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Interview: Marty Baumann

By Mark Parman
April 2, 2001

The following article has been submitted for publication, in part or whole, for the Silent Sports May Issue. Thanks to Greg Marr and Mark Parman for permission to publish the piece online. Please note the interview was conducted in March, before Baumann's disqualification. -- Ed.

Marty Baumann, 41, finished the 2001 American Birkebeiner in two hours, 46 minutes and some change, placing 31st overall and 2nd in his age group. That, in and of itself, isn’t remarkable.

What is, though, is the way he did so: Coming out of the fifth wave, skiing the entire race by himself without the pacing or draft of a pack, through deep snow and sometimes near blizzard conditions, passing approximately 2000 slower skiers on his way to the finish line in Hayward. Even more remarkable is his meteoric rise from nearly last place in 1998 to world class status in 2001.

In ’98, Marty, then of Carpentersville, IL, finished the El Nino Birkie, shortened to 23 km, in three hours and 57 minutes, good for 3568th place out of 3584 skiers. Skiing a 10:20 minutes per kilometer (mpk) pace on an icy, fast track, Marty finished ahead of just 16 other skiers. Carl Swenson won that year in a time of 50:11 at a 2:11 mpk pace.

The next year, Marty, now of Marysville, WA, a suburb of Seattle, skied out of the 10th wave and crossed the line in 2438th place, taking 4 hours and 13 minutes. That year he skied a 4:52 mpk pace. This put him in the fifth wave, setting up his remarkable finish this past February.

"I started skiing in 1991. We’d go up to Door County to the Griffith Inn. We skied at Peninsula and Newport [state parks]," said Baumann, who was born and raised in northern Illinois. Baumann did most of his skiing at that time with his cousin Jim Bychowski, a Birkie skier from Winnetka, IL.

In ’94 Baumann, a horticulturist, began skiing the Birkie. Until last year, Marty was a run-of-the-mill Birkie skier, and his previous best finish in a ski race was 12th last year at the Whistler Cup in British Columbia. He credits several factors for his success. "I had major reconstructive surgery on my foot, so I could stay in training all year round." This foot "works better than it ever has." He also worked out in Gold’s Gym, lifting weights.

More perhaps than any other factor, Marty felt his recent divorce provided the time and motivation he needed to reach the elite level. "That’s all I would do. Work and ski."

"I started skiing at altitude in October, and my skiing stepped up about three notches." Marty spent nearly every weekend of the winter training in either Washington or British Columbia, logging kilometers at Snoqualmie, Crystal Mountain, Stevens Pass, Mt. Baker and Whistler. He also competed in a couple of local races, what he described as "sprints," shorter distances of 10 or 20 kilometers.

Since the Seattle area has a temperate climate and receives little snow, he spent the work week ­ the bulk of his time through the winter ­ dryland training, and snow skied the weekends. During the week, he rollerskied every other day. Baumann averaged 70 to 80 kilometers per week, combining both his snow skiing and rollerskiing.

"One day I worked out in the gym, the other I rollerskied. And then the Stairmaster. I would spend two to three hours on the Stairmaster. I would take an aggressive pace."

Marty worked on his technique. "I changed to V-2. I started skiing without poles. I met Nate [sic] Brown and worked with him."

Considering all aspects of the sport, Marty looked at all the little important details, like equipment and diet. "I really immersed myself in skiing." He took a part-time job at REI, so he could get some top quality skis. "I weighed 192 the morning of the race," claimed Baumann. After stepping off the scale, he knew he would have a good race.

The conditions of the 2001 Birkie, Baumann is quick to point out, favored him immensely since he likes to ski in deep snow. "I’m a big man [6’2"]. I was getting better glide than everyone else, getting eight to ten inches every stride." He always travels with two pair of skis, and skied his Madshus, the stiffer pair, switching waxes the night before the race. "I switched wax at the last moment. I spent about two hours waxing."

Parking in Cable and riding the bus in to Telemark, he got to the start area "literally two minutes before the start and went through the little gate at the side. They [gate guards] let me in the front right away."

When the cannon fired, he immediately skied off the front of the Fifth Wave. "I passed most of the Fourth Wave before the nine kilometer marker. I passed about 900 people before 00. I had such long glide. It was just perfect for me."

Baumann had few problems passing nearly 1000 skiers in the first hilly half of the race, even though conditions dictated that he skied in the deepest snow out of the track skied in through the course of the race. He "pulled in his poles" to get around a few skiers at a bottleneck on the "Seeley Firetower Hill."

"I was pretty focused ­ pretty aggressive. After 00, there were a couple of kids I skied with. I think one was number 736. He had spikey hair. We were back and forth the last 20 kilometers. We were both passing people regularly at that point, until he dropped me on the lake and finished ahead of me by two minutes or so."

Baumann followed the spikey-haired kid into town, and the rest is history. While every other skier finished at least a half an hour slower than their previous best, Baumann smashed his by an hour and a half in some of the worst Birkie conditions in memory.

Marty hopes to ski next year’s race between 2:40 and 2:50. He admits he’s not a hard track skier due to his large size and doesn’t feel he can ski much faster, even in better conditions. He actually prefers the deep snow.

He would also like to use his high Birkie finish to get elite or first wave starts at the "Vasaloppet in Traverse City and the Pepsi Vasaloppet in Minnesota." Baumann isn’t looking for a ski or wax sponsor. "I do it strictly for myself." But perhaps a major ski manufacturer or the national team should pay attention after his performance.

When asked about the allegations of cheating, Baumann admitted that he’d had a few conversations with the Birkie office, which was concerned about his low profile in the ski community and his lack of results. "What reason would I have to do that [cheat]? Why would I fly all that way there to do that? How do you cheat in a race like that?"


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