Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Yet another Winter Carnival

Grade Five Stockholm Winter Carnival. 10km. 2nd overall.
I just couldn't resist putting this one in. 
        I've always wondered how this update would go. Now, sitting here in Antholze with a brief moment of silence before breakfast I can not even conjure up a deep and clever title. Maybe "Results round 3"? Maybe something less original, but accurate such as "The Olympics" or "Sochi Bound" It doesn't really matter, because leaving the blog un-updated wouldn't be a very nice thing to give the overwhelming amount of support that has been pouring in since (and even before) the team naming. This is my best attempt at summarizing the past couple of weeks. There's not enough time to go into detail about the last 12 years, but they played a role in the last two weeks here in Northern, Italy.

         Not making it to the December IBU or WC team was big let down for me. What it spelled out was that I was going to have to take the long road to making the Olympic team; if at all. I was going to have to play the last minute card to secure a spot. What you can take from that is that there was still a chance. A chance to turn everything around and make the season a success. Whether the odds are in your favor or not it's still a chance. With any amount of chance there is reason for a full bore effort. After racing well enough in Minnesota I was discretioned onto the January IBU cup team. So then it was the four of us trying to claim the last two spots on the US team.
Yet another nice morning.
          The deciding races were held in Ridnaun, Italy. Which happens to be one of the better places on earth to compete at. We were looking at two sprints back to back one weekend and an individual and sprint back to back again the following weekend. Seemed fair enough. The first race was not an accurate representation of the warm and perfect sunny days we've come to expect from Ridnaun. Instead we raced in a blizzard. Admittedly it wasn't that windy, but it had been snowing heavenly since the morning of the day before. This meant that the trail was soft and unstable. Technique went out the door as I struggled to maintain balance in the soft, but still glazed trail. The visibility on the down hills was non existent. You had to get a brief look in of what direction to expect and then put you head down and really commit to the memory of the trail. Yeah... it wasn't the most pretty race to watch. Since it snowed all race it was actually somewhat fair. Shooting was slow, but I had my best of the year so far with 90%. Skiing was okay enough to get me in the top US spot and 25th overall.
          The following day's sprint was the least eventful of the four races. I took on two penalties in both stages. 60% isn't great, but it just barley gave me a second US finisher spot. Roughly 50 seconds behind Sean Doherty and four seconds up on Jeremy Teela.
           After that we packed up all of our possessions and moved up the valley. We were now only a few hundred meters from the trails. We were not technically residing at the infamous four start Schneberg, but our new accommodations were pretty slick. The perfect weather made training that week somewhat mellow. Or at least it did until the last round of Olympic trials drew near. The legs felt good the day before and shooting was also good during my pre-race session. Everything was in place. It was just a matter of waiting to try it out. I hate the waiting part before races. Sometimes the best part of the day is just getting out of the starting gate. At that point you at least have the chance to control the results.
        The third race was the individual. 20kms of races, four stages of shooting and a healthy one minute penalty per miss. Individuals are not my specialty. Given the high stakes at hand I wasn't about to let that get into my head. I focused on the task at hand as best I could. Even then I have never been that nervous about a few shots as I was coming into each one of those shooting stages. In the end I had four misses total out of twenty. 80% to help maintain the seemingly 80% of the IBU cup level. If you look at the break down of the race my range time was abysmal. This isn't necessarily anything new, but I did put in a lot of effort to bring those times down this year. The truth is, I was playing the safe card. The goal was to qualify. Shooting faster would increase the chances of a great results while also increasing the chances of a terrible result. So I took my time and did what I had to. Skiing was not so slow, on the other hand. I was able to muster up the sixth fastest course time. There was a two plus minute gap from me to the next US finisher. Even though it was a longer race in general, the points and chances of me making the Olympics were looking pretty good.
The leg sticker from the race that made
 the turning point in trials
         There was no real reason to be excited just yet. We had one more race to go. With only 24 hours to rest it was easy to stay in the focus zone and go for it one last time. I played it safe again and had a couple of rather slow range times. Ski speed was decent but only the 18th fastest on the day. I was the top American again and had unofficially claimed one of the last two spots. Casey had a good race with another clean shooting. Try as I may I couldn't wipe the grin off my face while cooling down.
         Team naming was done over a fractional skype call. I was in through points. It was a little unknown who would take the discretion card between Jeremy and Sean. In the end Sean was named in the fifth spot. Yeah, it was good evening. Even for all of the athletes in valley.
       The next day brought a sunny and warm morning with a quiet breakfast. It all just help compliment the mood. The world cup team made there way from Ruhpolding to our place. After lunch and packing we were off to Antholz. It was basically one beautiful northern Italian valley to the next. When I jumped my phone onto the hotel wifi it proceeded to chime and vibrate for about five minutes with congratulatory updates from home. Each of which I read. So thanks!
          Some of us on the team were fighting just to be here while others will be fighting for the first USBA medal. I try not to take anything for granite. That being said I have easy combos later on today and a pre race session tomorrow before Friday's WC sprint race. The pre Sochi training camp will stay right here in Antholz. No one is complaining about that one.
           The truth is, the Olympics are just another race series. It's the same bunch of dudes battling it out that you see in the world cup. The range isn't any further. The sprint race will still be ten kilometers. The difference is the amount of respect and hysteria that revolves around the greatest winter carnival earth has to offer. When you're young you don't dream about world champs. You dream about the Olympics. As just mentioned there is no literal difference, but good luck trying to feel that way after watching the opening ceremonies.
          Well there, the update I've been waiting to post for long time is done. The first winter carnival that I competed in was at the Stockholm School some decades back. The spectator count may be grander for this next one, but the competitive effort never changes.
Yeah I don't know.

1 comment:

Rich Kent said...

Congratulations, Russell!

Your blog entry on making the ultimate winter carnival is so wonderfully understated, as if you're warehousing your energy and focusing your emotions down the trail. It's what I've seen in the writing of many elite athletes as they explore both their competitive selves and their private lives. Keep writing… in it, you'll find many questions and some of the answers. As William Zinsser says, "Writing organizes and clarifies our thoughts. Writing is how we think our way into a subject and make it our own. Writing enables us to find out what we know—and what we don’t know—about whatever we’re trying to learn."

Russell, you make all of us in Maine terribly proud.

Very best wishes,
Richard Kent
University of Maine
Hometown: Rumford, home of High School Hill :-)