Richard Rokos is entering his 20th season as head coach of CU’s ski program. He has guided his skiers to five national championships, most recently in 2006.
Boulder Weekly: You took second at the NCAAs last season. How do you build on that performance?
Richard Rokos: Well, the season was good itself, we won most of the ski carnivals; we finished first in regionals. It comes down to four days of competition, and things might happen in your favor, or not. Even if you are favored […] sometimes with all the things in place, things don’t go well.
BW: You took over in 1990, following some down years after the departure of [former coach] Bill Marolt. How did you return the program to the prominence it sustained under Coach Marolt?
RR: My general philosophy is getting first place in all aspects; it comes between academics and athletics. If you don’t succeed academically, you have a tough time succeeding athletically, so I make sure all aspects are in balance: health, nutrition, athletics, academics, social life, so that everything is in good proportion with each other. That’s my lifestyle and philosphy.
BW: Being from Czechoslovakia, do you have an advantage recruiting European-born skiers?
RR: I could have, potentially; my teammates and people I raced have kids of eligible age. That’s not my goal; I prefer to recruit domestically, and locally, here in Colorado.
BW: Talk a little about your philosophy to turn down personal accolades.
RR: I don’t feel I should be promoted over athletes. It’s their achievement, I’m just there as a tool for them, to help them.
BW: How will the graduation of Matt Gelso impact the team next year?
RR: Matt went through some development in four years with us. He had good years, bad years, and his final year was phenomenal. It came together perfectly for him. He showed he was the best American on the Nordic college circuit.
BW: How disappointing was it to host the NCAAs and not win?
RR: It’s always disappointing. I believe in fair competition, and being second in a fair fight, that’s the best we can do. Sometimes, you have to compromise your first place, just because you have to follow the rules, and some teams might choose differently, and they might benefit in the short term. In the end, it’s not giving a good message to athletes, or the public.
BW: A lot of students come to CU for the stellar ski resorts nearby. What’s your favorite ski resort in Colorado?
RR: I would say Eldora. … We come there every day, we train. For us, going to Beaver Creek or Aspen — because they don’t do for us what Eldora does with hill prep and space — I don’t think we would be better off there.
BW: What was it like to meet President Bush following your 2006 national championship?
RR: It was definitely a lifetime experience, you know, to go to the White House — that does not happen to everybody. For all of us, it was a great experience. It’s an honor that the kids and coaches and administrators deserved, and I thought it was great.
BW: Is it always your goal to win a national championship?
RR: It’s our goal, not our expectation. We’ll do everything possible within the rules, our timeframe and power to achieve. No one trains for second place — or maybe someone does — I don’t think it’s a goal. You want to train and compete for winning.
BW: What makes CU attractive to the best skiers?
RR: I think academics, Boulder as a city, the program hopefully, the closeness of the mountain. There are very few places where you can be within two hours of five ski areas. Also weather conditions, always good weather … obviously lots of people east, west, want to come here.