|1 November 2000
It rained all yesterday afternoon
and last night, and felt quite cold. This morning there is quite
a good covering of snow on top of the Rauschberg. This is at the
same altitude as Tauplitz, so very good news. The forecast for today
was for the rain/snow boundary to move a bit higher, but it should
come down again later in the week.
Training with the group yesterday
morning: a LSD roller-ski combi, which went OK. Had a good siesta
after lunch, only awoken by the sound of the rest of the gang shooting
on the range. Had I known they were shooting again I would have
set my alarm - but I did not. It was raining heavily and getting
dark, so I opted for a session in the gymn until I got crowded out
- junior biathletes and junior langlaufers, their coaches arguing
about who normally uses the gymn at that time on a Tuesday. In the
end they shared it, one group moving some of the equipment into
the changing-room next door; I could not stand the noise, and left
Drove to Hochfilzen yesterday
to train on the range and roller-ski track there. A nice, friendly
track, though quite short (they say 2.5km). I had forgotten how
the sun on the range there is: when I arrived it was bitterly cold,
with a heavy frost on the ground. Soon enough, though, the sun got
onto the firing point and it very quickly became quite warm. Started
off thinking that the targets were not falling very easily, and
sure enough the Austrian coach came over and pointed out that the
two lanes that Peter Moysey and I were on had modified targets,
with smaller hit areas. Once we got going, the wind got more and
more, so we kept having to adjust sights, which was good practise.
Hochfilzen is the most dreary,
prosaic little biathlon venue: half of the course is visible from
the bank by the range, and most of the rest from the back of the
barracks. There are no trails disappearing mysteriously off into
the woods as at Lillehammer or Ramsau - in fact there are no woods.
It is a mystery to me how they get the snow to stay there, as there
is no shade over much of the course. This is a contrast to Ruhpolding
(Hochfilzen is some 300m higher), where the sun never shines on
the range in Winter. In fact, come to think of it, I have seen some
pretty atrocious snow at Hochfilzen: one year I took the train back
to Pontresina, as I was so disgusted with being rained off the Hochfilzen
range on Boxing Day.
After lunch of Wiener Schnitzel
at the Hochfilznerhof we drove to the Großglockner, intending
to run up from the car-park by the toll to the top. It turned out
that the sign saying '5km' was misleading: it was actually 5km to
the start of the scenic stretch of road, and the best views were
quite a lot further. After a heated debate with the boss at the
tollbooth who thought we were mad to want to run up this road with
the strong wind blowing the fresh snow about, we set off and ran
5km up the road, climbing some 500m, then back down to do some speed
work and ski imitation drills (bounding etc) down the bottom. A
small herd of eerie-looking European bison spectated, lending a
neolithic flavour to the scene.
About 3-4" of wet snow
at the car-park at 1100m, which bodes well for Tauplitz. The snow
on the tops around Ruhpolding has gone now, after a couple of very
warm days (22°C this afternoon), so there are obviously different
weather systems about. Plenty of precipitation is forecast for the
weekend, so we may be OK.
Pouring with rain last night
and all day today. Rare glimpses of the hills revealed snow down
to about 400m above the valley, which bodes very well for Tauplitz
Did my last training session
at Ruhpolding this morning: a classic roller-ski combination, in
continuous rain, at 6°C. I got a little chilled, and my hands
and feet were decidedly cold. But I shot well, which was a nice
way to end, and after an unpleasant session like that will be glad
to put my roller-skis away for a few months.
The Germans never bend their
training to the weather. This is not because they are tough, but
simply because if they did not train in the rain, they would never
train at all. In England it is easy to substitute an indoor session
if it is pouring outside, on the assumption that it will be better
the next day. Perhaps Scotland is different.
There was a 'ski-bazaar' in
Ruhpolding today and tomorrow: I took in half a dozen pairs of old
skis and marked them up to sell for a pittance. As I looked at some
of the other stuff for sale, the organiser took two of my pairs
away within a minute of their being put down, so I obviously underpriced
them. If any of the others sell I will be very happy: I would far
rather they got used by someone than rotted away in my cellar.
Day off: the first of two,
as I move to Tauplitz tomorrow for the final phase of training before
starting the race season. The big training is all behind me now,
and only sharpening and tuning remain, with a few blasts to make
sure that all cylinders are firing.
pleasant day's motor touring in glorious sunshine, with a little
dusting of snow on the tops of the hills. Drove to Berchtesgaden,
took a stroll around the Königsee and the town centre, then
on to Bad Reichenhall, with its mediaeval fortifications and 17th
Some success at the ski-bazaar:
sold 5 pairs of skis and 1 of poles, and lost 1 pair of skis (presumed
sold). All were ridiculously underpriced, but at least they will
now be used, and the proceeds will cover the cost of my current
stay at the biathlon centre.
Now I have to pack my gear
to put my Summer training stuff into storage and dig out what I
need for the snow season and races. This is a bit I always hate,
and I wish my computer would play Wagner's Ring a lot louder.
Latest news is that the snow
in Tauplitz is not yet skiable, so we are going to Ramsau to ski
on the glacier. That leaves a dilemma as to whether to take roller-skis:
given that I also have to take different boots just for roller-skiing,
it is a lot of baggage for what will hopefully only be a couple
of half-days training. On the other hand, it is a wonderful roller-ski
track at Ramsau.
Ramsau. Skiing on the glacier
in the mornings, running and shooting on the range in the afternoons.
None of us has roller-skis, which is a great shame as the roller-ski
track is so good.
Ramsau very different now
from a week ago: before there were hundreds of skiers training on
the glacier and roller-ski track, now about four team. Victor Maigourov
seems to be here alone, which seems strange, given what one hears
of how disciplined the Russian team is.
It snowed last night at the
lower lift station, at 1700m, but only an inch. Generally, the weather
is not bad enough to indicate snow in Tauplitz, and we have committed
to staying here until Friday.
Awoke this morning to (very)
light snowfall outside and a raging sore throat. A sore throat for
me usually adumbrates a cold, leaving me a dilemma: do I pack in
as much training as possible before the cold forces me to take three
days off, or do I retire to bed in the hope that I can ward off
the cold before it takes hold? This time I have elected to take
time off, so am lying in bed with time to read and write.
We are staying in a fairly
typical 'pension' (something between a B & B and a hotel); there
is an apartment with a kitchen, which I and 3 others are in, and
the others are in double or triple rooms. We get 'Vollpension' (full
board), and are the only ones in the place. As a team of 13 out
of season, we get good value at some £18 per head per night.
However lift passes are expensive (over £10 per day), and
we may be charged a daily fee to use the range. So not the world's
cheapest training camp venue - but there is not much alternative
in this part of the world.
I share a room with Mike Dixon,
the grand old man of the team. It is many years since the team even
had a coach older than him. I am the second oldest but least experienced.
There are no new faces since I was last in the team in March 1999.
Mike has had a fascinating
career in skiing which would take ages to recount; perhaps if I
get bored I will write it down. More importantly, he is the deepest
thinker in the team. My learning method is almost entirely conscious
and analytical, so it suits me well to be in close contact with
Skiing is such fun: I punt
around the glacier with a big grin on my face; yesterday I got carried
away and went far too fast to start with, because I was dreaming
about Britain's first ever world cup medal, and my pivotal role
in getting the relay team onto the podium, far in the future...
The snow situation is somewhat
difficult. At this time of year one would like to be doing quite
a bit of high-intensity skiing, but this is difficult on the glacier
because the thin air does not allow the muscles enough oxygen to
work very hard. One would also like to be doing ski-combination
training (biathlon race simulations, etc), which we cannot, unless
we take targets up to the glacier (possible, but unconventional
and very tiresome).
So we do gentle skiing in
the mornings, working primarily on technique, and running or ski
imitation drills and shooting in the afternoons. Unfortunately none
of us has brought roller-skis, a mistake I will not make again (I
elected to leave them behind because of the baggage volume: if I
want to roller-ski, I also need to bring boots with Salomon bindings,
due to the ludicrous situation whereby I have different bindings
on my snow and roller gear.
The equipment supply situation
is getting ridiculous. I put in my order as required at the end
of July, and my cheque was cashed 3 months ago. The latest story
is that our team race suits will arrive in January, halfway through
the season. This piles insult upon injury: the national team pays
for the privilege of wearing Adidas suits in televised world cup
races, yet must go half the season looking like a gang of tourists
in old mix'n'match kit. All offers will be considered.
However, Alpina have been
kind enough to give several of us boots and bindings, which is good
news. Their equipment is every bit as good as their Salomon rivals',
but is much less widely used in the Alps (in Scandinavia it is more
common), which I guess comes down to marketing. Alpina are also
much more helpful to deal with than some other suppliers - one of
the team has just switched to Alpina from Salomon: despite a long-standing
contract, he got fed up with having to ask repeatedly for new boots,
and racing in old boots because he was reluctant to buy new ones
when under contract to receive them free.
Of course, if you get medals
at world level, everything becomes a bit different. Sport is all
about money for everyone but the participants; and the rank and
file participants are the least important consideration when it
comes to organising and marketing. Even national team members' interests
are secondary to those of the sponsors, as shown by the debate between
the swimmers sponsored by Speedo and the British Olympic Association
sponsored 'exclusively' by Adidas in Sydney. In many ways historically
'professional' sports such as tennis do better in this respect -
would administrators ever insist on the Davis Cup team all using
the sponsor's rackets?
The disparity between organisers'
and participants' interests is strongly apparent in the skiing sports.
Cross-country is a sport with huge competitive participation, several
annual races having over 10,000 starters. It is simple and easy
to understand, and requires good old-fashioned virtues to excel.
Yet it receives less media coverage and therefore sponsorship monies
than ski-jumping or biathlon, both sports with tiny participation
bases and complicated and expensive infrastructures. Why?
The obvious difference is
that the German-dominated International Biathlon Union has bent
over backward to make its events more appealing to the public, in
particular television. So we have mass starts and pursuit races
rather than time trials, seeding according to television's convenience
rather than results and courses that repeat the same loop 5 times
rather than using several different loops.
administration is in contrast very conservative: when Sweden's Gunde
Svan turned up at the World Championships with a single ski-pole
10' long, the Norwegians protested and it was immediately banned;
when skating technique was invented the Scandinavian countries tried
all sorts of ways to prevent it being used; Thomas Wassberg of Sweden
got round a rule requiring him to use stick-wax for part of the
course by waxing on parcel tape, and ripping it off when he no longer
needed it. Sprint races have now been introduced to the world cup
despite Scandinavian opposition. Mass start and single day pursuit
races were tried and have been withdrawn as a result of Scandinavian
It is interesting to note
that in many of these cases it is the athletes who make the innovations,
and the 'administrators' who resist.
On the other hand, the vast
majority of racers compete only for their own pleasure, and choose
races (when they can) of a format they like, rather than of a format
favourable to television and sponsors. It is only a very few individuals
who benefit from a sport's being 'telegenic'. One might say that
the sport as a whole benefits as more people are encouraged by the
television coverage to take it up, but that is somewhat meaningless:
the sport is not a person with emotions and so on.
Despite all my precautions,
I am the one who has gone down with a cold. I awoke yesterday morning
with a sore throat, so thought I would be canny and spend the day
in bed. By evening I had a running cold and quarantined myself.
Today I have an atrocious cold, and felt worse than I have for a
very long time - I rarely get colds, and cannot remember one as
unpleasant as this. At supper I sat at an isolation table in the
corner with sweat running down my face, despite a low oral temperature.
Still, it could be worse.
The training at the moment is not at all good - we cannot do the
high-intensity skiing we would like to do because there is no snow
at a reasonable altitude; and the range is so crowded that we can
only book 2 lanes for our team of 11. Moreover, I will have recovered
by the time of our first selection race a week tomorrow, while anyone
who catches the cold from me will not.
My cold already a little better,
so I went to the range in the morning with the other sickos to do
some static shooting. This still needs some work.
Tomorrow we move to Engadin
as there is supposed to be 60cm of snow there, and a new biathlon
range at Zuoz. This is all a bit of a surprise as Engadin is known
more for its cold temperatures than for its early snow, and biathlon
training used to be very much improvised there.
Engadin is at about 1,800m
altitude (Zuoz a little lower), which is OK. We are all well acclimatised
now (in Ramsau we live at 1,100m and ski at 2,600m, and at the Tignes
camp last month we lived at 2,100m), so we will be able to do the
hard sessions we need.
A depressing drive to Engadin
yesterday: piles of snow at the side of the road showing that there
had been a great deal of snow; but persistent rain compressing and
slowly washing away what was left.
After an Odyssean trail of
pensions, tourist offices and sport sekretariats we ended up in
the St Moritz youth hostel, a v satisfactory place with good food
and facilities, the rest of the team turning up later in the evening.
This morning I went out for
a classic in the rain, with a waterproof jacket and my sandpapered
skis. The rain turned to snow and is now looking promising: it is
great to look up at the snowflakes falling thickly and follow them
down with the eye.
weather for Engadin: continuous precipitation alternating between
snow and rain. Today we had to dig the buses out, and shooting training
was a disaster in the heavy snow - we could barely see the targets,
and quickly got cold and wet despite spare gloves.
Our first test race: individual
9km with 4 shoots, and 40" penalties. Strictly not a selection
race, but it probably has some influence.
I raced despite not having
done any hard sessions due to my cold, and found it very hard to
get going; my heart rate did not get over 170 until the last hill,
and I felt like I could not find the throttle pedal.
But I shot reasonably: missed
0220 in rising wind. Missing 2 in a visit is always annoying, but
a total of 4 (80% hits) is what I regard as 'par'. I finished 3rd,
a second behind Jason Sklenar, with Mark Gee well ahead. This is
OK in Mike Dixon's absence, but I could really have done with beating
When I leave the firing point,
my sequence of drills is trigger finger back on, glasses down, then
hands through pole straps. My Adidas glasses were misted up, but
I left them down as I knew where I was going; however getting my
pole straps on blind was a bit of a challenge, and I skied off the
track. Such an little error of judgment cost me a place in this
race, and potentially a place in the world cup team.
'Rest day' - but not all rest
days are equal, and I was not able to get my mind away from biathlon,
so am not entirely refreshed. Aber egal.
Interesting discussion of
mental strategies for shooting - in Mike Dixon and Mark Gee we have
two of the most reliable shooters in biathlon, and coach Ian Woods
was a shooting specialist before discovering skiing, and then an
excellent biathlon shot as well as a deep thinker.
Ian used a numerical system
of arousal ratings: he would ski at 9 (10 being besrkr), and as
he approached the range would count down until he got to 2 (chilled)
on the shooting mat, then would go back up, and start shooting on
Mike taught himself to shoot
in a garden, and when he approached the range would transport himself
from the hectic mid-race environment to his tranquil, green garden,
and this qualitative shift would help him to switch attentional
focus from skiing to shooting, which he otherwise found difficult
(his first Olympics was as a cross-country skier).
Neither athlete used these
strategies exclusively, and Mike was saying that last Winter, when
he shot his best ever statistics (generally in 35-37" per shoot),
he would simply empty his mind and shoot on automatic. This is great
if you have really excellent motor skills, which Mike has.
high-speed combi training this morning: 4 short loops flat out,
with relay format shooting (ie 8 rounds for each shoot), racing
against Mike Dixon and Mark Gee. After the second shoot I was in
the lead, but Mike caught me and left me standing. Had another go,
with Kurt Sumner also racing; I was last at halfway, but cleared
my last two shoots without needing the spare rounds, and got well
ahead of Kurt. This was nice, as it gives me a psychological edge
for our selection races on Friday and Saturday.
These last few weeks are a
critical phase of training: the transition from roller-skiing to
snow has to be carefully managed, as there are several important
factors to be incorporated.
- Remembering how to ski
is the first thing; we got a head-start on this by using the glacier
- Then there are the hard
sessions: these remind one about skiing fast, as well as training
the body to cope with racing stress, and maintaining the ability
to shoot under stress. This really suffered with our having to
ski on the glacier initially (can't do much hard stuff at that
altitude), and then my being ill.
The psychological battle is
a fascinating thing. We have four places on the World Cup, and three
athletes who are certain for these; the one remaining place has
about four or five athletes going for it. I am one of these last,
and have been 'thinking positive' - I talk of when rather than if
I am on the World Cup circuit - and this rubs off on the others.
For example, one of my rivals, who has just as much right as I to
expect to be on the World Cup, was asking if he could buy my spare
poles, as I would be able to get new ones at the first World Cup.
Another says that he would be quite happy to go back down the European
Cup: he may be joking, but even joking about it influences one's
I may not be the best biathlete,
but I think I am winning the mental side. All I have to do now is
shoot straighter and/or ski faster than the others.
Well, it didn't happen.
In the second race yesterday,
I missed 4 of 10, which is pretty bad. Tom Clemens was 30"
quicker than me over 7km, and missed 3, so beat me comprehensively.
Today I had a great ski time:
Mike Dixon lent me a pair of skis which performed fantastically
in the fresh snow, using every expensive wax I had in my box. And
I skied very well, to get a time 18" off the fastest (over
15km), ahead of World Cup racers Mike Dixon and Jason Sklenar. Unfortunately
I shot atrociously, for no particular reason. Tom had a bad shoot,
missing 6 of 20; I missed 8, so he goes to the World Cup - and is
extremely difficult to displace.
This is very disappointing
as it makes it very difficult for me to achieve the results that
will enable me to qualify for the Olympics. However, it is not yet
over, and my next task is to get some (or a lot of) good shooting
results on the European Cup circuit, as this will put me in good
stead either to replace an under-performer on the World Cup (unlikely)
or to go as reserve to the World Champs (more likely, but less beneficial
as reserve really means ski technician and tea-boy).
Obertilliach, Osttirol, Austria
About a foot of snow here,
and most of the tracks are in the forest, so they stay quite cold.
I am taking another day off today, as I am coughing phlegm and my
nose is running. I hope that it is a setback to my recovery from
last week's cold rather than a new one, so that I can start training
again tomorrow. The amount of pills I am taking is ridiculous -
vitamins, minerals, fish oil, echinacea, propolis... surely they
should bring my immune system back to a non-athlete's level?
We have to buy our own waxes
in the European Cup team, so we all sat down this morning and pooled
an order to send to the reps at the World Cup race at Antholz. We
will get these a lot cheaper than retail prices, but nevertheless
it will be a horrifying amount of money, especially as we lose the
economies of scale that a team waxbox has (you can't buy less than
1 tub of Cera F, which retails at £70, for enough for 3 or
4 pairs of skis...). Most of us are sticking to Swix and HWK, with
a couple going for Toko. It gets complicated when you have too many
different manufacturers' lines to choose from, and there is no point
in having more than you can realistically test the day before a
race. On the other hand, if the rumour is that X's PQR99 wax is
going well, and you don't have it, that is a bad way to start a
race. But as Fritz says, just worry about hitting the targets.