Hugh Pritchard, Biathlete

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Hugh Pritchard

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March 2002
4 March, London
Flying to Oslo tomorrow, then the sleeper train to Östersund...
5 March, a railway station somewhere in Sweden

It turns out the sleeper train was a bluff, and we had no reservation. Since our administrator (let's call him X) left us to find out the timetable I presume we have no transport booked on arrival to take us to our accommodation at Ostersund. And I don't know the name of the hotel or how to find out (X is not answering his phone).

Because X made no allowance for Fred & Jason being in Scotland, and told them the flight details only the day before, their only option was the sleeper train to London; it was delayed and they missed the flight. I came near to missing it too as I had to go to another terminal to get the tickets reissued (X having had the originals sent to his own address, when he is abroad).

For reasons unknown to us X arranged Martin's flight for yesterday, again at short notice, so that he had to go in to work at 7.30 yesterday morning to tell his boss that he was unable to teach his class at 9. He then had to wait in Oslo 24 hours for us to get there, to take this absurd overnight train together: 48 hours for a journey he could have made by car in 24, for half the price.

And now the icing on the cake: Fred and Jason, having missed their flight, got a later one to Oslo (Fred tells me by test message), found a bargain flight to Stockholm and are now in Ostersund. Fred traditionally has the luck of the devil, but this is too much. If he could fly at 1330 from London and be in Ostersund the same night, that tells me that I have been messed around, with a journey taking nearly 24 hours - and as for Martin's 48 hour trip....

7 March, Ístersund

A new venue for me: a small town, nice-looking, the home of Magdalena and Henrik Forsberg. Quite a hard-looking track, with some long climbs and sharp bends. All artificial snow, surprisingly given how much snow there is piled up around the car-parks.

Very much still winter here: I was jogging by the lake this evening, wondering how thick the ice was, when a car drove past me, on the ice.

Then an evening wondering how we are going to get from here to Lahti, and from Lahti to Oslo. Shouldn't be our business, but the trip here suggests that we have to make it our business. and the aforementioned X is not answering his phone (which we have never seen him without). "It is 10 o'clock now, we have to go out for a beer" says Martin G.

8 March
On the bus back from the biathlon centre Jason was interrogating Wolfgang Perner (Austrian Olympic silver medallist) about the latest scandal. Apparently the house where the incriminating blood transfusion equimpent was found was used not only by the cross-country team (as reported), but also by one of the biathletes (Rottman). The other biathletes stayed at the Homestead. Why would they split their team like that??
Sunday 10 March

Sprint race yesterday: feeling good about the shooting, having shot well in training, but concerned about the changeable wind. Felt great from the start: followed Jean-Marc Chabloz all the way round my first loop, passing him towards the end of it, without feeling I was overdoing it. Then missed 3 prone shots - felt I was shooting well, but fooled by the wind yet again: all 3 misses close on the right. Standing I held on too long for one shot and missed it (it is almost always better to shoot faster standing).

All the way, although I felt good, I did not feel like going flat out, and enduring the suffering that that involves. Perhaps due to the very few races I have done this year, or just a lack of 'psyching-up'.

Looking at the IOC website, minutes of the hearings for Danilova, Lazutina and Muehlegg: the Russians defended themselves by saying that darbepoetin is not listed as banned. So they think doping that is not specifically banned is acceptable??

And as for the Austrians: their explanation for the used blood transfusion equipment: they extracted a small volume of blood, irradiated it with UV light, and reinfused it, in order to maintain health and prevent illness! An explanation that is incredible, and even if true, still illegal.

The amateurishness of these people is the thing that really astonishes me - leaving evidence lying around, failure to use proper disposal bins for needles, using invalid defences. They deserve to be busted for those alone.

And what of Alain Baxter? In The Economist's Thailand Survey last week they say that methamphetamine abuse is a big social problem there. Where did he take his last holiday?


A good day for us at last: Jason shot clear in the pursuit, rising from 55th to 40th. The first time Jason has ever cleared a 4-shoot race at World Cup level, and the British team's first clean run of the season (at World level). So, heading for a happy end of race party tonight.

11th March, ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki

The amateur spirit lives! Train to Stockholm; overnight ferry to Helsinki; train or bus to Lahti. The first race was originally scheduled for Wednesday (we will arrive midday Tuesday), but we think has been moved to Thursday.

End of race party last night. Had a long chat with Frode Andrésen. He commented that he had seen me skiing and thinks my technique good; but that the Norwegian muscles, which practice from the age of 4, have a big advantage. Discussed whether I will continue in biathlon - a difficult question and one that I have to do a lot of thinking about. Although my goal, the Olympics, is past, I can improve so much more, get so much more out of this sport...

13 March, Lahti, Finland

Lahti: city of 120,000; our hotel is in the centre, a mere 10' jog from the ski stadium with its smart covered grandstand, which is also (at different times of year) a stadium for biathlon, ski jumping, an athletics track and a football pitch; there is even a 50m outdoor swimming pool at the foot of the ski-jumps. According to the tourist bumph, there are 145km of ski tracks within the city, mostly illuminated; 32 ice rinks; 7 museums. Wow.

Staying in our very ordinary-looking hotel are: Russians, Bulgarians, Ukrainians, Austrians, Norwegians, Italians, Lithuanians... and us. It must be good.

It is warm, though: the fresh snow in the streets turning to slush and water, the tracks softening. The race course for tomorrow's sprint is fairly hard, with a lot of climbing and not much gliding. Some difficult decisions over which technique to use.

16 March

Relay race. A shocking course: up the hill, short twiddle round the top, and back down. Temperature up to 8°, and a beautiful sunny day. We had good skis - warm weather is Martin's favourite. Unfortunately... 2 penalty loops for Jason, 1 for Fred, and I was out of touch on the 3rd leg - I dipped for 2 extra rounds, and felt I was skiing OK. Despite our disparate performances on the range, we all finished within 10" of each other.

As I set out for my last loop, the best teams' 4th leg runners were just starting: I was staggered at how much faster than me they were skiing. Of course everyone skis faster on the first loop, and my skis were slowing through the race (this is normal in these conditions). But shocking nevertheless.

It is often striking how we Brits may have very different races, yet end up very close together in the results list. My theory is that this comes from the mental approach that we take: aiming to be best Brit means that we all have the same performance level in mind when we race, and live up to that. You have to have the courage and belief to step outside that familiar context before a great improvement can take place.

We had a pretty similar thing in the Sprint on Thursday: Fred, Jason and I finishing within 7 places.

And another thing: Mike and Ian standing by the track estimated that Marc would be 45" faster than me; in fact I was 5" faster than him.

19 March, on a train between Stockholm & Oslo...

Having caught the train from Lahti to Turku yesterday afternoon, and the ferry to Stockholm overnight.

The World Cup Final in Oslo: a big event, fun, a nice way to end the season - it would be desolate somewhere like Slovakia.

In Oslo

The customs men on the train seemed very sceptical when we said we were going skiing in Oslo. Add so it utrns out: raining, and not a sign of anything frozen. Still, the forecast is apparently for much colder, clear weather.

Wednesday, 20 March, Oslo

Some fresh snow up on the hill, but generally horrible conditions, both for skiing and for shooting: a mixture of fresh snow and slush, so that you never know when your ski is going to shoot forward or stop dead; and a gusting, variable wind.

22 March

A beautiful spring day up on Holmenkollen... took my classic skis around the 16.7km loop, slipping in the slush; then did a little shooting before persuading Ian to join me for a skate around the same loop. Sensational views of Oslo and the Oslofjord from the track. Fell, for the first time this year. Twice.

And I even got given a warm-up suit and race suit by Rossignol - very smart gear, and a good way to make me well-disposed towards them.