By André Santos
At the end of Season XI, one of the best long distance skiers of all time decided to end her career.
With twelve victories and 33 podium places in the Pro Tour, 37-year-old Kateřina Smutná is a Visma Ski Classics Legend. Smutná also has a long career as a world cup skier.
We talked to her about her life, how she feels about her achievements and we also asked her to share some thoughts and advice about long distance skiing.
How did cross country skiing influence you as a person while you were growing up?
“Cross country skiing has greatly affected my life. But it wasn’t my number one sport from the beginning. I did modern gymnastics from an early age, which was a logical choice, given that my mother was a modern gymnast and then a coach. Unfortunately, I was not talented like my mother (thank God).”
“At the age of 11, however, I won the school cross country race and that was reason enough for a change. The very next day, my parents enrolled me in a club in Jablonec nad Nisou and I am really grateful to them for that. Thanks to this beautiful sport. I met my coach and boyfriend Radim, who led me until the end of my 26-year long career. I also met a lot of great people, visited amazing destinations and had many beautiful experiences together. “
Are there any cross country skiing adventures or special moments you remember from when you were a kid?
“I can’t really think of any adventures right now, but there’s something I love to look back on. We were a group of 15 teenagers and looked forward to every training. The main reason was that we played football for almost an hour before every training session. We refused to run without it. At that time, we didn’t realize it, but football was the best training for us. In the winter you could see it in the results. “
If you could talk to Kateřina Smutná 15 years ago, what advice would you give her?
“I was 23 years old 15 years ago. It was 2006 and we were already looking forward to getting Austrian citizenship. The Olympics took place in Torino that year. It was not an easy period for us. Radim was a serviceman with the Austrian team at the World Cup and I trained alone in Ramsau for a whole month. What did I say to myself? Probably the fact that everything has its time and nothing happens without reason. And yes. In the end, it was very good that I didn’t qualify for the Olympics in Torino. When I jumped into the World Cups in 2007, it turned out that all the hard work and two years without an official race paid off. “
What was the most crucial moment of your skiing career? And the hardest one?
“I’ll start with the hardest. There were two—the first in 2003 at the World Championship in Val di Fiemme, Italy. As a Junior, I started at the World Championships among adults. I was often sick throughout the season and I didn’t succeed in the race. I placed 51st and the head coach took me off from the National team roster that evening.”
“It was incomprehensible for me at the time. It was a huge shock and disappointment for me but, at the same time, a great challenge. This was the reason why Radim and I went to Austria. It was at the Austrian Ski Association where I experienced the second most difficult moment of my career. We have fought against doping all our lives and under all circumstances. But when Austria had a doping scandal at the Sochi Olympics, we said to ourselves that we no longer wanted to ski in such an environment. And that was the main reason for us to start thinking about change.”
“That change was Visma Ski Classics. It was the best career decision I could have made, which takes me to the most beautiful moment of my career: a victory at Vasaloppet in 2016. It was the first Vasaloppet that I did double poling. Right until the final meters of the race, I was battling Britta Johansson Norgren, who led the race the entire time.”
Smutná after her victory at Vasaloppet 2016. Photo: Vasaloppet.
“I also love to remember both victories at home at Jizerská 50. Or the sprint race at the Olympics in Vancouver, where I finished in a great 11th place. I also have beautiful memories of my last race, 100 km Årefjällsloppet. I really enjoyed it. Mainly because I didn’t go full throttle and therefore, I had enough energy to smile. It was also beautiful that I went around the whole race course together with Britta, who was my main rival in many races.”
What plans do you have for future? Will we see you on tracks again?
“The main priority right now is family. And about the job, I am enjoying working as a therapist. I’ve been doing massages for several years. I love helping people feel better. Will I ever race again? If everything goes according to plan and I stay healthy, I will resume racing. I would like to prepare for some of the most beautiful Visma Ski Classics races, such as Jizerská 50 or Vasaloppet.”
You were a world cup skier and you decided to step into the world of Visma Ski Classics; what were your expectations?
“I was often at the top 20 at the world cup races and I also had a lot of top 10 placements. These results were based on very good double poling. So, I went to the Pro Tour with top five hopes. I knew it was possible to win a race and that motivated me. I was strong, but I didn’t succeed at Vasaloppet. My skis had klister. The fact that I won the whole the Champion competition in the first year was a bit unexpected but wonderful. “
How was the adaptation from regular cross country skiing to competitions where you only use double poling?
“It’s a fact that I did the best in sprints at the World Championships (as well as Britta), so it might have seemed that the transition would be difficult, but the opposite was true. Already at the world cup, my double poling was my first choice and that is why our decision to switch to Visma Ski Classics was easier. In training, it was not very different. We only increased the endurance workouts to around three to four hours.”
What are your thoughts about the world of long distance skiing and how Visma Ski Classics has been developing over the seasons?
“Visma Ski Classics is now as popular as the world cup. These are two different track length competitions. The viewership of Ski Classics has already surpassed the regular World Cups in some countries. I see the advantages in the fact that the individual teams manage everything by themselves. Competitors are not under pressure from national associations and thus have peace of mind. The disadvantage is that they don’t receive any funds from the associations. Visma Ski Classics will become more and more popular in the future and the Pro Tour will be stronger.”
Is there any race or victory you feel you didn’t accomplish?
“Not once in my career have I managed to make it to the podium at the world cup. Twice I was very close and took 4th place in the sprint. But to tell you the truth, it doesn’t bother me that much. More important, Radim and I had many unforgettable experiences.“
You are a ski hero for many people, but who are your ski heroes?
“In my youth, the biggest role model for me was the Norwegian Bente Skari, an excellent classic skier who managed to step up and have incredible pace towards the end of the races. I had the pleasure of starting alongside her at four world cup races in the 2002/2003 season. It was a great experience for me.“
What is the best advice you can give young skiers that dream of winning the races you have won?
“Advice to young people? Don’t focus only on double poling. Train generally and gradually increase your endurance and strength. Visma Ski Classics isn’t just about double poling. Young athletes must first master all cross country ski techniques. “
You can find all results from Kateřina Smutnás career in the Pro Tour here.