Hugh Pritchard, Biathlete

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Hugh Pritchard

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Thursday 1 March

Soldier Hollow, Utah

Training at Soldier Hollow. Note ropey tuck position, levitating skis.Official training for my first World Cup race tomorrow: some light shooting and skiing, looking at the course, testing skis to choose two pairs to give to Martin for him to work his magic on. And, I suppose, my birthday. How old? Not too old.

Last night the organisers laid on an outing to a basketball match in Salt Lake City, with the prize presentation for the biathlon races on the court at half time: our exposure to US culture, and very entertaining too. The match laid on as a spectacle, with every break in play filled in with shenanigans such as acrobatics, dancing and silly games, making the whole a lot more fun than a straight game.


2nd March

World Cup sprint biathlon: an eye-opener. I started as I reckoned a world cup biathlete should (ie fast), cleared the prone shoot and early in my second loop was a minute down on the leader. From then on I was going backwards. This is a hard course with not much rest between some long climbs; and if you are tired on a long climb, you can lose a lot of time.

I missed my first two standing shots, which was a shock and a disappointment: I was convinced that this was going to be a clear day. Missing two is more or less OK at the British Champs; at a European Cup race I can still get a respectable result with two penalties; but here it is no good at all. On the last loop I did what I could but paid the price of my fast start, to finish 85th.

There are various positive points to take out of this:

  • I am already on far better form than for our selection race on Sunday
  • I cleared my prone shoot, my first world cup shoot
  • my skis were good
  • there is plenty of time to gain in my shooting (I shot in 41" and 31")
  • I handled the pressure of the event well

And Michael Greis from Ruhpolding came 6th today, with one penalty, in his second world cup race, having been 65th in his first.

Outing to a performance by the local rodeo club this evening. Some impressive levels of skill displayed by the participants, who had to catch a goat tied to a stake or ride a stallion rendered insane by a rope tied tightly round a delicate part of its anatomy.


Monday, 5 March

Lake Placid, NY

A very different place from Utah: a picturesque little tourist town in an area that has been a tourist destination for New Yorkers for a century; gentle forested hills and lakes rather than Utah's desert plains and mountains; and it is cold. And the forecast for tonight is a storm, with all airports closed, road travel not advised, a foot of snow expected here on the edge of the storm. And the Slovenes' and Poles' skis and rifles are in Boston.

We flew on the charter flight that the race organisers had arranged, from Salt Lake City to an ex-military airfield 45' drive from Lake Placid. The bad news was that the flight left at 2230 and arrived 0430: we were put into a hotel for a few hours, then fed and driven to Lake P, where we are staying at the Hilton, along with the Finns and Italians: wey-hey!

The skiing here is again of a very different character: whereas the tracks at Soldier Hollow are squeezed into a tiny area, here even the course for tomorrow's 10km race disappears off into the forest and seems to go on for miles longer than it should, eventually returning to the stadium when your sense of direction has completely gone.

Tom Clemens was due to race tomorrow but has a cold. This must be pretty bad as it is the first time we have known him quiet, and the upshot is that I will race in his place. At lunch he sneezed, blowing orange juice over me: I took it for saliva and ran away to wash my face before the viruses could get in. Now I have a sore throat, and I have taken enough echinacea and propolis (supplied by our sponsors) for the placebo effect to cure my psychosomatic symptoms.


6 March

0830.This morning almost 2' of new snow. Breakfast delayed for lack of staff; transport delayed because the roads are not all cleared. A garbled message taken by a hotel receptionist talking of a delay to the race. Nobody answering the phones...

0850. Phone call from one of the Finns: the race is delayed to tomorrow. Very annoying to have conserved energy yesterday only to have to do the same today. I will get fat at this rate.

1300. Plan to do a same-day pursuit tomorrow: a first in biathlon - subject to confirmation at the team captains' meeting tonight Norbert Baier was canvassing opinions at lunchtime and sounded keen.

1900. No pursuit after all. Fierce arguments - the French against and the Nogs for, as Poirée is losing ground to Bjœrndalen with each race; the Canadians against as they fly tomorrow afternoon, etc.


7 March

Sprint race. The tracks bashed all night, but still quite soft as the snow was very dry. Sunshine and a little variable wind. A nice, old-fashioned kind of course, with twisting tracks and swooping downhills; nothing monstrous.

I wanted to make sure that I did not do last week's trick of starting off far too fast, so held back a little to start with; I think I paced the whole thing well, but was simply not fast enough. I missed 2 prone and 1 standing:far too many. Jaon and Mike also not going well - Mike missed 4 and skied slower than me; Jason missed 1 for 70th place (this time last year he missed 2 for 32nd in a sprint).


Saturday, 10 March


Strategy for jet-lag avoidance was to stay up all night following the closing party at Lake Placid Wednesday night. American Airlines permitted us almost 3 hours sleep the following night. Arrived Oslo like zombies; slept 12 hours last night. We jettisoned Tom at Heathrow as he has a cold and is fed up. We regained Emma, and chewed the fat with the BBU's performance director Mark Goodson and journalist Alan Hubbard.

We cannot use the biathlon facility at Holmenkollen until Tuesday, so none of us knows what we are supposed to be doing here in the meantime. The Holmenkollen festival means that we cannot even ski without traveling miles on public transport.

We stay at the Perminalen, a strange military hostel far cheaper than a hotel, but where the food is atrocious. So we take a cash issue to cover main meals, and spend it at our discretion. It goes against the grain to spend outrageous Oslo prices on food, so it is tempting to stint on food. Perhaps I will shed some of the fat I picked up in Slovenia and America.


11 March

Took the underground out to the end of the line and found some tracks to ski on; after an hour saw a sign to another station, followed it and eventually found myself on the Holmenkollen 50km loop that we saw in the cross-country world cup on television yesterday, skiing through thick mist. Eventually got to the stadium, where people were paying to listen to ski-jumping (the mist being so thick) and found the railway station, and back to the hotel after 2 hours skiing.


15 March

The Oslo world cup has a reputation for being fun, and looks like bearing it out. Yesterday was a laid-on go-cart racing session: 36 biathletes in 10 teams, an hours race. I was in a team with Sergei Rozhkov and one of the liaison people; we didn't win but it was terrific fun.

I race in group 1 in the Sprint tomorrow. We had a test race yesterday to decide who took first choice for seed groups; I was 2nd. The snow has been very soft and wet the last couple of days, and I hope that an early start will give me one loop on reasonably firm tracks, which would be a big advantage. On the other hand, if snow is falling, it could be a big disadvantage, so it is a gamble.

To ski really fast you have to be absolutely committed to it: it does not 'just happen' as a result of being fit and having good technique. It has to be wrenched from the depths of the soul every time, and if you doubt for a moment the necessity of enduring so much pain, it goes. I have hardly achieved it ('skiing fast' is very much relative to one's ability), but listening to Frode Andrésen talking about fast skiing really brings out the mental side of it.


16 March

Sprint race. Feeling good, good skis; but it started to snow as I started. The first loop was OK; I missed my last prone shot thanks to a minor mental failing; halfway round the second loop I was 1'20" off the leader (Vadim Sashurin at that stage), which put me in the running for a result under 10% behind. But my skis had already started to slow in the fresh snow, and got worse and worse. I missed another target standing, and struggled round the last loop, for a mouldy 82nd.

I was called for blood testing before the race. Very flattering, and interesting to see the results. I have a lot of room for improvement (increase in haematocrit) before I go over the limit.

The Holmenkoll stadiumGot some new skis from Rossignol, which is nice. They are shorter than I am used to, which seems to be how skis are going, and the control is great. Also a new rifle stock from Larsen, with various modifications at my request. A lot of money passing through my wallet at the moment.


17 March

Watching the pursuit race. Accompanied by some suitable bits of Rossini and Grieg from the PA, Frode skied from the start faster than I have seen anyone ski, followed by Ole Einar, not quite as fast, but a little more elegant. I expected Frode to blow the shooting, which he usually does when given the chance, but he stayed in front all the way. Perhaps he did blow it, as he missed 4, but OE missed 6.

Interesting to see the disparities in ability through the ranks - if you stand by the track, the racers come past in a pursuit race in rough order of ability: there is a clearly discernible decline in both power output and facility with the skis down the order. I wonder how I would look (we don't have enough staff to get video of us racing).

Opened my new ski-bag from Rossignol: too small to fit even my short new skis into. What kind of idiot supplies World Cup biathletes with ski-bags too small for any adult's skis? Too late to get my money back as we leave early tomorrow.


Sunday, 18 March


Home, and another season over. Bracing myself for the deep depression that follows the euphoria of a racing season. Watching the last race on the television this afternoon (I arrived home from Norway just as the men's race was starting) brought it home: back to being a spectator.