Thursday, March 27, 2008

final stop of the 07-08 season

This week will round off the 07-08 season at Canadian Biathlon Championships held at the new Olympic biathlon venue just outside of Whistler. I will post some more photos and stories soon. This place is awesome and there is tons of snow!!!!!!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Back "home"

After three long days of travel from Russia, I finally made it back to the States. This time, I am not landing in my actual home of Lake Placid, N.Y. but another one of my “homes.” Every year I become more and more nomadic and have evolved to find “home” where my favorite people and family are. If I didn’t, traveling and being away from Lake Placid would be very hard.

The US feels normal of course, but the first few hours back I felt the shock of American culture. It is just bigger, louder, busier, and faster than what I have been experiencing the past few months. I did, however, just buy some Goldfish and they taste pretty good.

This week I will get to hang out with my brother Lars, sister Kara and Dad who live in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Here they are while at a competition together in Telluride, CO. (I can imagine that one of them pummeled the other into a snow bank after this photo.) Both Kara and Lars compete in Freestyle Mogul skiing – better defined to as ‘bumps and jumps’ to the non-skier. They ski for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, an organization similar to the Maine Winter Sports Center in the County.

Kara on the podium.

Kara mid-Hele (a full spin) on the first of two jumps down the mogul run. The objective is to ski as fast as you can through the moguls from Start to Finish and to execute two perfect jumps. Her result is a combination of course time (speed), air (the jump) and turns (technique in the moguls), which is decided by a panel of judges at the bottom of the run.

Lars and the Rocky Mountains.

I’ll report back next week from Squamish, British Columbia, Canada. It is a smaller town out side of Vancouver – the 2010 Winter Olympic city.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Khanty-Mansyisk: outside the venue

We are staying at a hotel next to the biathlon venue. That sounds normal, except that it is guarded by police and even the trails have a strong military presence. There are metal detectors at the entrance to the venue as well, and I walk through one on my way down to the wax room. Oddly, I hesitated last night when I had to walk through the detectors at the grocery store because I had bullets in the pocket of coat. Obviously it didn’t go off, but there is a different air about this place that can make you be a bit on edge.

The streets outside of the venue illustrate the disproportionate spread of wealth in Khanty. In between newer tall apartment buildings there are “cabins” straight out of Dr. Zhivargo.

From what I understand there is an upper class and a lower class here. And by the looks of it, there is a huge gap between the two. Traveling with the Biathlon Circuit there is a myriad of different opinions about this place and from the outside I too would not want to live here.

I gladly stay within the biathlon bubble mostly because people enjoy the sport here, like everywhere we go really. It is reassuring to see people so excited and enthusiastic about their countrymen competing. The stadium erupts whenever a Russian is skiing through or shooting. And I am honored to sign the notebooks, flags and hands of kids who swarm the event – even sneaking around barriers and guards to get in to get our autographs.

Just a few more days here in Russia, then I fly to Oslo, Norway, then to Munich, Germany, then to on to Denver, Colorado. After a week visiting family in Colorado, I am off to Vancouver to finish the season with Canadian Biathlon Nationals.

World Cup 8 Opening Ceremonies

Lots of fireworks, dancing, costumes, celebration and even reindeer filled the stadium during Khanty-Mansyisk’s World Cup Opening Ceremonies. The main performers were kids, dressed in traditional Russian costumes. You can see in the first photos, as their presence dominated the show.

Check out this quick little video of them dancing. Too bad I don’t have sound on my camera, but you can get an idea of the celebration.

*okay the video is going to have to come when I am on a better connection. I am not able to upload it here.

A lot of people showed up for tonight’s show, as you can see by the crowd. How many fur coats and hats can you count? I have never seen fur so fashionable, and albeit necessary in Siberia, as I have here.

I missed part of the show because half way through our attention turned to an ensuing “snowball” fight between the crowd and athletes. Home-made cotton snowballs were quietly passed out. Once a few kids daringly threw them out way the crowd erupted and snowballs came from every direction. I was target at one point with one to the head and then to the back. I tried to capture the launching snowballs, but instead in these photos you can ski kids laughing and people scrambling to pick up these blue and white snowballs.

The Opening Ceremonies ended up being unexpected moments of surprise and laughter, and a fun start to the week. As an athlete it can be easy, and a lot of times smarter, to stay on track and to stick to your routine. I was glad I stepped out of that for a bit tonight so that Khanty-Mansyisk could mean a bit more than just biathlon.

the travel, trip and destination

On the 3rd of March we started out in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and set of from YangYang International airport on the coast of the Yellow Sea. Here is a shot from the bus.

It took two charter planes to transport the whole World Cup, all the skis, wax, luggage, rifles, race timing information, etc. This small shot shows that not all of it actually fit in belly of the plane. The last 10 seats or so are packed with luggage.

Such storage necessities were not the only thing that made this not your average trans-continental flight. Considering our unique situation transferring the entire Biathlon World Cup crew half-way across the world, you are bound to hit some obstacles. Our flight from Korea to Khanty-Mansyisk, Russia – World Cup 8 – was four hours late. We were originally delayed because, once loaded, our plane was too heavy and could not carry enough fuel to get us through the 7 ½ hour flight. Our plane was then “de-fueled” to lessen the weight and flight change arrangements were made (which included asking permission to land in places like China and Mongolia) to stop mid-flight to re-fuel. Four hours into the flight we landed in…well I can’t remember how to pronounce, much less spell, the Russian city, and upon arrival, it was not a place I would want to stay anyways. It looked liked we landed in a deserted, run-down airport in a barren frozen city. Just cold and bleak.
Later that night we made it safely to Khanty-Mansyisk - a burgeoning Russian city empowered by its natural resources of gold, oil and natural gas, and this week World Cup Biathlon. The temperature has hovered around 0 C, 32 F, in a place I was warned is typically quite cold this time of year. We are east of the Ural Mountains in the western Siberian plains; similar latitude to Anchorage, Alaska, actually, whereas in Korea we were similar to Denver, Colorado.

Driving through the winter city at night to our hotel and venue was not what I expected. Everything was lit up, the parks, the churches, stores and streets. It made my first (well second that day) impression of Russia a bit brighter. This all looked great but this was probably the most tired I have felt after a travel day. Once to my room I came upon another defining theme of Russia – a lot of smokers. I keep the window open on a daily basis to air out my terribly smoky room.

Here’s a narrow shot of the typical hotel room. Out the window and beyond the pines is the race course. So, nice location this time. But this is usually what it looks like once I un-pack. I am constantly airing things out to stave off any lingering training smells, and here, smoke. I would get right to washing everything this week, but was quite deterred by obvious message sent by the obscene amount of bottled water available in conjunction with the tinted-brown tap water.

The 45 or so kilos that I have all have its place once I unpack. And it has been this way with each stop along the way. I am in my 14th hotel/apartment room since the first training camp in October. This is by no means a complaint. As I the photos and stories show life is pretty good no matter where I am. It will be nice to get home, but until then I have a few more weeks of racing, some great people to see and places to go.

The oddities and the parts that are a bit uncomfortable about Russia are overridden by the venue, trails and great snow conditions. It feels great to ski on natural snow and I really like the course here. It is a good mix of hills, downhills and rolling terrain. The shooting range is windy, but not like last week in Korea. Last night’s Sprint race was a lot of fun. I shot well in prone, which put me in the top 30, but I missed three in standing and dropped back to 57th. I was happy with my skiing and was able to push the whole way through the race. Unlike Korea, where my ski speed died after the first lap. I have made it to the Pursuit race (top 60) and will race on Saturday night. This will be my final World Cup race of the season and will be my last big push on the international stage.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

another night at the race

Here is the start of the Women's Pursuit in Pyeongchang. I tried to get my self in the beginning, but didn't do a very good job. Anyways, the start order of the competitors of the Pursuit are based on the previous Sprint race results. That is why the biathletes leave the starting area at different intervals and sometimes multiple skiers together. The first person across the finish line wins. There are four shooting bouts in this race, and with a windy range like this, the results favored the better shooters. The more penalties, missed shots, the more you had to ski the penalty look. This clip also gives you a view of the stadium and the first part of the ski course.

This steep hill is the next part of the course after the start and stadium area. It is a tough hill that is very steep. Here you can see a Canadian, I think two skiers from Kazakhstan, and a Korean on the right.

And these guys are two Korean skiers, who along with their ski team was out on the trails watching. There was a lot of excitement, noise makers and flags tonight as these kids cheered on the competitors. Or as they have translated from Korean - "players" who are playing the "game" of biathlon. I tried to explain that we are called "biathletes" who do a "sport". Oh well.

And now it is time to finally race. Tomorrow is the Mixed Relay. We are one of 15 teams competing tomorrow night. I am in the scramble position and will lead off our team of two women and two men. I have not lead a relay since college skiing, so this race is new territory for me. But I am excited and ready to go!