Wednesday, 7 November, Vuokatti, Finland.
training, on snow at last without the handicap of altitude or the
frightful tunnel. There is about 5km of skiing, entirely on artificial
snow - there is only the lightest dusting of snow off the tracks.
The German men are here, and
the Japanese, Slovenes and Czechs: a very small fraction of the
biathlon world. Also a few cross-country racers, Nordic combiners,
ski orienteers and locals. The range has only 20 lanes, so it would
get tricky with many more teams. Especially with the Germans, as
today, taking 5 lanes for only 1 person shooting.
Comical shenanigans getting
here. Crazy traffic on the motorway getting to Heathrow; finally
arrived, to find that nobody knew where my ticket was. Turned out
that Fred had it. Where was he? 40 miles away in a traffic jam.
He arrived a day later than the rest of us, after a night in Helsinki.
I got my 70kg of baggage on for no extra charge, no rifle as hand
baggage this time.
The weather in the Arctic
always seems amazingly calm; they must have storms sometimes but
generally it is just quiet, gentle winds, long twilights.
Day off tomorrow, and about
'Power sprints' today: up
the biggest, steepest hill available (which is not all that big
or steep), and over the top. The idea is to get the muscles used
to working harder and more powerfully than they have for a while
- a quick adaptation, so one that I could afford to leave til now.
We now have about 7km of tracks available, all artificial with about
an inch of snow off the tracks.
Used a pair of Rossignols
today - I have been using some Fischers for training. The Rossis
are so much better to ski on, so much more solid and predictable.
Having booked late, we have
to move rooms a couple of times. Yesterday some of us moved into
a palatial chalet in the woods: single bedrooms, a sauna, dishwasher,
washing machine, tumble drier, fireplace, underfloor heating...
it is rarely as good as this.
Richard Godfrey, head of physiology
at the British Olympic Medical Centre, is with us as physiologist
and dogsbody, in which roles he will also attend the Olympics and
some world cups. Battery of tests each morning: 'What are you testing
now?' 'Yer ear' 'Yes, but what are you testing for?' 'No, that's
Woke to the depressing drip-dripping
and roaring wind that mark a sudden thaw. When it got light we were
surprised to see that it was not raining: the warm wind was melting
the snow in the trees.
Made a start on my new Rossignol
skis: 6 pairs, a total of 10 waxings for each pair and a lot of
scrubbing and brushing. I did 3 hours and got the first 2 steps
done, a great way to pass a 'day off'.
Desperately cold this morning:
I couldn't ski longer than about 3 minutes without stopping to warm
my hands, so I couldn't warm up properly. Wished I hadn't shaved
last night. And only -16°C - we might be racing colder than
that, so I have to learn to cope with it.
|Friday, 16 November
Yesterday morning while we
were training 6" of snow fell in a blizzard which made for
some interesting shooting. So now at last we have real snow to ski
on, and some tracks outside the floodlit 7km. This afternoon Tom
and I went for a classic ski, and did some great new loops in the
dark - it is dark by 4pm, but with snow on the ground you can nearly
always see enough for an exciting ski.
This morning training races:
a short sprint and a short pursuit. I shot a terrible sprint with
4 misses from 10; in the pursuit I missed 3/20 to finish with the
second fastest time.
Got an Email from a local
business at home: the Wire Belt Company, which makes conveyor belts
for the food manufacturing industry, has put a cheque in the post,
which is very nice, and almost covers my outrageously expensive
new skis from Rossignol. More on them later.
|Monday, 18 November,
Drove here yesterday to do
selection races at Kontiolahti. Nice to be in a town at last: we
walked into the centre last night for a feeding frenzy in a sweet
shop and visits to the cinemas and bars.
Training at Kontiolahti today:
cold, not much snow, and the tracks in a poor state. The sun comes
onto the targets from behind, which is more or less my favourite
Did a little training race
of my own this morning. Desperately cold: -17° on top, presumably
colder down by the lake. Going down the long fast hill towards lake
level the cold seemed to bore its way through the gap between my
hat and glasses into the middle of my skull, and my cheeks felt
like they were getting frostbitten.
The B team was supposed to
arrive here from Kiruna last Sunday for a selection race tomorrow,
but their bus broke down so we postponed the race to Thursday (we
are also doing some Finnish races here Saturday and Sunday). But
it is a shocking long drive from Kiruna, something like 550 miles,
but the roads are not fast even without snow.
|Friday 23 November
Back to the endless grind
of ski-prep, testing, prepping...
Selection race yesterday:
Individual format, but only 15km on the tough hills of Kontiolahti.
I started 30" behind Jason, and seemed to be gaining marginally
on him; I don't know how he managed to finish 90" up on me
having been 4" down with one loop to go. He is capable of monstrous
things, but that is weird. Shooting a bit moderate: 0212, total
5 missed. I finished 5th, last of the existing world cup squad.
That does not earn me a start at the first world cup, but at least
it keeps me in the squad. I have to do better tomorrow in the sprint.
Vladimir Dratchev starts 30" behind me, but I don't suppose
I will be able to stay with him, even with the rocket skis I discovered
Yesterday's race was forecast
to be at a temperature of -1°. The thermometer just kept dropping,
and we eventually raced at -14° (with the wind doing its best
to rip the flags from their poles, but that is another matter),
quite a difference in terms of skis, wax and clothing. Today we
were told that tomorrow is likely to be -4° with 10cm fresh
snow. But already tonight the sky has cleared and the thermometer
Behind me tomorrow start Ville
Raikkonnen, the Sprint bronze medallist from Nagano, and Vladimir
Dratchev, who was dropped from the Russian team last year, so has
not been dope-tested for 12 months. I'm sure he has been training
hard too, so I may well see both of them.
A happy day: a really good
race, for 4th place, top Brit by a reasonable margin (and therefore
top in the 2nd selection race). I got up on the podium to be presented
with - a kettle! (Dratschev got a food processor!) And suddenly
I am back in the running for the Olympics (I need to average top
3 in the selection races to guarantee a start in the World Cup,
and the opportunity to qualify for the Olympics). Click
here to go to results page.
Tiresome waxing until late
last night; went out for a 25' jog with Tom, getting back a little
after 10pm... Tom has been talking a lot about the ability to push
through the pain of races as an important determinant of speed,
and I think he is right: today I was prepared to hurt myself much
more than I was on Thursday, and I skied a little faster than the
others - I even held Tom off over the last loop when he emerged
from the penalty loop to chase me round.
Tomorrow the pursuit race,
and a chance of squeezing into the cash prizes. But for us it is
really an individual race, as that is how the results will be analysed
for the purposes of selection. That puts me at a slight tactical
disadvantage, being in front for the others to chase - but the gaps
are enough that it is not so different from a time-trial start.
So, a selection of skis prepared
with a selection of waxes to cover tomorrow's possibilities, a half-hour
jog and an early night as I am very tired.
Helsink Airport en route to UK
So, I am selected to one of
the 3 start places for the first World Cup race, the Sprint in Hochfilzen
on 6 December. Despite a disappointing race yesterday (I had a couple
of shooting disasters: fired a round off the target (a 'negligent
discharge' in army-speak), dropped two rounds in my last shoot and
had to pick them up off the mat), I squeezed into 3rd place in our
overall selection rankings.
It seems that with each successive
race there is an even stronger requirement to perform at the very
limit of my ability. This is a real change from racing on the European
Cup, where a fatalistic attitude tends to prevail, as individual
race results do not have much significance. It is also pretty stressful:
each day's performance can and will affect whether I start in the
following race, and therefore the shape of the entire season.
Amazing to hear of Ole Einar
Bjørndalen's 2nd in a cross-country World Cup race yesterday.
One always thinks that the skiing specialists must be a lot faster
than the biathletes, but it ain't necessarily so.