Hugh Pritchard, Biathlete

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Hugh Pritchard

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September 2001

Saturday 1 September, Tignes, France

Rest day today, and well chosen: snow was falling in the village this morning, and the funicular was closed. Drove down to Bourg St Maurice for coffee and pain chocolat and postcard-writing.

A rest day somewhere like this is a challenge in itself, as there is not an awful lot to do that is entertaining and relaxing, and not biathlon-related. Still, the time passes.aa

One of the world's noisiest people is a 13-year-old Spanish girl staying at the UCPA who has adopted us and just about everyone else. Apparently she is some national junior champion in downhill skiing, and we are putting money on her for an Olympic medal in 2014.


Sunday 2 September

Perfect conditions up on the glacier today, and a great day's training. Did 3x10' hard, with fairly long rest between intervals, and completed the session well, maintaining good technique all the way - in contrast to the one hard session I tried to do on the glacier last time, which I had to abandon. Then up to the top of the mountain on the cable car for some downhill practice, in conditions more or less ideal for cross-country skis.

Then straight down to the range for a sneaky extra static-shooting session, to try to iron out some basic issues in the shooting.

This afternoon a 'race simulation' as running combination training - the race element being the layout and organisation, rather than the effort, to accustom the mind to that format.Interval training on the glacier. Note fancy modern angles.

Watching my skiing on the video always used to make me cringe, as it looked like I was doing nothing like what I thought I was. But now my skiing looks quite respectable, as a result of a lot of thinking and effort on technique - time watching videos, trying to understand what the fastest skiers are doing, and then learning to do it myself. And it feels great.

4 September

Today another matter entirely: rain in the village this morning; cold, dry snow blowing hard across the glacier up top. The track in good shape, but quite uncomfortable skiing into the wind, with the snow blowing into our faces. Did 2 hours, because the skiing was good and I did not do so much yesterday.

There were two chaps from Rossignol here today, so I buttonholed them to ask about getting some skis. The problem they always cite, not unreasonably, is that there is no market for XC skis in Britain, and therefore no commercial reason for them to support us. But we are happy to pay a reasonable price for good skis, and the difficulty from our point of view is simply getting good skis, regardless of price.

Could hardly get up from my siesta this afternoon, but once I did I managed to go running and shooting in the rain down below the dam, then classic roller-ski up at a steady pace in 55', for some balance and core strength training in the digs.

Now it is snowing outside; the forecast is for clear tomorrow, so if it stops in time to freeze up top we will have yet another beautiful day on the glacier.

Thursday 6 September

So much for yesterday's skiing: glacier closed because of strong winds. We did a classic roller-ski from Val d'Isere up to the Col de l'Iseran in cloud and light snowfall. The col a cold and lonely place with the snow blasting across it.

A running biathlon race in the afternoon. I was strangely unable to get my heart rate high - perhaps just because I have done so little fast running the last couple of years.

Team meeting in the evening: Ian explaining his plan for the early part of the Winter season, and discussing selection strategies for World Cup and Olympics. Although the decisions are ultimately made by the Board of the British Biathlon Union the squad members have a clear idea of what we think is good strategy, given the various conflicting objectives of getting numbers qualified for the Olympics versus getting the best racers at their best versus maintaining our World Cup nations ranking, etc. It is far from simple, and there are many different arguments.

Very late to bed after the meeting, so took the second train up this morning and still found ourselves making the first tracks on the glacier. Another beautiful day, the tracks slightly softer than optimal, but nevertheless a lovely day for skiing. Up to the top for some downhill before catching the train down, then I drove down to the range for a little static shooting on my own. Steack frites for lunch, and a massive siesta.

Monday 10 September, Whitstable

Interesting weekend: the BOA's winter games conference, for all potential members of 'Team GB' for the Olympics in February, aimed at helping everyone to optimise performance at the games; and at making sure we all understand the obligations that membership of Team GB puts one under (mainly obligations to the sponsors).

Dinner on Saturday night sponsored by the Mormons - they founded Salt Lake City to get away from the rest of us, and are now making the best of the forthcoming pagan invasion. They were multicultural enough to allow us wine.

Now at home for a couple of days before returning to Ruhpolding for the Autumn roller-ski biathlon races.

Friday 14 September, Ruhpolding

The Ruhpolding half of the German Herbstleistungskontrolle was cancelled following the business in America, and the official races moved to Oberhof. There was a race at Ruhpolding today anyway, and about 25 men took part (a 15km individual race) in the dismal gloom and rain.

I thought I was skiing beautifully, gradually catching the chap in front, when the Swiss giant Matthias Simmen shot passed me and reminded me that elegance is not what shows on the results list. I skied a little faster.

I was delighted to clear my first two shoots, and trying to maintain the appropriate mental focus rather than divert onto the fatuous distractions that usually intrude when things are going too well. But I missed the first shot of my third shoot, thus removing the mental pressure of a potential clean shoot.

Günther Beck started 30" behind me, and I ended up skiing most of the race with him (I had a tiny misunderstanding about the course on the first loop, and dropped a bullet on the first shoot, allowing him get just ahead of me), just pipping him in a sprint finish. He was just beginning to pull away from me on the climbs early on the last loop, so I wonder whether there is any significance in the difference in the phasing of our speed.

Overall, delighted with my shooting (1 penalty is my best yet in a 20-shoot race) and very happy with my skiing. Click here for results page.

I have had a sore throat for a few days, which usually adumbrates a cold; this morning it was quite nasty but now after the race it is fine. One half of the Dixon remedy (bottle of whisky before bed, followed by a hard race the next morning to clean all viruses from the system).

Andi Birnbacher shot clear and presumably won, as many of the others shot badly (Ricco Groß and Michael Greis both missed 6). So he was disappointed, as this was originally supposed to be a qualifying race for the German World Cup team; I suggested that if he could do it today he can do it next week. He says it is not so easy to shoot clear in Oberhof.

Went to visit a stock-maker in Schleching today. Larsen, who told me that he would replace for free the stock I bought from him if it broke in use, is refusing to do so, and I am reluctant to buy another from someone who does business like that. So an alternative, made of some very light wood, and largely tailored.

15 September

Once again, reality steps out from behind the corner and slaps me in the face.

Started 7th in the pursuit race, and reasonably well, missing 1 of my 10 prone shots; then missed 4 & 2 standing, to end up 18th of 31 (on today's time only) - still respectable in comparison with the field, but 7 misses is not satisfactory. To miss 6/10 standing, having hit all 10 yesterday, is maddening.

Again I had a sprint finish with Günther Beck; again I passed him (and the Swede he was following). Does that mean I don't push hard enough earlier in the race? I had enough trouble shooting after skiing at the speed I did. I don't think I am a good straight sprinter, but the ability to sprint at the end of a race is not necessarily the same thing. Perhaps Günther is an even worse sprinter (though he did win a European Championships title last Winter).

Today's lesson:

  • If I am thinking about ski technique, I am not thinking about going fast. I need to ingrain any new techniques thoroughly by the start of the season, so that I can focus on producing speed

Skiing fast is not just about skiing with good technique: there is a lot of the animal in it as well. Or at least, I think that is how it is. Perhaps I should ask Henrik Forsberg, who skied 1'30" faster than anyone else yesterday.

The notion applies to shooting as well (and probably to any acquired motor skill): Dave Collins told us at the BOA conference last weekend of some research on archers, using EEGs to measure brain activity while shooting; archers who were still trying to work on technique had greater brain activity while shooting than those who had accepted their technique as adequate, and this greater brain activity was correlated with inferior results. Boom boom.

Sunday 16 September
And now I have a horrible cold. Almost inevitable after a glacier camp and a visit home - mixing with all those unfamiliar viruses. I did not go to Oberhof today as the last thing the rest of the gang here want is a chap blowing germs at them for five hours in the minibus on the way to their first chance at a place in the German world cup team for December. I hope I will be well in time to drive up on Wednesday for the races on Friday and Saturday. If not, I will just have to go and wash it away at the Oktoberfest.
Wednesday 19 September, Ruhpolding

At last, the sun again. There is snow on the peaks I can see from my kitchen window (about 1,700m, I think). And every time I open the window in flies a swarm of dozy autumnal wasps.

There is a huge landscaping project going on at the biathlon centre, and the roller-ski track is closed for a fortnight. I did some static shooting (I still have my cold), getting a new PB in the 100-round test. Then I went into the gymn to remind my muscles that life is not all sitting about sniffing and sneezing (I have a theory that weight-training is OK when one is ill because it stresses only the individual muscles used, not the system as a whole).

Friday 21 September, Oberhof

Everyone says that Oberhof is always wet, windy and misty. Sure enough, that is how it was yesterday when we arrived, and how it was all day today, and how it is forecast for the weekend.

Sprint race today: shockingly hard work on a course very different from Ruhpolding - there are no steep hills here, but a long gradual climb towards the range leaves you gasping. Somewhere like Ruhpolding you can 'borrow' the energy for a sprint up a short but steep hill from the rest you will take after it, or by easing off on the flat before it; here there are no flats, and if you ease off on a gentle climb, you go very slowly indeed.

I missed 1 & 2 this morning, better than most of Fritz's gang but still annoying: it was windy and I could hardly hold my rifle for want of oxygen; but the standing misses were simply bad shots. Interesting looking at my heart rate graph for this race: my pulse dropped to 139 in the prone shoot and 152 in standing (normally 110 and 130). My pulse was over 180 for 2 minutes of the second of the 4 loops (which is too high), and after that dropped off, along with my speed.

22 September

Funny race today. Knowing that in this company I have to shoot very well focuses the mind, and I was disappointed to miss 1 in my first shoot. But I cleared the next two, and was on course to equal my best shooting in a 4-shoot race, but that thought did the trick and I missed 3 on my last shoot.

Going out of the range for the last loop, a battle of minds emerged, which really demonstrated the power of concsious decision-making in determining the race outcome. Most of the minds involved were mine, thus:

  • Id: OK, race done, all the Germans can ski faster than me so I won't catch anyone in front and if there's anyone close behind they've got me
  • Superego: I'll ski reasonably hard anyway, just in case there is someone behind...
  • (German racer overtakes from nowhere)
  • Ego: OK, try to stay with him
  • Id: If I were a slalom skier I'd be finished by now
  • Superego: But I'm not, I'm here and trying to stay with this monster
  • Ego: This hurts, and I wish I was a slalom skier
  • Id: It's OK, he's a German, it's all right to let him go
  • Superego: He's not going any faster than me now, I could overtake him...
  • Ego: Right, let's overtake
  • Id: OK, honour satisfied, take it easy and skip the pain
  • Superego: No, make him work for it!
  • Ego: Damn! Here he comes again.
  • Id: If I were a slalom skier I'd be in the pub now.
  • Superego: OK, I tried and he beat me, that's fine
  • Ego: Well, he's still not going any faster than me, so maybe I should try to pass him again.
  • Id: That really hurts. But it doesn't have to, all I have to do is ease off, after all he's supposed to beat me.
  • Ego: Here he comes again.
  • Id: If I were a slalom skier I'd be in bed with some overenthusiastic groupy by now.
  • Superego: OK, game over.
  • Ego: Well, it's only another 50 yards, surely there's something I can do
  • (Break into hopping, crab-like sprint up the last steep hill, one ski on the grass to get round the Kraut)
  • Id: Shouldn't have done that, that hurts a lot.
  • Superego: He's coming back!
  • Ego: No he's not!

And that is more or less how it went: 6 exchanges of position in the last loop, and the outcome deliberately decided, rather than just being allowed to unfold.

Friday, 28 September, Ruhpolding

Frustrating week: the biathlon centre closed for roller-skiing. Started the week running and cycling, with too much enthusiasm and awoke a couple of forgotten injuries, so started driving over to Hochfilzen instead. Got plenty of shooting done, which is good news: I think I see an upward trend in my race scores in the last few weeks, which I attribute to the larger amount of shooting I have done recently.

Collected my new stock today and gave it a quick test: seems good.

Off to Finland tomorrow, so packing tonight and up at 3am for a ridiculous flight - I wish now I had spent a bit more for a nicer one.

Sunday, 30 September, Vuokatti, Finland

A surreal journey here from Germany yesterday: got up at 3 to drive to the airport; the check-in girl did not seem to register when I told her I had a gun and ammunition in my baggage and did not call the border guards to check my certificate as normal. I had a change in Amsterdam, and at Helsinki, sure enough my rifle was missing. I reported it and was told that if it was on the next Amsterdam flight they would still be able to put it onto my flight to Kajaani. The flight from Amsterdam arrived late, and I was at the boarding gate for Kajaani, telephoning the baggage office, when the girl I had dealt with turned up with my rifle, saying there had been no-one in security so she had just walked through; I was to hand the rifle over to the gate staff to have it put in the hold.

So there I sat at the departure gate with a rifle under my chair. Come boarding time I told the gate staff that my gun needed to go in the hold; they said tell the cabin crew. So I carried it onto the aircraft.

I told the cabin crew I had a gun that needed to go in the hold. They said put it in the 'locker' at the front, where it was secured by a curtain...

Finland a very different country: the language so remote that one can't guess a single wordl. Here in Vuokatti it is really cold, everyone walking around in hats and gloves. There were frozen puddles ooutside this morning.

And funnily enough the tunnel is also cold. I normally don't wear much when training, but I kept my warm-up trousers on today. We had a lie-in to get over yesterday's early start, and the track was well degraded by the time we got in: powdered ice on a blue-ice base. But still, it is clearly an excellent facility.