For the past seven months I’ve been training extremely hard for the 2009/10-competition season. Today was officially the first chance to put all of that hard work to the test. Continental Cup number one in Park City, Utah, featured close to sixty athletes from 13 nations trying to prove themselves to each other. It was an epic battle of man versus man, man versus ski jump and finally man versus cross country course. Oh, I almost forgot, man versus mother nature. This is how it went down.
In a typical World Cup or Continental Cup weekend we will have official training on Friday that consists of 3 jumps on the competition hill in the morning and cross country course inspection and training in the afternoon. Mother nature was gracious as it was a bluebird sky, but quite chilly at somewhere around -15 degrees. It was quite nice conditions for flying, but not so nice for running around in spandex.
Friday was smooth at the venues, but not so smooth back at the hotel. During equipment preparation that evening I did manage to get myself into a bind after breaking 5 needles on my sewing machine while the Russian team lined up in my room waiting for a favor. But, I’ll save that nightmare for another time. I also did not have a pleasant experience with the fish at dinner. Albeit, it tasted wonderful on my lips, it didn’t quite have the same positive relationship with my stomach. I really need to look into getting my own personal chef while on tour.
We awoke this morning, Saturday, to about 6” of fresh snow and much warmer weather conditions. As soon as we arrived at the ski jumps at 7:45 am we were notified that the organizing committee anticipated very challenging weather for Sunday and therefore we would do an extra competition jump today to avoid the possibility of having a competition cancelled tomorrow. That means that we would have a practice jump at 9am, a competition jump at 10am for Saturday’s race, and another jump at 11am for Sunday’s race. Better hope that you brought your “A Game” when this scenario develops. It would not be a good thing to have an off day and essentially screw up two days. I was personally a little concerned if I had, in fact, brought my “A Game” after lingering stomach cramps from the bad fish and some last minute equipment issues. Nonetheless, I focused on the task at hand, followed my regular routine and jumped to the middle of the pack amongst a very talented group of ski jumpers. I would say that “man” won in man versus ski jump. The competitions went off rather smoothly many long jumps and only one crash. My rank for the two competitions after the jumping portions was 29th for competition one and 30th for competition two.
Upon completion of the two competitions the race was on to Soldier Hollow, approximately 30 minutes away, to make all of the necessary ski preparations for the cross country races. Nothing like the chaos of 13 teams, all of which are late due to the addition of an extra competition jump to the program, racing through the Uintah mountains in heavy snowfall. The hurry was further intensified by the fact that ski selection would have to be re-evaluated due to the significant change in weather since the previous day’s course inspection. If you can remember from my last blog, I carry 8 pairs of skis in my bag for various conditions. There was a strong chance that what worked yesterday wouldn’t cut it today.
Fortunately, the race committee granted us an extra half hour and pushed the start back to 2:30 pm. I was psyched as this would give my stomach another 30 minutes to tackle that fish. The snow continued to fall and drape over the course and that extra time only made me hungrier for the anticipated agony of the hardest cross country course I would ever race. Starting in 29th I was already ranked as I was in the top 30, and now I just wanted to climb higher in that ranking. I knew that it would take patience, as the course had an overwhelming amount of climb, technical downhill corners, and to top it off it was at high altitude during a blizzard. The race was 7 x 1.5km laps. Sure the first six and a half laps were difficult, but I have never been able to dig as deep as I did on the last crazy climb. I was extremely motivated to catch two American colleagues in the last few hundred meters and I did just that. Every muscle had ceased to work, I couldn’t see anything whatsoever, and my skis wanted to go everywhere but where they belonged. The crazy thing is that I still had a fast and difficult downhill (very technical with rollers) to negotiate in the hysterical blizzard. I barely managed to stay on my feet, but when I crossed that finish line I was in 8th place and that relieved the helluva lot of pain I was experiencing. On this day I would have to give the victory in “man versus course” to the course, but I definitely put up a good fight.
So, if you were able to follow this I’m sure you will appreciate your Sunday tomorrow while I do it all over again. The fun thing is that on Monday, my birthday, I hop on a plane to Austria to compete in three World Cup races next weekend. Our team’s goal is for me to be in a world of hurt right now as part of the preparation leading into Vancouver. One race down and I think that we’ve already met that goal. I love this stuff!