Thursday, 1st February
"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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Awoke this morning, feeling
fine (although still jetlagged); Mike has the sniffles. Will be
delighted to inform Wolfgang.
'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).