Hugh Pritchard, Biathlete

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Hugh Pritchard

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December 2001
Wednesday, 5 December, Hochfilzen, Austria

In Tirol, where we arrived on Friday to find some 60cm of snow being tamped down by a gentle rain. It has carried on raining and thawing almost continually since, with only one overnight freeze to slow the process down.

Tomorrow is the first race of the 2001-2 biathlon world cup. The men's sprint race is at 2pm - a change from the norm, as this time it is the women who have to get up early and the men who have to race on a second-hand track.

I have taken a gamble with the seeding and opted to be in the last seed group: although the track will be more churned up than earlier, it may have started to freeze and therefore be a little faster than earlier.

We have a big field this week: 41 nations are registered, and 151 men accredited (although not all will race). This means it should be easier than normal to achieve a result in the top half of the field - because the extras are generally not of the highest standard. So, all to play for for me.

One of the nice things about the biathlon world cup, as opposed to the Alpine, is that men and women race the same venues, so there is a bit of social interaction. But since training times are segregated, you don't see the women before the end-of-event party unless they happen to be in the same hotel - we and the French are together about 2km out of Fieberbrunn, some 10km from the biathlon centre. We have 2 decent-sized minibuses, and Martin the ski technician has his own car, so we are reasonably sorted for transport (although following the driving licence rule changes none of the youngsters can drive the buses).


5 December

Some surprising Germans about: Andi Birnbacher, Jörn Wollschläger and Rene Gerth standing in for sick A-team members. Will be trying not to breath the air coming from the German wax cabin, which is next to ours.


6 December

Sprint race at Hochfilzen, in heavy snowA sorry day. I gambled with the weather and chose to go in the last start group, as the forecast was for getting colder. In fact, the earlier heavy rain turned to snow, and conditions slowed horrendously - my skis, which had felt like rockets when I warmed up at 2.15, felt like barrel staves when I started at 2.55 (locals Rottmann and Perner had taken the same gamble and started immediately behind me). The snow was such that it clogged my glasses, and when I pushed them up it stang my eyes so I still could not see. When I shot standing, the snow was for a few minutes really thick, so I could barely see the targets, and missed 3 (Rottman and Perner were in the range at the same time as me and also missed 3 each). I outsprinted Rottman at the end, and he was world champion two seasons ago, so that was some little pride recovered.

Fred had a good run, shooting clear from an early start group, while Jason just missed getting his first Olympic qualifying result; Emma got her first qualifier this morning.


Friday, 7 December

Party night for the Hochfilzen world cup, and a right washout too. The party, to everyone's surprise, outdoors. Most teams just looked in and left - the only ones partying were the Bulgars who took bronze in the women's relay today, their first for years. I had not anticipated the need for an early exit and spent half an hour trying to hitch, having given up hope of a lift with our psychopathic ski technician, before finally catching a lift with a Bosnian immigrant with a leaky sunroof...


8 December

The relay: I am second man off, and this is a race with no anonymity: if you do badly, everyone sees and is sorry; if you do well, the team is happy. My first relay at this level, and I was feeling the pressure this morning: trembling, dry mouth... and no, it wasn't a hangover: I wasn't drinking at the party last night.

Much nicer racing conditions today, with hard-packed fresh snow on top of the old ice. Sunshine with clouds drifting across to change the light for shooting, but no wind.

Jason had a great run to hand over to me in 14th place. I had to dip for two extra rounds in my prone shoot, which was disappointing - I always think I ought to be shooting clear prone, even though I have not yet this season. Some hard skiing on the second loop, and despite that a clean shoot standing - very gratifying. I came out of the range just behind Switzerland's Jean-Marc Chabloz, a very good racer, and lost only a couple of seconds on him to hand over in 17th place, quite satisfied (Russia, Italy and Japan had overtaken me from 15" behind - all much better racers than me).

I then had to go off for a doping test, so I missed the rest of the race while I sat in the testing room, drinking nearly 3 litres of water before I was able to get my sample out. Perhaps I should have drunk more before the race.

Mike had a good run but unfortunately Tom had a shooting disaster, all but one of his prone shoots going high. He then had to take a gamble to give himself a chance of catching up the Slovak, gained 35 seconds on him in the second loop - and had penalties again standing. So, overall not the best result for us, but some reasonable individual performances.


9 December

Ole Einar Bjørndalen is a phenomenon: perhaps the best male biathlete last year (Poirée won the overall World Cup, but OE won more races, from fewer starts), this year he seems to have taken a step forward: he came 2nd in a cross-country world cup race a fortnight ago, and was shooting amazingly in the sprint at Hochfilzen (amazingly badly in the pursuit, but still fast enough to win). Watching him skiing the penalty loop in the pursuit, the amount of forward lean and forward weight transfer are astonishing; the power output he is able to sustain is terrifying.


11 December, Bled (Pokljuka), Slovenia

The old selection issue: we are 5 men jockeying for 3 places on the start line; as the last of us in the Sprint last week, I had to race today against Tom and Mike for the 3rd place in this week's race. We did a short individual race (4 shoots, 10km), and I shot pretty well: 2 misses from 20. I was not in the mood for quick skiing, though, and I was aware that I would probably need more of a buffer to beat the others. And so it turned out: Mike had missed 3, but skied fast enough that he beat me by 7".

So, I sit and watch the horrendous 20km race on Thursday, and race the relay on Saturday. Next chance, all being well and if I have understood the process right, is in Slovakia next week.


Saturday, 15 December

The relay. Fred had a good first half before using 3 dips standing and handed over to me in 17th, ahead of Japan and Italy. I was not feeling strong and was not able to get up the hills quickly. My shooting was only adequate, and I dropped the team back to 19th place. Jason then did a penalty loop, and even Mike's excellent last leg could not drag us back. Rumour has it that the relay team will have to requalify for the Olympics despite having qualified last season, and we just missed the criterion again today.

Last night was the race party: 300 biathletes and staff in the Bled casino, some drinking furiously, many abstaining. These are always funny nights, with a disparate mix of people and behaviours.

And it was Gillian's birthday. She did her first World Cup race the day before her 20th birthday, I the day after my 33rd last season. Wow. We gave her a Pokljuka T-shirt signed by Frode and Ole Einar, making her irredeemably a groupy.

Wednesday, 19th December, Osrblie, Slovakia

Individual race, and not a good one. I cleared my first shoot, missed 3 on the second, adjusted for a change to the wind on my 3rd and missed 2, then another 3 on the last, for a very disappointing 8. I really don't know how this happened - the last individual race I did was our selection race in Pokljuka, where I missed 2, and I was hoping to do something no worse than that.

The good news is that Mike had a great race today which he expects will confirm his Olympic selection, and has decided not to race the sprint on Friday, giving me another chance (Tom having decided to go to the European Cup races until Christmas).

22 December, somewhere near Munich

A long drive from Slovakia: 14 hours, less a couple of coffee and lunch stops, which I drove as my co-driver was too drunk to stand this morning when we set out...

A surprise as we filled with fuel in Ruhpolding: in drove an IBU bus, which we stormed and found to contain Martine Albert, the diminutive Canadian with the sexiest accent ever heard by an English man.

Baffling sprint race yesterday. I had a pretty good one, missing 1 and skiing fairly well, but finished in the 70s (of 110), 4' off the winner. I will have to get the results and analysis off the IBU web site before I can work it out properly, but it is worrying to be that far from qualifying with a good race.

The irony is that this was the first race in which I was not last Brit (I was the best of us), but that does not gain me anything: we will have selection races in Ruhpolding after the new year to decide who starts in Oberhof for the final two chances to qualify.

23 December, Whitstable

Spent nearly 4 hours sizing up clothes for the Olympic team issue: an astonishing get-up of inappropriate and comical garments for the parades, the cheapest imaginable 'formal' clothes, and pretty good sports clothes. Fred and Mike took theirs away in their issued suitcases; the rest of us left our suitcases there, to be released if and when we qualify...