Hugh Pritchard, Biathlete

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Hugh Pritchard
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Tuesday, 5 December

Did a couple of little local races at the weekend: a sprint/pursuit biathlon. Missed a shocking 1+4=5 in the sprint, then 0122 for 5 in the pursuit. In the pursuit this was the best shoot of us ( the others missed 7 or 8), but it is still far from an adequate performance (our World Cup gang regularly clear 4-shoot races, and still do not break into the top 30).

I raced on some skis that I had just had stone-ground at Antholz: although not the fastest in test, I gambled that it would be warmer and wetter in the forest, with water dripping from the trees, and I think I won - I appeared to have faster skis than quite a few others (I overtook Kristian Mehringer and Hansi Stöckl, two of the Ruhpolding gang). This is good to know, although I still need more skis.

Today cold again - and icy, having rained a little yesterday. My training skis are too soft for icy conditions and I skid about like a novice. I did a modest shoot, sprinting into the range, and thought I would add another 4 shoots after my usual 8. I cleared the first 3, got to the penultimate and pulled the trigger inadvertently, putting the bullet miles from the target: curses.

Tonight is the culmination of a peculiar Tirolean pagan tradition: a Krampus is a thug dressed as a bear, who goes around with a stick and a few mates similarly equipped, and 'beats the evil out' of any citizens he encounters, with stick and boots. For a citizen to resist is considered bad form, and an even better kicking ensues. The typical Krampus's grandfather was in the Hitler Youth, and he doubtless would be too if he could. Last year one of our team had to be rescued by the police when a gang of a dozen Krampus decided fists to the head were more effective than sticks to the legs.

This afternoon a hilarious session on classic skis: in the fading light I headed up the valley with Marc Walker, with the tracks frozen solid and klister (horrible stuff that sticks skis to ice or even slush) on our skis. We found a track we had not done before and followed it to its end; the return was a steady descent that would normally be no problem; today, it was icy and we could barely make out where the tracks went; occasionally there were bits that needed a jump where the snow had fallen into a stream underneath. We both took falls, and the tears of laughter made it even harder to see.

 

Saturday, 9 December

The first European Cup biathlon: sprint at Obertilliach. It rained all night and was pouring when we pulled up at the car-park, so we sat in the bus until it abated. I zeroed my rifle, got the trigger pressure tested and went to test skis: my best were reasonably clear, and I realised that my start time was about to come up, so I stripped off my warm-up clothes and skied straight to the start-pen.

I started briskly, but misjudged the first fast bend, taking the line that had been good when the snow was hard: I pushed against the snow bank, and my ski went straight through and hung in the air over the stream (this was on a bridge). I span round and went down - fortunately on the bridge rather than in the water.

The first shoot was pretty poor: 2 misses, so twice round the long, stodgy penalty loop. Then exhausted up the hill and round the back, emerging into the field: up and down those miserable, exposed tracks with the poles sinking through to the grass.

And the standing shoot: 3 misses. Well, at least I didn't waste time on it.

So, overall, 5 penalties and a rotten result. As it happens all the other Brits did badly, but that is no consolation - I don't want to compare myself with them: 5 penalties is a bad race, whatever my friends have done. The trick is to learn and improve, but that is easier said than done: I can't identify a reason for today's bad shooting, although I think that if I had started more conservatively I could have gone faster - a familiar story.

 

Sunday, 10 December

Pursuit race today - I finished 6'49" behind the winner yesterday, so started that long after him today. I had a great race, clearing my first 14 targets before a narrow miss (standing) spoiled it. I missed another, again narrowly, on my 4th shoot, to finish with 2 penalties, or 90% hits - my best yet. Yesterday I was 22% behind the winner (ie not very good); today 9%. The benchmark for promotion to the World Cup team is to be under 10% - but consistently (promotion also requires one of the World Cup team to be underperforming badly - which is not happening yet).

So why did I have a bad race yesterday and a good race today? I really don't know. Friday night I spent waxing and planning my race in minute detail. Saturday night I went to a big party in the next village. Both nights I went to bed later than I would like to, and last night I slept badly (too many Cokes). Perhaps my advisors are right, and it really is best not to think about it.

 

14 December Today the World Cup team raced a 20km at Antholz, with skis prepared by Martina Glagow's father (he follows her around, doing just her skis, so has time on his hands): they had fantastic skis, and Tom and Fred scored sensational times. Unfortunately, the shooting... But these athletes often do shoot well, and sometimes clear, so to say that if Fred had shot clear he would have placed in the top 20 is no idle fantasy, and underlines what a benefit a really expert ski-technician would make to the team.
15 December

Talked to Franz, the German women's coach last night. Asked about the German men doing a test race yesterday, with regard to recovery for Saturday's race, and the total monthly burden of races. He says that it is very good to do a hard session (such as 20' at around race pace) two days before an important race, as the body overcompensates in the 48 hours it has to recover from the hard work. I asked if I had made a mistake in taking Thursday off: 'yes, definitely'.

 

19 December

Back in England for a long break. I have no roller-skis here, so running, weights, kayaking and so on will do. And of course lots of standing dry-shooting.

Had a moderate 20km race on Saturday: skiing conservatively, but still missing 5 of 20, far too many, given my ski speed. Sunday's sprint was another bad shoot, but skiing very well.

A series of panics on Saturday: it snowed all Friday, and the weather forecast said between -2° and +1° C for Saturday morning; but when I awoke at 6am it was clearly colder. I rewaxed a pair of skis for -5°, and went to the race area. Down there it was a lot colder, -12°C, with humidity 25%. It was clear that all my waxes were too soft and would stick on this cold, fresh snow. I and two others drove back for the fastest rewax job ever, which made one pair of skis significantly faster than it had been (we use an electronic speed trap for testing).

I zeroed my rifle, and went up to our admin area to get ready for the race, only to find that the minibus was not where I had last seen it. I ran around until I found it (my racing hat and glasses were inside), and went to the start to get my rifle tested.

The rifle's trigger pressure must be at least 500g, and is tested by hanging a weight from the trigger. This job was doneby two local peasants who blew their cigarette smoke into my face as they informed me that my rifle (which I has done two seasons and never failed a test - and I have never adjusted the trigger pressure) was illegal. They were not to be persuaded, and did not have a screwdriver, so it was back up to the admin area to find mine. This exact problem caused me to miss the start of what should have been my first international, so I now know roughly what to do about it. I gave the adjustment screw a speculative half-turn and the rifle passed, leaving me very stressed in the start pen with only a couple of minutes to compose myself and get my warm-up clothes off.

Not ideal mental preparation, and it showed in my performance.

29 December

Back in Ruhpolding. The Christmas break a big hole in my training - a mistake to go home so early.

There is adequate snow in Ruhpolding, much of it artificial, and a lot of work going on at the biathlon centre to get the place ready for the 'biathlon challenge' tomorrow.

Arrived to find snow falling in Austria, turning to rain as I drove over the border into Bavaria - as ever. Desperately slow snow in the biathlon centre, even slower than the DMS roller-skis I spent the Summer on.

An accommodation crisis in Ruhpolding and the Tirol - it turns out that the Germans and Dutch like to spend Christmas away, so absolutely nothing to be had in Ruhpolding. I ended up in a camp-bed in the corridor at the flat the gang of Brits here have taken.

 

30 December

More snow last night, and colder this morning, so a nice classic ski around the lakes. I would like to do more classic skiing, but usually I have an urgent technical issue to attack in my skating, which takes priority.

This evening the Greenlanders Uiloq and Øysten Slettemark came over to cook us some Greenlandic specialities; we had already planned a cheese fondue, so had a huge feed - preparation for the test race we plan to do tomorrow.