out but most of the national teams particularly the Swedes have regular training camps so it makes it difficult for them to have the time to come out, but I can say 2 of the guys on the national team plus a few others have asked how easy it is to learn to surf and how much room I have on my floor in Mount Beauty.(none at the moment until my folks build their new place.)

So will you be back to Sweden for the 2005 season?

For sure. At this stage we are working towards the 2006 Olympics so up until then I will be here and if things are still going well and I am making further gains I may be here for even longer. It is hard to imagine a better training set up for me. We have a good apartment here, our own car and plenty of gun training partners. Plus my girlfriend isn't ready to move countries yet.

Thanks very much for your time Paul. Good luck for the rest of the season.


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