Monday, December 19, 2016

Na Morave Nove Mesto

Tim's feeble attempt to be as cool as me.
       That moment when you realize you've amassed a collection of colossal mistakes in your athletic career hit for me last Saturday. I was sitting in the changing cabin, the pursuit wasn't fully over, but I was still there with my rifle and skis intact. After a month of racing, I had had a glitch free enough race to make the pursuit competition despite one of the toughest fields yet. Still, my luck ran out at about 1.5 kms into the race that day. This is the rundown of pandemonium in Nove Mesto last week and why I'm still feeling good about next year.  

Nice work Nove Mesto in getting the word out that biathlon is fun to watch!
       In case you didn't see any coverage of the world cup last week the crowd size out stripped Oberhof. Oberhof is the next world cup site and is know for drawing in tens of thousands of spectators. We're unsure about the total number of spectators but the decibels of screaming volume was indisputably louder than any other venue. Every last fan that showed up to watch the races was into the spirit of racing. We all knew our sport was popular in Europe, but this really drove the point home. After this week everyone one was wondering if Nove Mesto would become a staple on the year too year IBU race itinerary.
Did I mention I we didn't see the sun since we left Pokljuka?
      If there was one reason not to race there more often it was the living standards. Our hotel rooms were suspicious from day one. Tim and Lowell were congested and there were less teams staying in the hotel then there was back during the 2013 World Champs. I thought about opening the window; an obvious solution to vent out the room. Unfortunately, in the Czech rep. that means inviting the smell of burning coal. There wasn't much I could do. I survived the first two days and thought I was in the clear. This was a false hope, as I woke up with similar symptoms on the day of the sprint race. Thankfully, the feeling in the legs were holding on well. I didn't have any other choice; the race was going to happen.
        I don't like to rush shots, especially in prone. I would rather know beyond a nervous doubt that the target is going to fall. But that's not enough anymore. You have to ski fast, hit every target, and do so quickly. I went for a much more aggressive approach. Still holding on to some control, I was able to leave prone in 38 seconds with one miss. Afterword, the coaches on the range told me that a minor breeze had picked up in the middle of my stage. Just enough to push a shot out. This is not an excuse, but it did make me feel better about my new process. I took another miss in standing. No wind, but super high pressure on myself. We had good skis that day (by we I mean Lowell and I, Tim was sick) which came in handy on such a fast loop. I finished in 55th. While not the result I was hoping for it was significantly relieving not to be 61st.
      And just like that I was in the pursuit. The head cold had far from run it's course. I wasn't feeling the greatest, but the warm up before the race felt better as it went on. One of the downhill corners on the 2.5km loop wasn't progressing well as the day went on. It was turning into a sheet of ice more than it was groomed snow. Everything was in place. The race plan was memorized, all that was left was to execute it. What I didn't expect was the iced over corner being more lethal than I remembered. Loop one and I'm down. One second you're riding a safe draft and the next you're grinding your rifle into the snow as you crash into the banner. Nothing was in two or more pieces, so the race wasn't over yet. Place 59 was still in site at that point. When I set up for prone I couldn't see through my sites. I got out of position and blew into the sites, reset and still couldn't see. After about three aggressive attempts to clear out the rear site I was able to aim at the target. Now remember the part about grinding my rifle into the snow. Well, turns out that was enough to push the zero four clicks to the left. A good group, though it was, four clicks to one side is all you need to miss all five targets.
          At this point confidence and motivation levels were shot. My goal was to hang on and make the most of the effort the coaches and ski techs put into me that day. Results were out of the question. The only question left was "how many more loops can Russell complete before he is pulled for being lapped?" The answer was three. I took the corrections and only missed two on the next stage, and even cleaned my first stage of standing. At that point Martin Fourcade was in for his last standing. My pathetic attempt at a pursuit race was over.
          With my semi race over the end of the first trimester was fully over. Turns out I wasn't the only athlete to go down on that corner. One of the Czech team athletes went down and broke his stock. The women's mass start switched from a 5 by 2.5km race to a 6 by 2km course, to avoid the same corner. I spent the following Sunday packing, getting lost on a run in the forest, and working with a US precision shooter. The same athlete I had been working with over skype earlier in the year. We moved a few components around to have a more stable base. It's going to take a little while to break in, but I confident in the science behind it.  With those changes coupled with a more aggressive approach to range times the new year could be a grand one. It could also be another series of messes. That's just how it works. I look forward to building on the ski speed fitness over Christmas into January.
Would like to thank the GPS function on my watch that lead me back to the hotel.

           It's looking like I'll be heading to Martell, Italy for an IBU cup in January. The last time I was in Martell was for an IBU cup back in 2008. From there I can't say, but the goal is to be in Rupholding for another chance at some world cup success. The conditions back home look surprisingly great. I haven't seen real winter since the first race in Beitostolen, Norway. December didn't turn out as great as the coaches and I were hoping, but the break down looks promising. It has been somewhere between worse than the 2012/13 season, but much better than the 2015/16 season. As always, thanks for checking in on my sparingly updated blog.

      And yes, merry Christmass n' stuff.

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