Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dear 4th grade: And now, I am in Bled, Slovenia

Does this not look like Lake Placid at night on Mirror Lake?

I really enjoyed getting to see a new country. Slovenia has a very neat and different feel to it, even though I was only mere hours from Austria and Germany. We arrived in the evening, which is always fun, because the morning brings such suprise about the surrounding area, town and nature.
Looking down towards the shooting range and stadium in Pokljuka, were the races were held.

A "small town" of wax cabins for all of the countries is the place where our skis are made to be fast!
Our poles are all lines up and ready to go:
And here are all of our training skis:
All week, every week, we spend a lot of time in the above places, so each week I make sure I get out to enjoy the town I am staying in. The town of Bled is on a lake similar in size to Mirror Lake, but with an island and castle in the middle!

Local legend has it that this castle has been a popular wedding spot for a long time and before the wedding the groom must carry the bride of these 99 steps. I think my fiance could hack that:)

I ran around the lake on my last day before heading back home. It is a quite place, but bustling with visitors taking pictures as the stroll around the lake as I did. I was also quite taken by the "villas" and old estates that peppered the shoreline. I remember visiting old "camps" and even the Lake Placid Club when I was young - there is a similar "old" feel to this place.

When I arrived - I new this place had a good feel to it. Training went well, racing went okay, better and better than even I expected after a challenging start to my season. In the Individual race I hit 19 for 20 targets and placed 21st - a personal best for the World Cup and a result which also pre-qualified me for the 2010 Olympic Team. It happened so much faster than I expected, but now in retrospect I believe it all came at the right time. I have worked hard, and am prepared to work even harder. After this next block of World Cups (Germany and Italy) its the home stretch towards the games - both periods will offer me time to train and race with new goals and achievements so that in February I can be at or closer to my peak performance.

In 2007, when still with the Maine Winter Sports Center, I was on the Potato Picker's Special at 4am up in the County during potato harvest with John Farra (who is now head of the Nordic Sports for the US) and I told them the revelation I had when buying a can of beans that was marked with "Best by 2010." At that point, I new I was on the road to also be "Best by 2010."

Thank you to all have helped me get this far!

Dear 4th grade: Hochfilzen, Austria and Race Preparation

My second week of racing was spent in Hochfilzen, Austria. We stayed in a hotel at the bottom of the valley beneath tall mountains such as this one shown below.

The venue is up at the top of the valley, and when it poured rain down below it snowed wet, big, heavy flakes on the ski trails.
This is the view of the orange "start" house, next to the shooting range. The stands rise just to the left of this photo in this very spectator friendly venue. All of the trails are out in the open and weave throughout numerous spectator sections.

Race day begins right here at the start. First, I need to zero my rifle. Do you remember the paper targets that I showed you during my visits? In the photo below, you can see the target numbers and 10 black dots below - those are the paper targets I brought in. On the left you can see a scope, which a coach uses to watch each athletes shots. We check our rifles each day we shoot to adjust for wind, light and a new range. It is very important to be as accurate as possible.

Next, skis are tested. We have a staff of wax technicians who test our skis and the best ski wax for the day. Usually, our skis are quite fast and that makes racing quite fun. Just as we need to be accurate with shooting, we also need to pay close attention to how accurate our skis are for the day. There are many different snow conditions that we can encounter during the race season. For each condition we have a certain pair of skis; one for wet snowball snow, one for dry new snow, for example. Our wax technicians help us determine the best pair for race day.

After ski testing and zero, it is time to warm up my body and mind. I spend one or two more loops inspecting the course so that I know which technique to use where, or where to ski hard and where to relax. I make a mental check of what I want to focus on during the race, make sure I have my race bib on and head to the start.

Inspecting even means noticing the unique scenes along the course; someone had fun building this cheering snowman.

The crowd too is getting excited and ready for the start, flags wave and horns are blown.

On Sunday, I got to watch the women's relay. Here is a photo just before the start, as the 23 teams leading woman prepares to get into the starting line-up.

Here, spectators line the hill on the course and cheer exuberantly as the racers go by.

I had to head back down for lunch, so I didn't get to see the first shooting stage. It was an exciting race to watch because the leaders continued to change with each leg. In the relay there are 4 legs, each skiing 6km and shooting twice. The bonus of a relay is that you get three extra rounds for each shooting stage. So, if you miss you get a few extra chances. For the men's relay, they also have 4 legs, but they ski 7.5km each.

I competed in the Sprint race this week (, 2 shooting stages, penalty loops for missed shots) and was happy with some better shooting. I skied the course well, but still do not feel like I am up to my race speed yet. But, that's okay. I have three more races in Slovenia in the following week.

Dear 4th Grade: Ostersund, Sweden

Thank you all for your birthday and holiday wishes last week! Well, I am finally catching up with you and a have some photos of where I have been racing the past few weeks. These first ones are from Ostersund, Sweden.

A bit of holiday cheer on the course.

This is the stadium. From left to right you have the finish area, the start area and the firing range. The city of Ostersund is behind and below this venue which sits up on a hill. The ski course is in the foreground. If you could guess which time this photo was taken, would even imagine that this is about 3pm in the afternoon! This far north the sun is only ever rising or setting. On this particular race day we competed under very bright lights.

Looking due west towards Norway from the ski course.

This past weekend was the Scandinavian holiday, Santa Lucia. It is a celebration of lights ushered in by "Santa Lucia" in a white gown and a crown candles. One of our teammates, Tim Burke from Paul Smiths, did exceptionally well here this week and during his prize giving ceremony in the city center we were entertained by traditional Swedish music and winter celebration.

I really enjoy skiing here in Ostersund and was here only a few months ago for a training camp. I felt ready for the season, but unfortunately had a challenging start this year. And as I am learning, that is sometimes how sport goes. Week one of racing is complete, and now its off to Hochfilzen, Austria.