Calves of a ski jumper

In Fox River Grove, the Norge Ski Club doesn't need snow to take to the slopes. When the weather dictates, former Olympic coach Scott Smith trains his team on a porcelain practice run where skiers land in a pit lined with soft, shredded plastic instead.

An ideal skier's body is thin but muscular in the legs and lower body, Smith said. He shapes up his team members—such as Mike Glasder of Cary, Ill., the first alternate for the U.S. in these Games—using weights, circuit and strength training and lower body-focused plyometric exercises.

Building those muscles allows skiers to enjoy the high points of the sport even more.

"The flying part is the biggest thrill of the whole thing," Smith said.

Quads of a speedskater

Top-level speedskaters, such as the 2014 Olympians Jeff Klaiber coaches, can reach speeds of up to 40 mph on the ice, so their training process is rigorous. Illinois natives and U.S. Olympians Jonathan Kuck and Emery Lehman spend four to six hours a day working with Klaiber at Milwaukee's Pettit National Ice Center with movements that primarily work the quads, glutes and hips.

Skating drills, weight training, resistance training and body weight exercises up the skaters' efficiency on the ice—a key component in speedskating. Since Klaiber competed in the 1988 and 1992 Games, the sport has moved indoors onto faster ice with more advanced skates, so the competition favors athletes who are more powerful relative to their size now instead of the bigger, stronger competitors who used to dominate.

What hasn't changed, though, is the Olympians' drive.

"Focusing on a goal and staying with it is the one thing that all these athletes share," Klaiber said. "They all started not knowing how to skate and they all ended up being experts at a very difficult sport, so that's a good lesson for life."

Gwendolyn Purdom is a RedEye special contributor.

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