Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hochfilzen, Austria

Hello from Austria!
I have not been able to get online as much since I have been here in Austria. I’ve written this post ahead of time, and am now standing on a sidewalk in the sun, computer perched on a mailbox, stealing wirelss internet (along with other athletes J ) from a near by business. Its about 3:30 am your time - hopefully you are all fast asleep.

Anyways, another week and another set of World Cups have gone by. These races were a bit more challenging than in Sweden and I did not fair as well in the results as I had hoped. In the first Sprint race, I was very nervous and had to spend a lot of the race trying to stay relaxed. I missed one target in prone and 3 more in standing. Hochfilzen’s range is new to me, and I have not quite adjusted to the uphill approach and the tricky wind. Despite my shooting, I was happier with my skiing on a course that is very technical. What that means is that in order to smoothly transition from the flats to the hills, you really need to pay attention to the change in snow conditions, grade of the hill, which direction the trail is turning, and whether the trail is canted to the left or right and then respond with the correct technique* that will carry your speed and momentum through the different sections of the course. *There are 3 main skate techniques: V2 for gradual uphills and flat terrain, V2 alternate for flat terrain and V1 for uphills. I really like being able to “read” the trail and making the very important decisions about which technique, variation or combinations of, that will be the most efficient way to travel over the snow.

Looking up to the main uphill on the 2km relay course, you can see a skier from Kazakstan in the V1 technique on the spectator lined trail.

The second race of the week was the Women’s 4x6km Relay. Each leg shoots twice, prone and standing. The catch is that you get three extra bullets (which are stored in a special place on everyone’s rifle) to be able to hit all of your shots. I lead the US’s relay team and came into the first shooting stage in 8th place (out of 20). Unfortunately, I was not able to adapt to a tricky wind and missed three targets. I felt much better skiing, and confident that I can ski with this elite level of women. However, there is a bit of magic to a relay; it is not jus about one person, it is about all four of us representing the US. With altruism mixed in, you can find that extra bit of strength that will help you get up a hill faster and push beyond your limits, because if you do, you give your teammate a better postion to start in. On the final uphill I pushed as best as I could towards the exchange zone where I tagged off to my teammate, Lanny Barnes, who is one of the best shooters on the entire World Cup. My team skied and shot well, and brought our result back up to 16th place. We are excited, because on Sunday we will be able to do it again, but with a better understanding of the course, the range and what we need to do together as a team to reach a better result for US women.

Ukraine entering the tunnel towards the range and a cheerful and exhuberant crowd abher. The fans are into it here. They stand with flags, bells and start lists in hand, cheering genuinely for every racer, no matter which country. They even look for your name on the start list - I was quite suprised to being skiing uphill and have a spectator yell, 'Go Haley Go' - in perfect English!

Looking ahead to this week, I will race an Individual on Thursday, a Sprint on Saturday and the Relay on Sunday. All race times are at 2:15pm my time. I fly back to Lake Placid on the 22nd. Below is a shot from one of my morning runs in the valley. The mountains here are gorgeous! And after being in a dark and norther Scandinavia, the sunny Alps have been quite nice:)

I have been thinking about all of you and hope all is well. You must be on Christmas break soon? I hear that there is some snow in Placid, and I am really looking forward to skiing at Mt. Van Hoe. I will be in Vermont over the holidays, but will definitely be out skiing when I am back on the maybe I willl see some of you out there. I will return back to Europe on January 4th. I will update you soon with my schedule, and definitely on this week's racing. And I will have lots more photos to share. My aunt and uncle, and three cousins are coming to watch this weekend, and my aunt is a great family photographer. Hopefully they you will get to see a better picture of this crfazy European racing scene.

Hope all is well and Happy Holidays!



(oh - Nina - hope the hat is going well:)

Overall - a good start to the season.

The Sprint race was a lot of fun and a bit more exciting for me than the Individual. I shot very well in prone, missing only one target in standing, and skiing competitively made me feel that I really can perform at this high level of racing – that I belong here. I wasn’t thinking about the end result for this race, but was thinking about the process of the race: my shooting, my ski technique, my race strategy, and what I will think in my head while racing etc. I finished in 47th place and by race’s end, I was in 56th. These numbers are important in this race because only the top 60 will continue on to the pursuit (read down below about the definition of the pursuit race.) Also, I am shooting for (ha, no pun intendedJ ) two top 50 results during this first month of World Cups. This will pre-qualify me for the US World Championship team and the competitions in PyeongChang, South Korea. Below are just a few photos. I am hoping to get some more from teammates, from today’s pursuit race.

I finished the Sprint race just in time to see my teammate, Tracy Barnes, finish her race. The four of us here (women) compete individually, but in the next two World Cups we will race in 2 relays, where it will take all 4 of us together to have a good result for the US.

(Sorry for the blurry photo) China wins! This is historic and I believe the first time a Chinese biathlete has won a biathlon World Cup. It makes me think about what it must be like for them after having hosted the Olympics only a few months ago and the importance their country puts on medaling in sport events.

I feel very lucky to be skiing on such good snow; it is a winter wonderland here. This photo is on a run near my hotel around 11am. You can see how low the sun is in the horizon, about 3 hours before it will start to set.

In the Pursuit race I started number 56th and just 2:20 minutes behind the leader. It was an exhilarating race! I had a lot of fun shooting and skiing well. Coming into the final shooting stage I was in 45th, right behind France’s top biathlete. I was a bit nervous, because in these races every second, every shot is precious. I missed my first shot, hit my second, then preceded to miss the next three. Ahh! Despite the bad last stage, I skied a competitive last loop and finished 54th to round off the first week of the World Cup circuit.

The World Cup is in a different location each week, so each Monday every team caravans by bus, car and plane to the next location. On the 8th, my team and I flew from Ostersund to Munich, Germany, then took a bus to the Tirolian region of Austria. The next two World Cups are in Hochfilzen, and we will be staying in a small town lower in the valley called Fieberbrunn. I am not too far from Kitzbuhel - a famous alpine race course.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Sprint and Pursuit are next in Ostersund

Ah - I am happy to have finished my first race of the season and thank you, all of you, who watched. I imagine it might have been a bit confusing trying to figure out everything that was going on, but I hope you enjoyed watching, what is the most popular winter sport in Europe!

Last night was an Individual competition. We skied 5 3km loops and shot 4 times, prone, standing, prone, standing. For each missed shot, a 1-minute penalty is added. This is a "shooter's" race and favors the more skilled shooters in the women's field. Unfortunately, I did not shoot that well. I missed 7 all together, which when results are written out looks like this: 0+2+2+3. I "cleaned" or hit all 5 shots in my first stage, and missed two in my second, and so on. When you look at the overall results:
They will read likes this:
Rank, Bib #, Name, Country, final ski time, shooting score, total shooting score, and overall time (w/penalties). The final column in the result list is the time difference from the winning time. As you were watching, all of these results were being calculated for each skier, for each lap, and after each shooting stage. To the precise second, you can know who is winning. Out on the course, coaches are standing with small computers, looking at the same information so that they can inform their athletes about their times – they can tell you that you are only a few seconds behind a certain skier, or by how many seconds you may be in the lead.

Even though my result was not that great, I think it was a good start to the season. I skied technically well, which means I kept my technique clean and smooth throughout the race even though I was tired. But in the shooting range, I think I was just too relaxed. I need to find the right amount of concentration and focus on the range to hit 5 good shots at a time. Any advice?

I think this weekend’s race will go well and am really excited to get back out there again.
On Saturday the women’s Sprint race is at 2:30pm my time, 8:30am EST. You can watch it live again at home! In a Sprint race we ski 3 2.5km loops, for a total of 7.5km, with 2 shooting bouts, prone and standing. For each missed target, you must ski a penalty loop. This small oval loop is right next to the range and takes about 20-25 seconds. This race, unlike the Individual, favors the faster skier. The fastest person to complete the course is the winner. My goal in this race will be to place within the top 60, because in Sunday’s Pursuit, only 60 races will start, not the entire field of 100 women. In this race, you race for every second, because everyone counts!

On Sunday the women’s Pursuit race is at 1pm my time, 6am EST. This race is almost like a continuation of the Sprint. Your start time and bib number is your result from the sprint. For example, if I place 50th in the sprint and am 4:35minutes from the lead, I will start with bib #50 at 1:04:35pm. The racers in front and in back of me could be mere seconds apart, so this is a close, tight race, and really exciting to watch! Unlike the Individual, a lot of skiers will come into the range at once. It can be nerve-racking to watch (and to be a part of) because not everyone shoots the same, and you don’t know who will shoot the fastest or the best, and who will get out on to the course first. The Pursuit race is longer; we ski 5 2km loops, 10kms total, with 4 shooting bouts prone, prone, standing, and standing. For each missed target you have to ski a penalty loop. In this race the first person to cross the finish line (mål in Swedish) wins. I know it will be early – but this is a really exciting race to watch.

Well, it is almost 11 am here and the sun is almost up. Seeing the sun during dark Scandinavian winters is precious, so I think I am going to go outside and stand in it. Enjoy the races and let me know if you have any questions!