Face to face with the greats of sport: Federico Pellegrino
You might have heard talk of it, you might even have picked it up yourself reading his blog, and you’ve almost definitely noted it if you’ve watched any videos of him online, but it is only once you have the man in front of you that you sense and understand just how meticulous, precise and orderly Federico Pellegrino is.
It is there when he looks at you, when he moves and, of course, when he starts talking about himself. Not a single word is accidental, even if it seems like a softball question. No. Chicco – to use the name favoured by his superfans, over 700 people wearing the famed yellow when they line the course – listens to you, thinks and then carefully uses the most precise words, as his ideas start to become clear. You could say he’s very focused, but that doesn’t do him justice. No, the most successful Italian male cross-country skier is first and foremost not a great champion, but a very smart person. It is this intelligence that allows him to clearly see just how fundamental method and rigour are in life to optimise potential. And this is also our starting point.
You have an abundance of talent, so tell us about it
“Yes, talent, sometimes it has a whiff of an excuse. For yourself and for others. As if everything, or almost everything, is focused on it. And this view has plenty to do with genetics. I believe talent is something else. It is the sum total of what you receive from your mom and dad, plus the experiences you go through unwittingly. I’m referring to those things you are not actively searching for, but that might help improve your performance at some stage in the future.”
I’m not 100% with you. What exactly do you mean?
“Let me give you a practical example. Chopping wood is a talent until you start thinking chopping wood can help you in a race. Once you believe an activity can improve your performance, then you include it on that mental list of the things you choose to do. Is that clearer? What you receive and what you experience without specifically desiring it nourishes your talent. They help it grow. On this front, I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve only been surrounded by people who have simply allowed me to develop. And my talent. (I told you he was a smart guy.)”
Tactics, technique or temperament?
“Undoubtedly, tactics. Over the years I’ve definitely refined my technique and temperament massively, but tactics are my strength. They allow me to stay a step ahead of my opponents. My approach to competition really helps me fully exploit my physical and mental characteristics. You have to know yourself. Knowing what sort of stuff you’re made of is the first step to achieving major results.”
Let’s speak about “us”. When did you first come into contact with Equipe Enervit?
“Last year, once the season was already underway. The purpose was to see if what I’d worked out with the doctor in charge of our sector, Dr Filippo Balestrieri, who has plenty of contact with Equipe Enervit, was basically correct or perhaps to see where there was some room for improvement.”
“This initial contact definitely brought some results. Now, as the new season lies ahead, we’ve started working more closely together. We’re not only looking at nutrition and supplements, but actually cooperating. We’ll be doing research together, drawing from our past experiences and analysing my needs. Listening to what an athlete needs is very important to Equipe Enervit, and one of the team’s great virtues. The goal? To find the right solutions for the different types of training. I have many forms of training, and each one has its specific features. Identifying suitable support, in detail, can help one physically and so improves results. It’s a great challenge!”
From 0 to 10, how much does nutrition influence sporting performance?
“Are we talking in terms of feelings or actually?”
“Well, think about a cake, the performance cake. It’s not only sliced, but also has different layers. Now we add a variable that counts: the mind. I believe it takes up 50 per cent of this mouth-watering cake. Ultimately, your head is needed in training, in racing, for growing and for confidence. It is the master of your body. There’s no doubt about this.”
Let’s get back to our cake.
“As I said, it has multiple layers: food, supplements and recovery. Recovery is essential, meaning resting well and sleeping well. These three aspects are definitely not marginal. Doing these three things properly makes the difference when it comes to performance. This is particularly true for people like me, at a high level. I’ve experienced this first-hand. Since I’ve started looking after these aspects properly, I’ve started winning, taking home medals and even getting onto the podium in World Cup events. This is why I say these three things make a difference. A real difference. Of course, a lot of effort is also needed. At times, it can be frustrating. But when you win, it all changes because the satisfaction for reaching a goal repays all the effort you put in.”
Eating and nutrition: how much do supplements help you in training?
“The right amount. Because I use them properly. I don’t use too many or too few, before, during and after. It all depends on the type of training. Let me give you a concrete example. Two training sessions a day: the main one and the “ancillary” one. In the first, I use mineral salts and maltodextrin. In the second, focusing on running or distance roller skiing, I might simply drink a bit of water from a town water fountain. I never overdo it. I also listen to what my body is telling me. This is a rule I use in training and in racing.”
A race is approaching: how do you eat to make sure you have enough energy?
“I have my formula that I have tested over the years. The day before, I carbo-load, cooked in the simplest way possible. I have about 800 g, a mix of porridge and pasta. On race morning, by contrast, I don’t overeat. The food I ate the day before and the sleep I got that night ensure my batteries are optimally charged.”
Race day is here and Federico Pellegrino, world champion skier is about to race. With or without dietary supplements?
“With, with … definitely. I use them to optimise performance, and I don’t only mean physically. My backpack has: mineral sports, pre-sport supplements, energy bars and gels. These definitely include an energy activator with caffeine and Yerba Mate, the Mate Shot, which Enervit created at my request. During a race, depending on how I feel, I take one or two. Of course, sprints are a rather unique type of race. They take place over numerous heats, with recovery time dropping as you get closer to the final.”
This makes it vital to manage yourself properly. Right?
“Right. I quite often actually change my method, based on what I feel. Perhaps I’m feeling a bit flat, so I might use one supplement. But if I’m tired, I’ll use a different one. Sometimes, I realise I don’t need anything. The key is to never push oneself above a certain level of lactate, as you run the risk of reaching the final feeling tired. Finally, thinking about what supplement to take at a specific time also helps keep your mind off how long until the next heat or what the competition will be like. It helps the mind.”
You’ve won a medal. Anything special to eat?
“No, nothing special. My mind is already on the next race. Still, I pay a lot of attention to what I eat. At the end of the season, things change, but only a bit. I might have a hamburger or a pizza, which is out of the question during the season, and maybe even a beer. The life of an athlete is with me on and off the course.”
As the years pass, your engine shifts from petrol to diesel. A move from sprints to distance events?
“I’m getting ready for this possibility. On the other hand, my current training isn’t that different to that of distance athletes. In summer, it’s identical. Then, given how I tackle the sprints, working on two aspects has helped me get through the opening heats and do well in the latter ones. And these are the ones where you win the race. So, if I manage to improve my sprinting and, at the same time, improve my performance in longer races, well, it’s win-win. It is no accident I’m also improving on this front. Of course, a lot comes down to the calendar for the World Cup. In recent years, it’s been packed together and this season looks even worse. I’ll have to make some decisions. For now, I’ve decided to focus on sprints.”
A deep sense of gratitude for… ?
“… For everyone who let me grow in every aspect of my life. First and foremost, my parents. Then, the numerous coaches I’ve had over the years, from the early football ones to the skiing ones. I’d also add the music and percussion maestros in the band in Nus, the town in Valle d’Aosta where I come from. My fans… Well, everyone who has allowed me to nurture my passions without imposing anything on me. That’s no small thing, no?”
Your motto for Equipe Enervit.
“I’ve already got my answer for this. It’s mine and I’ll pass it on happily: ‘Do a little well’ rather than ‘do a lot less well’. Not “bad”, don’t you think? I don’t even think about that.”
A bullet point biography of Federico Pellegrino
- Federico Pellegrino, Chicco to his friends, was born in Aosta on 1 September 1990.
- He was only 4 when he first began skiing.
- At 16, he had to make his first big decision: skiing or football (he was an excellent forward)? He went for the former. This was also the beginning of refining one of his greatest qualities: technique.
- In 2009 he was called up to the national squad. He had to make another key decision: skiing or school (he went to a high school specialising in science) and then university? Skiing. He races for the Fiamme Oro team, which is the sporting wing of the Italian State Police.
- In 2010 he made his debut in the European Cup. He won bronze at Hinterzarten, in German, in the Junior World Championships in the sprint, and he also took home his first Cup points, while still a junior. This is the beginning of his apotheosis.
- On 15 January 2011 he made the podium for the first time in the Cup, in Liberec (Czech Republic) There is now no doubt: he is a true phenomenon. A team of sprinters was formed within the national team, including Greta Laurent, his girlfriend.
- Taking a gold medal in the U23 world junior ski champs in Liberec 2013 shows Federico also has what it takes in the sprint classic. This technique will help him claim Silver in the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics (South Korea). This is the victory he rates above all others, because it was in the discipline that comes least naturally to him.
- From Sprint Skating in Davos (Switzerland) on 13 December 2015 to the Team Sprint on 17 January 2016 in Planica, Federico managed 5 consecutive victories in the World Cup. At the end of that season, he lifted the World Sprint Cup, becoming the first – and still only – non-Scandinavian to do so.
- Federico’s world is about total dedication to his craft. His obsessive attention to detail. His incredible confidence in his ability. These are the ingredients that have made him win more World Cup races than any other Italian: 13. And 5 World Championship medals (1 gold, 2 silvers, 2 bronzes) between Falun 2015 (Sweden ) and Seefeld 2019 (Austria), with Lahti in 2017 (Finland), where he became the World Sprint Champion.