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).
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.
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
|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...
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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
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.
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...