Pascal Gertsch, a retired doctor from Vaud, and a fan of cross-country skiing and Mongolia, has set himself the challenge of creating and training a team of young Mongolians, with the objective of them competing in the cross-country skiing at Lausanne 2020. The former doctor to the Swiss Nordic ski team took the time to answer our questions
Dr Gertsch, how did this project come about?
Pascal Gertsch: The idea first came to me during a trip to Mongolia in 2016. Seeing the landscapes there, I said to myself that they were perfect for cross-country skiing, which was a sport that practically didn’t exist there at that time. When I got back to Switzerland, I learnt that Lausanne would be hosting the 2020 Youth Winter Olympics, which was what really set the project in motion. Once, I felt the passion for the project in Mongolia, it became an ambition of mine to make it happen. I have never promised them anything, only that I will dedicate all my energy to trying to make it become a reality.
I would guess that making it become a reality requires a significant amount of training…
PG: Absolutely, and that’s the challenge. Mongolia is three times the size of France, but with a population of only 3 million people. There is no equipment, no cross-country skiing tracks; only some extremely motivated youngsters, which is the most important thing. We have benefited greatly from the generosity of ski clubs in Swiss Romandie; sports shops; and Italian, Norwegian and Swiss manufacturers who have donated skis, poles and other equipment. I was able to take everything to Mongolia, including a plotter from the Vallée de Joux and even a snowmobile.
Another important stage in the preparation was the visit of fifteen Mongolian skiers to the Vallée de Joux in January 2018, the venue that will host the Nordic skiing competitions at Lausanne 2020.
PG: It was vital that the Mongolian youngsters could see prior to the games how we train here and also compete against other competitors. Outside of the sporting side, the goal was also for them to come in to contact with young Vallée de Joux residents and to attend some of their classes. They were warmly welcomed by the local population who took it upon themselves to show them their region.
In January 2019 there will be a second training camp in the Vallée de Joux. How will the selection process take place?
PG: We organised a training camp in Mongolia this autumn. Alain Bohard, a ski instructor at the Rousses ski station and my son, a specialist in cross-country skiing, came with me on the trip. The 37 athletes who took part in the selection process came from the four corners of Mongolia. The selection process assessed the athletes in a number of different areas: stamina, resistance, strength, agility, speed and technique. In January 2019, at the second training camp to be held at the site of the Olympic competitions, eleven young athletes will be accompanied by an interpreter and also two coaches who are in the process of being trained. This training camp is taking place thanks to the generosity of the Vallée de Joux sports centre and a major watch brand based in Brassus.
Cross-country skiing was popular in Mongolia until the end of the 1980s, before decreasing in popularity. What is its status now?
PG: The 450 pairs of skis that I brought from Switzerland are all being used. Since the project was launched the number of cross country skiers has doubled. The passion for the Youth Olympics is incredible. They have even dedicated The Genghis Kahn trophy, a local cross-country ski competition, to Lausanne 2020. Three young cross country skiers from the Vallée de Joux and Prémanon will be making the trip to take part.
There is still a lot of work to be done though. We are currently planning the creation of the first cross-country skiing track worthy of its name in Mongolia. The idea is to then have different hubs around the country. Our objective is to sow the seeds. It will then be up to them to harvest the potential.
For 12 years you were doctor to the Swiss Nordic ski team. What is the medical support like in Mongolia?
PG: Sports medicine is not a discipline that exists in Mongolia. Alongside the Mongolia – Lausanne 2020 project, I have also helped to bring a young Mongolian doctor to Switzerland. He will be hosted by the sports medicine section of the CHUV (Lausanne University Hospital), thanks to the generosity of their medical services department. The goal is that he will be able to share his newly acquired knowledge with other doctors in Mongolia and increase the level of sporting medical services available to sportsmen and sportswomen.
Where does your motivation come from?
PG: Sport is a wonderful environment for learning about life. I started cross-country skiing in Diablerets. I got an amazing buzz from doing it. In sport there are no social barriers and there is a great culture of helping each other out. This project is a great example of that. You need to be a bit of an idealist to do what I do, but it is my chance to give a bit back. I would like them to get as much pleasure as I have from sport. Their smiles are my payment.