Hugh Pritchard, Biathlete

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Hugh Pritchard

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February 2002
27 February, London
The great adventure over. Many happy memories of the greatest winter sports-show on Earth.
Monday, 25 February, Midway, Utah

Closing ceremony last night: much more casual than the opening ceremony as far as we were concerned, but much the same kind of spectacle, at $900 a seat for the paying public. At the end a mass of giant inflatable balls bounced down over the spectators and into the arena where the athletes were walking, a chaotic jamboree of kicking and heading these balls ensued.

I finally achieved my one delegated team task: the production of the team postcard. We took a photo with Mike's staggeringly expensive digital camera, and had that touched up and produced by the local printers; they quoted for 300 and gave us 1,000...

Thursday, 21st

The team by the range after the relay raceNot a happy day yesterday. Falling snow and warm temperatures; the ski-test area not pisted, and the race track too far from the waxing cabin for our 1-man waxing team to test there... The end result was that our skis were, for the first time this season, well below average, and despite better than average shooting we were a little down on Italy and Switzerland at Mike's second shoot; I could not believe how much he lost over the last 2.5km loop, and I started 2 minutes off the back of the field. It's hard to get excited when you know that even if the chap in front falls and breaks both poles you still won't catch him, but the crowd gave me a big cheer all the way round, and they were still excited when I ground into the finish, my skis sucking so hard it would have been as quick to run.

But the spotlight was definitely distracted by Team GB's good news: a bronze medal for Alex Coomber in the skeleton and gold for the women curlers.

Tuesday, 19 February

Relay race tomorrow: my day at last. This morning testing skis and getting the last bit of shooting practice, getting into the right frame of mind. This afternoon a gentle jog, some stretching and dry-firing, and a massage.

Thursday, 14 February

The Sprint races yesterday: no good news from our gang - Mike and Fred missing 2 each, Jason 4 but skiing fast enough to squeeze ahead of the others. None made the pursuit, which means our next race is next Wednesday. I suggested that Martin should go to Las Vegas for a few days.

I stood on the range with the telescope for this race. Some interesting sights - Sven Fischer had 4 half-hits and a miss in his prone shoot: all 5 targets went down and he won the silver medal. Karl-Heinz Wolf sniggering about it.

Princess Anne came to visit: watched the race and then came to lunch at the Homestead. Expressing some pretty forthright views, a trait presumably inherited from her father. After Princess Margaret's death, Anne is not supposed to be seen enjoying herself, which makes planning tricky here.

There is a lot of underperformance by good racers going on here. We should all be acclimatised to the altitude, so perhaps the extreme dryness of the air is an issue for some people.

Snow falling this morning, and I have planned a hard session...

12 February

Individual races yesterday: I was on drinks duty, handing out fuel and refrigerant to the racers (Jason has been allowed to take our 3rd start place, on the basis of his results at Canmore and Oberhof).

Standing by the track my only source of information was the radio, with Ian giving precise details on our athletes, and points of interest on the others. The Brits all cleared their first shoot, but from there things deteriorated. Mike looked desperately tired, and missed 5/20, more than in his previous 4 Olympic Individual races put together. Fred was a fraction slower, but Jason skied like the wind, even gaining places on the track (for a while he was in the top 30), and missed 3 to finish 48th, best Brit. So, a good day for him, but slightly disappointing overall, as the BOA's objective is to send competitors capable of finishing in the top half of the field. And although all our athletes have that capability, not showing it does not help our case.

At the top, an exciting race: Tchepikov put down a good run fairly early, with 1 miss, but then Ole Einar laid down a very fast time with 2 misses, closely followed by Maigourov with 1. Ricco Gross slipped into 3rd place with 2 misses, before Luck, aged 34, finished a clear run in 2nd, followed immediately by Hanevold, the reigning Olympic champion, also clear but slower in 5th. Andresen was having the run of his life, clearing his first 3 shoots and skiing demonically to open a huge lead - before missing 3 on his last shoot to finish 7th, distraught.

10 February

Went classic skiing on the golf courses behind our hotel: really nice tracks, and surprisingly extensive. Difficult to dress right, with the cold morning air (-16°) penetrated by an intense sun.

Then training on the range this afternoon: again that cold air with hot sun. Going well, but forgot to use suncream so got quite burned.

9 February

Opening Ceremony. We had to get a bus up to the Village; we were aboard we 2 pm, when we were told it would leave; at 2.20 we asked the driver what time he expected to go: 3 o'clock. We left at 2.40, set a record for the slowest ever drive to Salt Lake City, and got there in time for a quick bite at the restaurant before mustering at HQ Team GB. We walked down to the basketball stadium, where we sat for an hour awaiting the final move; we walked further to the stadium, and halted under the scaffolding stands to await our turn. Greece marched in at 1912 hours, and the other nations followed (alphabetically, except for Greece in front and the host nation last). We halted at the entrance to the stadium, and when the announcers called 'Grande Bretagne, Great Britain', a great roar went up from the crowd, and we marched on, thunderstruck.

That was a really special feeling, walking round, knowing that we were the focus of the whole thing, not mere actors or performers, but the raison d'etre of the entire Olympics. Not to be forgotten, and probably not repeated.

Then afterwards the bus back home: 'The Homestead' - 'Yes sir, this bus'. I woke in a place I did not recognise, but fortunately one of the volunteers, pyjama-clad and armed with mobile phone, commandeered the bus to take me and Amanda home.

Then the 30km cross-country race: a mass-start (for the first time in the Olympics) skate race, with the biathlete Ole Einar Bjorndalen hoping to show the world that he can do more than just shoot. I stood by the track and was astonished at how hard Johann Muehlegg was able to ski every hill of the race (I presume he wasn't just saving himself for that hill, to impress me). The paper this morning said that anything but gold for Elofsson would be a travesty, but when he and Ole Einar tried to catch Muehlegg it ended in tears, with Elofsson pulling out and OE fading to 6th in the final sprint. An extraordinary race.

8 February

Organisation getting silly now. Had to queue over 10' to get into the venue today; they check that my rifle is not loaded, before letting me into the cabin where we store ammunition (there is no check on leaving the venue), but do not check my accreditation. Then we go as ordered to have blood tests at 1045, and have to queue for 30', again outside. Fortunately the storm has blown out by now. Then we wait for the results, as ordered, before being told that they won't be available today.

I am always amazed at the disparity between the sincere goodwill of individual Americans and their collective inability to get things done, and tendency to alienate outsiders.

Sat next to Thomas Ålsgaard on the way back from Soldier Hollow; wondered whether I should discuss with Mike Ole Einar's chances of a win in the 30km cross-country tomorrow (Alsgaard is a former champion in this race).

Opening Ceremony tonight. The TV this morning suggested spectators wear at least 2 sets of thermal underwear. We are wondering whether we can fit fleece trousers under our parade trousers.

7 February. The Homestead, Midway, Utah

Now ensconced in the Homestead, where we stayed last March for the World Cup. A big 'ranch hotel', consisting of a lot of affected rustic-style buildings, very pretty and spacious but impractical, with poor soundproofing, noisy air-conditioning and fizzing light-switches. For our $200/night we get plastic cups to drink out of.

But overall the impression is overwhelmingly good. The scale of the organisation is staggering, with great car-parks full of minibuses, volunteers by the thousand, and security: volunteers, police and soldiers everywhere, checking ID, bags and cars. The Homestead does not have a perimeter fence, so we have soldiers patrolling the area.

The snow at Soldier Hollow is good (there is far more natural snow around than last year), and the nights decidedly cold. The sun is strong, and we have been issued vast quantities of suncream.

Most of the teams seem to eat in the communal buffet dining-room here at the Homestead, biathletes, skiers and Nordic combiners (what do they call themselves?), and it is not so different from a World Cup atmosphere at this stage.

The team with Lord Moynihan in 'The Jail'.Last night we had a reception with the Minister for Sport and the local Consul, followed by dinner with our Biathlon Union president, Lord Moynihan, a former Minister for Sport. Chaotic, as Mike had to go to the press conference after being named flag-carrier for the third time in succession, and we forgot to take Amanda...

4 February. Calgary, Alberta

Down in Calgary for the night before flying to Salt Lake City tomorrow. Tonight a reception with some diplomats, the sports minister and all the volunteers who have helped with the training camp.

The hotel at Calgary is where all the other athletes and HQ have been for the entire camp (some people will be here for another 10 days). We have taken over a corner of it, with a row of internet terminals, a private lounge, office, medical room, etc.

This morning our training at the biathlon centre turned into a press-fest, with TV, radio and newspaper journalists interviewing and filming. Most of the interest was on Mike, whose 6th Olympic appearance is not a record (he is the 4th Brit to do it, though the first in Winter Games, and the 7th worldwide), so Fred and I got the video camera out and interviewed each other.

We had to pack our baggage onto a truck to be driven down to Salt Lake today - only 15kg each on the plane, which consists of rifle, ammunition and not much else.

Saturday, 2 February. Engadine Lodge, near Canmore, Alberta, Canada

Sprint race this morning and pursuit tomorrow, of the North American Continental Cup series. A small turnout - presumably the normal top contenders are away at the Junior World Champs and so on.

Having just had a long cold, followed by antibiotics for a lung infection, my plan was to take it easy today, keeping my heart rate to around 160. That proved to be easier said than achieved, but I did manage to go pretty slowly. The disappointment was to miss 3 targets prone - grouping on the edge at 4 o'clock, right on the wind-line (the wind was blowing left to right).

Jason had a great race, shooting clear and skiing well to take nearly2' off Mike, who also shot clear. I closed the Brit team in 6th, a long way behind. Andy Hallett, another Brit who has just taken up a sport scholarship at a university out here, finished just behind me but will doubtless be a threat once the benefits of his professional coach sink in.

The prize-giving down in town in the evening was largely a send-off for Robin Clegg, a member of the local club who just qualified at the last minute to go to the Games as Canada's only representative in biathlon.