Hugh Pritchard, Biathlete

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Hugh Pritchard

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April 2002
Tuesday 9th April, Whitstable

Just back from an action-packed weekend in Austria. Drove out there as I had an opportunity to sell my Austrian-registered car; raced in the Austrian national champs at Obertauern; competed in the first ever 'Langlauf-cross' event; went kayaking at Lofer, before flying home.

I started next year's training last week with a heavy gymn session, so that by the time I got to Austria I could hardly unfold myself from the car, and my muscles were quivering so that I could barely stand, never mind balance. But once the race started, I forgot that temporarily.

The races were at Obertauern, not normally a normal biathlon centre, and quite high up. After the stories of the previous weekend's Austrian cross-country champs in a sunny 20°C I had not brought any cold-weather gear; in fact it was decidedly wintery on Saturday, with a piercing wind. Despite that and the old-fashioned targets I managed to clear my prone shoot - for only the second time this season, an astonishingly poor record. Skiing was OK, if painful, and I finished 10th, 3' down on the winners. OK, given my poor state.

One of the Austrians told me about the afternoon's race: some kind of mass-start The steep descent after the first jump - pic stolen from the event website.sprint with jumps... I drove up there in time to enter, but too late to get a practice run on the steepest XC course imaginable. The start was a 2' drop onto a steep slope, with a sharp bend and jump at the bottom, a series of steep, banked bends and another jump before a steep climb up above the start; then down again and a jump into the finish. This was the first ever 'Langlauf-Cross', or 'NordiX', modelled on the boarder-cross races and sponsored, of course, by Red Bull.

Fortunately the qualifying round was with individual starts. I fell slightly on the first jump, and did not qualify - but was in good company: Perner and Mesotitsch, Olympic medallist and world cup race winner respectively from the current season, both fell on the same jump. There was a good selection of top XC sprinters there (Svartedal, Schlickenrieder), and apparently some Nordic Combination racers taking advantage of their confidence in the air.

Confident in the sky - pic stolen from the event websiteInteresting to see the differences in how people took the jumps. Botvinov, a top skier, looked as tentative as I felt; whereas the Austrians were absolutely confident, with no qualms or flailing arms. The reason was evident down at the biathlon course: a couple of 8-year old boys had built themselves a little jump and were skiing up the hill, down and over the jump, again and again...

We were treated to a dinner by Red Bull that evening: a good bash. I sat on the same table as Ludwig Gredler; I commented on how fast he had overtaken me (twice, as I had passed him back as he was in the penalty loop), and he volunteered that my technique looked very good: 'echt super Körperstellung' - really super body position. That is the second unsolicited compliment I have had from a world-class racer this year, and is nice to hear. Not that it helps much: while it says that my ideas on ski technique seem to be right, it suggests that the performance improvements I need will have to come from elsewhere.

Then the Pursuit on Sunday. I started with empty space ahead of me, and a couple of thrusting youngsters just behind. They were with me by the time of the first shoot, but I left them there and did not see them again. In fact the whole race was a little lonely... I didn't even come near to being overtaken.

It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day, with perfect Spring skiing conditions, so after the race I took a long ski and explored everywhere (in Spring conditions, the surface forms a crust, so that you can skate everywhere, not just on the track). Fantastic.


23 May, London

Did an oxygen uptake test at the Olympic Medical Centre; on a running treadmill, though I am not sure how relevant that is to skiing. The others in the team are better at this kind of test (and at running races), but presumably I would score a lot higher than them on an upper-body test, with my kayaking background.

Still haven't found a job, which means that the next season is going to be difficult economically.