Hugh Pritchard, Biathlete

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Hugh Pritchard
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Thursday, 1st February

Bled, Slovenia

"Hugh, can you give me your address so that I can send you the tickets for Salt Lake City?"

"Is there something else you haven't told me?"

This is the basis that we work on, and despite the question above no-one told me in as many words that I am going to the USA for the next two World Cup races. But the implication is that I will be one of a squad of 5 going to Salt Lake City and Lake Placid, and probably to Oslo for the final. According to the calendar on the IBU website there are no relays at these meetings, so we have 3 start places and 2 spare men for each race, which will be tough (start places are allocated not on a 'fair' basis, but in order to get the best team results possible, as we cannot discard bad results).

So, although it will be difficult, this is good news, as it is the first of the three big steps on the way to the Olympics.

Now I find myself in Bled for the Pokljuka World Championships. I don't even know what language they speak here, never mind what the currency is worth. I will start in the Sprint race on Saturday (we get 4 start places for the World Champs), and the realisation is dawning that the hard work is only now beginning: there is no room for mediocre results in the British team on the World Cup, as we are in danger of losing our 3rd start place (on the basis of ranking in the Nations Cup); we will also have one or two hungry, envious athletes watching for every justification to start in the next race. So, time to stay calm whatever happens, and focus on reproducing the kind of form I had last Saturday and Monday.

 

3rd February

The sprint biathlon world championships. Not a happy day, because I learned yesterday lunchtime (after we had put the entries in, with me to start in group 1), that I am not eligible to race, as one is supposed to qualify to race in World Champs by virtue of a World Cup/World Champs/European Champs/Junior Worlds result. The standard is not high, but European Cup results do not count, and I have never raced in any of the other events. This is a rule which we have been able to circumvent in the past, but which is being enforced rigorously this time.

Biathlon is full of disappointments, and it is unusual to meet one that is not of my own making. It is a great pity to be on such good form, and unable to use it. But what I have to do now is make the best of the situation, get some good training in (I have not really done any training since the new year, with so many races to do), and concentrate on being one of the best 3 when we get to America. Meanwhile, I will make the most of the opportunity to get close to the stars, and make sure that some of what they have rubs off.

Martin Glagow, father of Martina, is a man of extraordinary abilities. He is a colonel in the Bundeswehr, and goes around the World Cup circuit preparing his daughter's skis. In his spare time, he does the Brit team's too. Today, our men were gliding faster than the Germans - Ricco Groß and Frank Luck included. He explained that when he did German army races, he was never the best, so he used to concentrate on trying to have the best skis, and after another 20 years of investigation, here he is. His theory on how to prepare skis is interesting: he believes in skis with no surface structure at all, metal-scraped so that they shine like glass. Onto these he puts a structure with a peculiar home-made gadget with a counter-rotating roller. The advantage of this over stone-ground skis is limitless flexibility: you select the skis which have the right flex characteristics for the course and conditions, and put the right structure for the snow onto them. You just have to put his skis on and shuffle your feet to feel the 'slipperiness' of them.

 

Tuesday 6 February

Pokljuka

It is really pretty dispiriting being at a race meeting to race, and not racing. I take every opportunity to train at the biathlon centre - there are training times each day, even on race days - but maintaining the necessary focus is difficult. The tracks at the biathlon centre are quite arduous, and there are no convenient easy tracks, so the training is also quite debilitating - apart from the half-hour drive each way.

 

8 February

Handing out drinks during the 20km race yesterday: this takes a surprising amount of concentration, as you have to anticipate who is coming next and get their drink ready; run alongside them to hand the drink over; then run down the track to retrieve it from where they have discarded it (drinks are always taken on a gentle descent, so as to cause the least possible loss of time). Mike carries his bottle for miles before dropping it. Disappointing to hear the news of successive bad shoots over the radio, so a delight to get back to the finish area and find that Fred had done quite well, with 42nd.

I did some combination training yesterday afternoon, trying to think about where I have redundant time that I can eventually cut out. I got my time to the first shot standing down to 13", and can still see plenty of slack that could be eliminated if I train myself to hit the right position first time; Poirée and Andrésen are sometimes before 10". Prone is more difficult because the margins are finer, and the main challenge for me is to learn to control the rifle better: sometimes I seem to lose control for one shot, which invariably misses, while my controlled shots are almost invariably hits. A lot of dry-firing is the way to capitalise on this research, so I am staying in the hotel this morning rather than driving up to the biathlon centre. And writing my diary - but I will do the dry-firing just as soon as this is done.

 

9 February

An encounter with an unfamiliar phenomenon last night: the biathlon fan-club. We don't see many of these at the European Cup races, although there is the occasional glimpse on the television. Here, though, they are out in force: the Martina Zellner Fanclub with their pointy hats and jackets displaying more sponsors' logos than the British team; the Wolfgang Rottman Fanclub; the Kontiolahti Fanniclub (really!), most of whom were on the flight home when Paavo Puurunen won Finland's first biathlon gold for 20 years: so ein Pech. These are gangs of friends whose holidays consist of going to some distant place to watch biathlons - and they can get to some pretty odd places, as there are races in almost every country in Europe, as well as occasionally Siberia, Japan, Korea and so on. So it must be fun, and they are certainly good-natured crowds who will shout for anyone (especially the Zellner Fanclub, as Martina is not here).

Hearing the roar of the crowd as one of the local Slovene racers passes through the stadium brings a lump to my throat: not something that any of us will ever experience, unless climate change brings an ice-age to Britain. Or the Scots and Welsh throw the Normans and Anglo-Saxons back to Europe. Will I ever have my own fan-club? How much would I have to pay them?

 

Monday 12 February

Whitstable

Drove back from Bled overnight in the most overladen bus imaginable, so we were all astonished to make the journey from Ruhpolding to Calais in a record 10Hr 20'.

Now a day to recover from the journey, then into some focused, high-intensity training to try to generate some form for America. At the same time I have to generate a job for when the season ends, and a new passport as the USA peculiarly requires visitors' passports to be valid for 6 months after they plan to leave the US; presumably because it takes that long to clear the immigration procedures.

A haunting, horrible sight yesterday: Marco Morgenstern was Germany's first man in the relay, and had a catastrophe (rumoured to be a recurrence of an old heart problem): he stopped several times, and was so wobbly that he could barely stand, was just double-poling on the flats and easy uphills. He looked as if he might fall down dead at any moment. He finished last, some 6 minutes down on the top teams, among whom he should have been.

 

Thursday 22 February

Heber City, Utah, USA (I think)

Long flights via Chicago, finally arriving at some smart 'resort' hotel apparently in the middle of nowhere, exhausted, around midnight. Awoke v early to find a fair amount of very poor old snow in the shady areas, but generally very warm. We are at about 1,700m altitude, the same as the race tracks.

There are a lot of teams already staying here, and the hotel has segregated us into a separate refectory so that we don't upset the regulars: this gives quite a nice feel to the whole business as we all eat at the buffet and mix a little at the tables. Or at any rate, we could if we weren't so shy.

I am sharing a vast room, with two double beds, with Mike Dixon: good news, as he always puts a positive spin on everything, which I find a great help. We went for an easy run this morning; Wolfgang Pichler stepped out and berated me for wearing too little (shorts and shirt; I had taken my windshirt off because I was too hot), and told me I will be ill tomorrow. Europeans have some extraordinary ideas.

 

23 February

Awoke this morning, feeling fine (although still jetlagged); Mike has the sniffles. Will be delighted to inform Wolfgang.

 

25 February

'The Homestead', Midway, Utah

Selection race this morning: 12.5km with 4 shoots in individual format (ie time penalties, 40" per miss). An atrocious day for me: unable to get my ski technique together, no strength, and my worst shooting for years, so I will not be racing on Wednesday.

Ian Woods, our coach, arrived this morning after an eventful flight from Calgary where he was reconnoitring a venue for the pre-Olympic training camp next year. At 29,000', the emergency door by the row behind him fell off. His ears popped and he arrived here a day late, but there is not much more to tell.

Went for a long classic ski this afternoon: it is amazing how much trail they have squeezed into such a small area. The cross-country tracks are rather more demanding than the biathlon loops, with bigger and steeper climbs and descents, but they still don't get more than half a mile from the stadium. By the time I finished the official transport had stopped, so I hitched a lift with the German ski technicians, making an attempt on the land speed record in their Cadillac (the speed limit is 25mph; they managed 108).