Hugh Pritchard, Biathlete

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Hugh Pritchard

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January 2002
Thursday, 3 January, Ruhpolding

Training in the best snow conditions I have ever seen here in Ruhpolding: plenty of new snow on all the tracks around town and up to the biathlon centre, and remodelled tracks at the biathlon centre.

Unfortunately I made the classic error of not being strict enough about avoiding people at Christmas, and went down with a cold the day I arrived here, so training has not really happened. A great shame, as it would have been very useful to get some physical training done to get back what I lost over 3 weeks of racing.

Testing skis this afternoon for our little 'selection race' tomorrow: Ricco Gross came over the hill, saw what I was doing and joined in, suggested a better place to test, tried my skis and gave his opinion... Back to the waxing shed, and Ricco came in with a lump of the wax he recommended for tomorrow; Tom was disgusted at my taking a private race so seriously, so Ricco gave me his best skis for these conditions, already waxed with the right stuff... It goes against the grain getting one's advantage from the gear, but it is always fun having good skis.

7 January, Oberhof

A metre of snow in Oberhof: unheard of. But rather than the -18° we heard of a couple of days ago it is thawing and foggy: standard conditions.

An excruciating drive: left the Autobahn near Coburg and followed the East German drivers who think 40kmh is a good way of getting around for hours before drifting into dark, foggy Oberhof with great banks of snow making the whole place unrecognisable.

We stay in a typically communist hotel: enormous enough to take an entire factory's workforce, the heating is probably a significant factor in the Oberhof thaw (we have every window and door in the place open: it is not possible to turn the heating off). They only clear the snow down to 6" depth, so that getting out of the carpark takes the whole team pushing. Eddy Lowe is here as team manager, telling stories of the good old days when this hotel was where the top teams stayed...

Friday 11 January, Ruhpolding

Back 'home', having fled Oberhof early.

Coming out of the WolfschluchtIn the Sprint on Wednesday, I was psyched for a tough race - the course climbs continuously from its lowest point to its highest in a hill 58m high. I shot excellently in training the day before. The conditions were my favourite for shooting, with the sun on the targets. But the wind got up between zeroing and my race time, and I got the windage adjustment wrong - I fired 5 shots tightly grouped on the right edge of the target, and only 2 went down. A depressing time on the penalty loop in front of the crowds, then all forgotten as I tip off the bridge and down into the Wolfschlucht ('wolf's gorge'), clocking 72kmh at the bottom. My stand shoot I cleared in a thumping 27 seconds to salvage some self-respect, but on a hard course like this I just can't ski fast enough, and finished 90th of 111.

So, I have not achieved the Olympic qualifying standard. But I am not going to abandon hope until the fat lady has sung: there are still 2 more World Cup meets before the Olympics start, and surely the BOA wants to send a full team - I have been issued the clothes, the accommodation is booked...


Thursday, 17 January

And I am going to the Olympics! Selection

The relay race yesterday was not a great one for us, and was made to look worse than it was by Germany, Russia and Norway all having great races. But the relay team had already qualified for the Olympics, and only needed to show reasonable form in the current season. The BOA's qualification committee was in session in London from the minute the results were posted, and we were on tenterhooks in the VIP tent after the race, guzzling sausages and apple juice and talking to the girls who run the Oslo World Cup, waiting... Eventually the phone rang, and Mark Goodson, our performance director, talked to let us know what was happening, and there was a big cheer when he gave the thumbs-up.

So I fly home on Sunday, and out to Canada on Thursday for Team GB's pre-Olympic training camp. A big chunk of training now, which is a rare opportunity mid-Winter, and which I intend to make good use of to get some strength and power into my legs. A lot to do meanwhile.


Thursday 24 January, London

Flying this afternoon to the pre-Olympic training camp in Canada. The 2 suitcases full of gear that I was fitted for before Christmas finally arrived yesterday, so I am furiously trying to distil what I need to fit into them. Do I really need 6 Olympic polo-necks?? Writing my name on everything: 60 people with identical clothes is a laundry disaster waiting to happen.

Have been training the last couple of days in a hypoxic chamber in a stunningly modern gymn by Piccadilly Circus (the Third Space), full of machines and beautiful bodies. To me a gymn is some bars for chins and dips, and a mat on the floor for sit-ups, and anything more than that is luxury, which just leaves me wandering round wondering what to do. But I did manage a mindnumbing 90' on the running, rowing and cycling machines in the hypoxic chamber.

Comparing heart rates running at the same speed and gradient in a normal atmosphere afterwards: about 10-15 bpm lower. Would be very interesting to do it for a more extended period and see how it changed.


27 January, Canmore, Canada

Under the wing of 'Team GB' life is very different from the budget DIY ethos of the biathlon team: the clothing issue is so plentiful that we don't have room to carry it all; numerous support staff with specialties we have never heard of offer help we didn't know we needed. We stay in a smart hotel, with a private lounge provided for us, complete with internet facility.

Mike training in the hypoxic chamber. The fan is to cool the transformer.So, as the BOA intends, we have an opportunity to prepare for the Olympics in an environment that is more or less optimal. More or less? Well, I find it hard to shoot when the temperature is -26°C; but since I have caught my second cold since Christmas I am staying indoors today anyway. The others spend the afternoons in a hypoxic chamber set up in the hotel's underground car-park this pumps extra nitrogen into the air, reducing the percentage of oxygen, which kids the body to adapt to that lower oxygen presence).

Canmore is a little town nestling in a flat valley bottom, surrounded by magnificent mountains. Our hotel is on one edge of town, with the Nordic centre on the other side, a 10' drive. Tonight we move up to Engadine Lodge, at an altitude of 1,850m, where we will apparently have tracks and range entirely to ourselves.


28 January, Engadine Lodge

The cabins at Engadine LodgeThe most stunning situation: up a long, lonely road far into the mountains, Engadine Lodge overlooks a broad, flat valley a quarter-mile wide, with a little river meandering down it (frozen and snowed over, of course). We are surrounded by mountains, and our little training centre is a 5' drive away. With luck we should soon be able to ski on little classic tracks set by a ski-doo through the forest right by the Lodge.

There are no mains supplies here, no phone line; even cellular phones don't work. So the BOA has kindly provided us with a satellite phone link to the internet! At $2/minute, and 9,600bps, I don't suppose I will be loading any photos onto the website this week.

My cold is still pretty heavy, but I went for an easy classic ski this afternoon - not that any skiing is easy in these temperatures (snow acts like sand in extreme cold).

And even in Canmore, there are opportunities for romance: a note was given to us 'for the little guy in the British team': "Hello my name is Bruce and I saw you skiing at the Nordic Center. I was wondering if you wanted to meet me for a beer at 10pm tonight at the Grizzly Paw. If you don't come I understand."

So, should we send Mike or Fred? They were both quite unselfish about it and in the end we all went, which must have scared Bruce off.


31 January

A visit last night from the team doctor, Richard Budget: genial, 6'7", an Olympic gold medallist in rowing. He reckons on some mild bacterial lung infection, for which I have antibiotics and a further couple of days of very light training only. Maddening.

The World Cup programme has 2 breaks when it is possible to do some decent training: one at Christmas/New Year, the other now. This is the first year I have even had a look at the second break, as our national championships normally fill it. But I, who am never normally ill, have caught colds to stymy both training opportunities.

The weather looks like warming up - it was up to -9 this afternoon - which will be nice for the races at the weekend. I hope I will be able to race, as they will be fun even if I am a little weak & feeble after the illness.