Friday, January 29, 2010

IBU Cups, World Cups, and The European Champs

The month of January flew by and we're now heading into the home stretch of the season. Post Olympic trials I had to do a quick turn-around to get ready for a second weekend of IBU Cup racing in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. Although very disappointed to be the Olympic Team alternate and not actually getting to compete in Vancouver, being successful as an athlete requires moving forward regardless of wins or losses. This was no different. The races in Nove Mesto were combined with the racing in Alternberg to determine which US skier would prequalify for the U26 European Championships to be held early March in Estonia. We had two races in the CR and I posted my best international results to date. In the 20km Individual race I finished in 36th place and in the 10km sprint broke into the top-30 with a 29th place finish. My results were good enough to move me into first place on the points list, which prequalified me for the trip to Estonia! I was very happy to nail the racing in Czech!

The Shooting Range in Nove Mesto

Based on my results from the racing in Nove Mesto and Alternberg, I was called up to race the World Cup races in Antholz, Italy, a beautiful town located in a long mountain valley in the Dolomites. On the way to Antholz I had opportunity to stop in Ruhpolding, Germany to watch the men's World Cup relay and get a feel for the World Cup. The race was exciting with our men posting a season best 6th place in front of over 25,000 spectators. The picture and video below will give you a little taste of the action.

video

Germany and the Czech Republic have a reputation of being pretty grey during the winter months and while we were there the reputation was lived up to. Italy, however, is on the other side of the Alps and because of this feature tends to get all the sun that Germans wish for. It was great going over the final passes into Italy and being greeted with increasing amounts of sun. The biathlon venue sits at the top of the 20-ish mile long valley like a cherry crowning the perfect sundae. I know, perhaps a cheesy comparison, but it's true. Antholz is the perfect combination of old world charm and modern flare.

The races in Antholz were my first World Cup appearances and I really enjoyed the opportunity. Over 15,000 spectators came out for each of the races so the atmosphere was electric. It's really cool going from the US where only a handful of people show up to an area of the world where biathlon is the most widely televised sport and spectators come out in droves for an all-day party.
The Range in Antholz
Biathlon Stadium - Antholz

I got back in the states just over one week ago and I'll be here for most of February. I have two weekends of North American Cup racing this month and then I'm taking a short trip to Vancouver to watch my girlfriend, Sara, in a couple of her races as well as a couple of the men's races. I leave on the 25th of this month for the European Championships in Estonia and will get to race at least four events there during a two-week period. I'll have some racing after Estonia as well but the final schedule is still up in the air. For now my focus is on nailing the training and racing week by week.
Nothing more to report for a few days, but do be sure to tune in to the Olympic coverage starting on the 14th. Biathlon isn't often televised in the states so I hope you'll take advantage of the opportunity to watch an event or two - I'm confident you'll love it! Speaking of biathlon coverage, in October I helped shoot video for a short feature on biathlon put out by Time.com. If you look closely you can also catch a glimpse or two of me. Check out the video short at http://www.time.com/time/video/player/0,32068,64069733001_1957690,00.html .

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Olympic Trials Update

It has been a whirlwind of a week. I hoped to have more time to update you on the races, but alas the racing and training ended up taking up consuming our time. The weather and skiing in Altenberg spanned the gamut from clear, hard conditions with no wind to stormy soft tracks complemented by snow-storms and some of the nastiest wind I've shot in all year.


The team time trial dawned clear and cool. We arrived at the venue to find perfect hard corduroy tracks and no wind to speak of. There were only the six of us U.S. athletes starting so zeroing, warming up, and getting the race started was a cinch. I felt really solid during the race and was ecstatic to shoot clean on the range. I finished just 9 seconds behind my teammate who has been viewed all year as a lock for the team. That was the second clean shooting race I've had this season, which is more than any other US athlete. My shooting all season has been drastically improved from last year and having two clean races shows that the work I’ve done this year is paying off. Of course, having a clean race in a high pressure situation makes it that much sweeter.


A few hours after the race on Thursday clouds rolled in, snow began falling, and by Friday the conditions were completely changed. On Saturday the tracks were really soft and the wind was randomly coming from every direction, which made zeroing our rifles frustrating and, depending on how you look at it, nearly pointless. In Oberhof, Germany the World Cup athletes encountered very similar conditions, which the U.S. athletes poignantly described as, "a Las Vegas-style lottery." Unfortunately my race Saturday wasn't as smooth as that of Thursday. My legs felt like mush, which didn't help with the skiing and I missed 5 on the range. The other guys also missed 5 or 6 targets as well, which unfortunately put us a ways down the results sheet and out of the running for Sunday’s pursuit (only the top 60 in the sprint race are allowed to start the pursuit).


After the race on Sunday I was in a very close third place on the points list. The first racer was automatically named to the Olympic team and since the 5th spot was by coaches’ discretion, the decision came down to a couple of us men. I’ve been thinking about this day for a very long time and I can tell you the wait for the final decision was horrible. Nothing quite like waiting for a decision and knowing that there is absolutely nothing more you can do to affect the outcome. There’s no way to sugar coat this so I must unfortunately relay to you that the decision didn’t come out in my favor. I’m in the process of regrouping and doing my best to get focused on the remainder of the season, but it’s going to take a few days to get over the disappointment.


I traveled to Nove Mesto, Czech Republic today to get ready for two more IBU Cup races this weekend. I can tell you that it’s quite a process to have to immediately refocus after not achieving the goal I’ve been pursuing as a biathlete for two and a half years and as an athlete for over fourteen. However, I now have a chance to qualify to race at the U26 Championships in Estonia in early March so that’s the next marker for me.


While the season is far from over I do want to take a moment to say a huge thank you to all of you who have supported me in my athletic endeavors thus far and joined with me in this Olympic dream. I’m only the motor that makes the skis move and the bullets fly. Without the continued and generous support of friends, family, fans, and sponsors, my dream of pursuing the Olympics would have never taken flight. I do want to mention my three sponsors for this season as their financial support has made my pursuit possible. I would first like to thank ConocoPhillips, my title sponsor for the season. Dykon Blasting, my cousin’s company in Tulsa, OK, generously gave their support this season. And Larry & Allan, good friends and owners of Alaska’s very own A Wildflower Inn and The Arctic Fox B&B, have been supporting me since I started biathlon. Athletics at all levels is a community event and those communities take many forms. I am proud to represent my home town of Nikiski, the state of Alaska, and my extented community from numerous states and countries around the world. You're the best!


Just so I’m clear, I may not have made the team this year, but this season is only half gone and 2014 isn’t that far away. I’ll be back for more!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

'Turkeys' in Germany

Just a quick update to say that everything is going well here in Altenberg, Germany. I arrived Sunday night after a 9-hour drive from Ruhpolding through holiday traffic and a raging snow storm (apparently the drive is supposed to take about six). I was here at the IBU Cup last year so it's fun being back at the same hotel and venue. Snow has been a little thin but the organizers are doing a commendable job getting the courses ready for the racing this week.

Tomorrow is our first of three races. We'll be racing just amongst the American athletes in a 10 km team time trial and then this weekend we'll be mixed in with a very large field. As of now there are 166 entries for Saturday's race so the course and range will be busy. I'm excited to race after nearly a two week break since the races in Minnesota.
Unfortunately the battery charger for my camera decided to die on me so I'm up a creek until I can find some batteries. I did manage to get one picture from a friend taken on the border of Germany and the Czech Republic yesterday. Check out the sweet pants! Usually our team apparel is navy blue but for reasons yet unknown we are sporting turquoise this year - or 'turkeys' as our German staff usually says. The whole incident has made for some great ribbing. Not that we don't like the gear, but it's just funny to be running around looking like we're from some far-flung eastern European country. Much as the 'new' color is a refreshing addition to our navy gear we've already been told to soak it up this year because we'll be back to blue next season.
That's all for now, but please check back in the days to come. In the mean-time I'll be racing and looking for some batteries...

Friday, January 1, 2010

Minnesota, Alaska, & Germany

The last month has been a blur. From our on-snow training camp in Canmore I traveled to Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Now, I'm sure MN is a great place to live, but I seem to have the worst luck when 'visiting' for races. Last year during the IBU Cup trials races we had extremely cold weather that canceled one of the five races and made the other four less than comfy.
This year, as luck would have it, we had a nearly identical repeat save for the fact that we were able to race all five scheduled events. We raced a 10 and 15km the first weekend and then a 10, 12.5, and another 10km the following weekend. The entire race series was a lot of fun, but that much racing is taxing, especially when the temps hover around or below zero degrees. Anticipating the cold weather I was amply prepared with all the cold weather gear I could get in my luggage and that saved me - for the most part.
This year's MN race series was the first round of the US Olympic Trials process. Of the five races, each athlete's best three of five races were scored and added and the top four male and female athletes at the end of the series earned a trip to Germany to race in the final round of trials to determine who will fill the remaining Olympic slots. In the first 10K sprint race I finished third. The 15K Mass Start was a tough and very cold race. I shot well and skied even better and came out with a narrow win. I mentioned earlier that I nearly made it through the races unscathed. That's because the 15km proved to be colder than the other four races. I came out with frostnip on two fingers and an ear. Not too bad all things considered.
In the second weekend of racing I was again able to post some solid results. In the 3rd race, another 10km sprint, I finished in second place. The 12.5km pursuit was another good day and I landed on the podium again with 3rd place. The final race of the series, yet another 10km sprint, I narrowly beat out another athlete for 3rd place making it five for five on the podium. I was the only athlete to podium in all five races and also had one of the best shooting percentages for the series with 80%. Having only been in biathlon for two and a half years I was very pleased to ski and shoot so well and am especially excited to have qualified to race in Germany.

Following the trials in MN I traveled home to Alaska to spend a few very quick days with my family. I don't get to be home very often and I haven't been with my family for Christmas in three years so it was very special to spend the holidays in AK. Early this week I flew from Anchorage to Munich, Germany to get back to training. I've been training in the Bavarian town of Ruhpolding, home to one of the most well known biathlon venues in the world. We arrived to spring-like conditions. There has been plenty of snow at the venue thanks to lots of early snow-making and stockpiling by the organizers, but the training was pretty slushy for a few days. After Minnesota's ridiculously cold weather, having a few days at 40 degrees was a welcome change. Seeing green grass in the fields, although a little weird at this time of year, was also pretty cool.
Ruhpolding's Chiemgau Biathlon Stadium

Training here has been a lot of fun. Several of the German and Norwegian national team athletes are here as well and busloads of people have been showing up just to watch training. It's somewhat comical that at times there are more spectators watching training here than come to our races in the states. Hopefully with the positive trajectory the US Team is on that will start changing this year.

My training this week has been more fine-tuning. I put in some good volume and made sure to get in speed and strength as well. A pretty typical week for the most part. As of today it's less than one week now to the first race. I haven't raced in about two weeks so I'm really looking forward to getting back in the start pen. There was rumor that a lack of snow in Alternberg, Germany might force a change of venue to Austria, but the rumors were never realized. Snow has been thin in most parts of Germany for a while now but a huge storm rolled in last night and we woke this morning to several inches of fresh snow and as of this evening had accumulated around 6 inches and counting. Spring to full-on winter in less than 24 hours!

Of course, one of the benefits to racing in Europe is the occasional opportunity to check out the beautiful architecture and fun cultural novelties. The cute little inn where we're staying this week opened its doors in 1414 and it appears that many of the other structures in the town may date from a similar time period. Coming from a state where there are very few structures older than 100 it's neat to see buildings over 500 years old that are still functional. New Year's Eve was pretty chill for us athletes. I had every intention of getting to sleep relatively early. However, the townspeople in the area had a very different idea. At midnight I woke to strobe like flashes on the ceiling and explosions everywhere. It's customary in the states for towns to have firework displays on New Year's Eve and for some citizens to even light off a few bottle rockets. This was truly unlike anything I've ever seen. I contemplated pulling a pillow over my head to drown out the noise and lights, but then decided that I had to go see what was going on. From a small balcony a couple of my friends and I watched the most amazing fireworks display I've ever seen. Just as a side note, I watched a New Year's fireworks display from the roof of the Dunes Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas that culminated with the implosion of the entire complex at midnight and I've seen several other similar displays since then. But, the displays here came from every hill and street in and around the town. I've never seen anything like it. People everywhere were shooting off rockets and the sky was filled with a huge simultaneous display that lasted nearly half an hour. To add to the beautiful colors was the fact that safety seemed to be only marginally important. Nobody got hurt that we heard about but one misdirected rocket ricocheted off our hotel and went off next to our team bus full of all the skis. Another rogue rocket bounced off a couple of buildings before exploding beautifully a few feet above the river across the street. I saw some huge rainbow trout in there a few days ago and have to wonder if any of them were stunned by the explosion. Regardless, the colors were amazing and I'd come for New Years in a heart beat. The fuzzy picture below will give you a taste of the craziness
Tomorrow we head to Altenberg via the Autobahn. Speaking of which - sure would like to have an Audi Quattro for a day to zip around on the Autobahn (I should probably focus on finding some basic wheels though before I dream too much about an Audi). A guy can dream though, right? :) Anyway, the trip is only a couple of hours so we'll be settled in by late afternoon. Early next week is a little more fine-tuning on the range and tracks and then racing gets underway on Thursday. We'll race a 10km on Thursday, another 10km on Saturday, and a 12.5km pursuit on Sunday. Monday the 11th the remaining spots on the team will be named. Stay tuned in the coming days for more pictures and updates. Thanks for reading!

Happy New Year!