Once again the racing season is over. It's hard to think of everything that has happened since late November. The crazy part is that this is nothing out of the ordinary. Any NorthAmerican biathlete can expect to spend at least three months away from home, four or more if you skip out on Christmas. While this is pretty consistent, some of the racing was different this year. Namely the Olympics. That race series only comes in four year cycles. The base goal for the season was to secure a spot on that team. That wasn't the only goal in mind, but considering where I started from I knew it wasn't going to be an easy season. Some goals were met with flying colors and others left unfulfilled.
There was no travailing to Ostersund for the opening WC. There wasn't even an IBU cup in my reach for December. In fact, I had to head in the opposite direction. If I wanted to meet base line goals I would have to be Mt. Itaska, Minnesota around mid December. Thanks to some dependable backing from the MWSC I was able to not only attend the trial races, but also secure some frostbite in Canmore, Alberta the two weeks prior. Canmore was cold on arrival, then delightfully warm and finally back to dangerously cold again before we left. Aside from some on snow training there was also a couple of NorAms. I needed these races to work out the cobwebs before taking any risk in MN. Turns our there was more cobwebs than I thought. Shooting was still in the hole and ski speed wasn't where I had trained it to be. I was starting to get nervous.
Race one at Mt Itaska left me even more nervous. It also left everyone cold. Despite jumping a time zone over the bitterly cold followed us. After the four trial races were done I was safely in the top two. In the end I had to take the discretion card to make it to the next round. After MN it was Christmas time. Being able to relax and have a conformed spot on the Olympic team would have helped with the Christmas spirit, but it was still a good time.
The next round of trials was in Ridnaun, Italy. Ridnaun happens to one of the better places on the Euro race circuit. With four races stretched over two weekends the stress levels never dropped much. I did my very best to suppress the fears and horrors of not making the team. Usually it's all blue sky perfect in Ridnaun. For the most part these two weeks were no different. Strangely enough though, the first IBU cup race was held in a blizzard. Visibility was down to a critical distance. It wasn't a pretty race, but I was able to work with it and come out as top American. I didn't do as well the following day when conditions were better, but it was still nice to have the races one after the other. Once that second race was over it was a week of waiting before the last two. This gives you enough time to prepare or recover if you are sick, but it can also give you enough time to stress over racing. This is a very involuntary move on my subconsciousness's part obviously. Thankfully the weekend came and with good weather this time. The individual isn't my strong point and in retro spec others may have been worried about this situation and others delighted at the opportunity move up in points. Either way I took my time in the range. More so than usual. On that day I was not there to win. I was there to qualify. In other words a great result would have needed more risks, but the OWG's team naming meant not taking any risk. It paid off with slow, but decent shooting and the fifth fastest loop time on the day. I was the top American again by two minutes. The following race went well enough. After a while it was it was clear that my goal was going to be met.
After that it was off to Antolze. The last WC of the second trimester. This time around the atmosphere was different. It was better. It was better because there was no more team naming to be had. Stress levels were the lowest of the season. I can't say I like prolonging dinner over a two hour span but a better mood still. I was interested to see what racing was like with out the pressure load. Unfortunately I still missed three in my first stage of the sprint and another in standing. On the plus side ski speed was good that day and I still made the pursuit with a 60th result. The pursuit was decent race. It wasn't great, but it was a good sign.
Training in Antolze went pretty well over the next three weeks, but not without some glitches. Almost everyone was sick at some point. There was some questionable food issues here and there. Most of the team had to spend a day or two at a different hotel. The See Hause is still great, but after this season I think the yellow page review might go down a notch if there were such a website for the Südtirol region. It wasn't the normal training camp we do in the summer. This was the peak training camp. We weren't trying anything new. Just some fine tuning training before the most important races of the year. There were a few really hard efforts and a time trial to make sure everything was in order before heading over to Sochi
The Olympic experience was very exciting. I didn't even make it to the opening ceremonies and it was still an over the top experience. This was not your typical run of the mills world champs. At least not in presentation. The endurance village was a non stop post card picture. That's excluding the days when the fog roles in and limits visibility to two meters. Team processing alone made it clear that this was going to be different. The grandest difference may have been the Olympic biathlon venue. Normally you'll see one or two large buildings for storage and office work. Plus some stands and a line of small wax cabins. Our racing site had a large smooth and sleek building. It looked even better when the sun started to go down just over the mountains. The sky would glow orange as the temperature dropped from spring back to winter.
Not everything was a glorious change. Some things hung around to plague me. My best finish was 50th in the individual. The top 60 in the sprint race in the pursuit... I was 61st. Someone has to do it and it just happened to be me. As always I was immensely frustrated at first and gradually got over it. Besides a bad prone stage everything was there. I had high hopes for the individual. Shooting during training had been at an all time high. All I had to do was keep it together and let the fitness and shouting do the rest. In the end it was another mediocre race. Not bad, but not beyond the threshold. There was two misses in the first two stages. That really isn't too bad, but these days it's more of a perfection or nothing scenario.
From a non racing perspective the biggest complaint was the obnoxious amount of effort it took to get from point A too point B. Point B wasn't far off. But when you're in peak shape and don't want to spend 90 plus minutes a day walking it gets old very quickly. It was always a gamble to wait for a shuttle or not. Sometimes you would stand outside for five minutes, other times they would never drive by. As far as I could tell most of the shuttle drivers took 40 minute nap/smoking breaks all the time. In our smoke free village no less. It was almost not worth trying to visit either of the other two villages. If you knew where to go (and most of the volunteers didn't) you could make it to the Coastal village in under three hours. And don't even think of leaving the house with out your credentials. Do that and you're as good as dog food around those parts. I could go on, but the truth is the shenanigans and lack luster results didn't overshadow the grand experience of a first time Olympics. If you want to know why my reply to "How was it" is always "busy" that would be why. In the words of Lowell it was "a dedication to inefficiency."
The greatest disappointment was no one's fault but my own. The memory of the relay still haunts me. In truth that level of shooting has happened dozens of times during training and past races, but when you're in fourth and it's being broadcasted across the world it really adds a new element of debilitating frustration.
The closing ceremonies reminded me about the plus side of just making the team. I have faint memories of the last few hours before we made it to Inzell, Germany for our brief off week. No one had more than a few hours of sleep that weekend and the packing the van at six AM on Monday is just a blur now.
Since this update has rambled on too long once again I'll leave the last article to explain the remainder of the season. It picks up where this one left off. If nothing else just make sure you don't leave the starting gate on the wrong pair of skies. I'm still waiting to look back on that one with laughter. Any day now.
I told myself that not traveling would do just fine for an April break. But when the chance to go our nation's capital and shake hands with the president was being offered it's hard to not start packing. Besides, this travel is a lot easier without two awkward bags and an fire arm. That being said I was exhausted when it was over. It was a great time, but it felt like a full week crammed into three days. I caught up with some old highschool friends and had a nice tour of the capital building and part of the senate office. I was glad to have a quick visit with our state senators. This wasn't easy to fit in on such a short notice so I was grateful for the brief chat that we had. Trust me, Susan Collins and Angus King are busy much more often than not. Afterwords I was able to squeeze in a visit to the National Air and Space Museum. That evening was the team USA best of awards show. NBC was broadcasting it so it had that high end production value. When that was all done and over I met up some other friends who just so happened to living in DC. It's amazing how many people I know that live in the area.
On Thursday all of the USA Olympic and Par-Olympic athletes were sent through a gauntlet of security before we started the White House tour. Turns out it's a pretty nice living quarters. We didn't find any secret door in the library but some of the other sport athlete sure did want to try. Everything had the authentic historical feel that you would expect. Still, it's always better to see it first hand. After a lot of waiting all 400 or so of us lined up. The biathlon team was in no rush to make it to the front of the line so we were last group of people the president and first lady saw. We shook hands had a quick chat and moved on. I tried to take some good pictures of the speech, but when you're in the very back at a peak of 5'6'' most of them aren't going to come out very well, but it was a nice speech. Most of the athletes left that afternoon. Since I had another night in DC I visited with an old friend again before an early flight out of Dulles. Most of the money on the food card the USOC granted us was spent on cab fairs.
It was a good season. Let's put it that way. Not great, but a long ways off from being terrible. It could have been a lot worse. I didn't have to swallow the disappointment of being denied all over after Vancouver. I had to take the long road to the Olympics. In December few people considered me as a contender. I had little no mention in ski articles... Guess they were wrong. The week that followed team naming was the best week of the season. The support rolled in almost non stop for a while. It still does. I couldn't even make the flight into Presque Isle with out being congratulated. There are letters and emails from people I haven't seen in years too state Senators too middle school teachers and coaches. Not only did I get a lengthy shout out on the Senate floor I even had the chance to meet the people that did the fact checking for it. I told every one that Sochi was great in part because it was so different from our normal routine. Part of that difference was seeing my parents over there. Never mind my email account the support that came through for there trip over was amazing. Naturally given Russian logistics only one short visit attempt was successful. The last month of racing was a disappointment, but I've had worse. The white house visit was exciting. It also reminded me how small of a world it is and what a difference good connections can make. There is always someone you know not far.
In a grander conclusion, no matter how good or bad the results are I can always fall back on the effort card. There's no doubt that I didn't try to win the race long before I showed up for it. That's something certain others (with better results) can not claim. So if you're looking for a good lesson on loyalty and hard work, try competing at a world class level in one of the most competitive and physically and mentally demanding sports in the world. Trust me you'll learn a lot.
And yes, pictures to come later.