A Merry Norwegian Start

Just as I begin to feel like I have successfully overcome the eight hours of jetlag from Calgary to Norway, I’m back on a plane destined to cross the Atlantic.  The thirteen day trip to Norway was quick but a successful one for myself and the rest of the Canadian team.   It feels good to be heading home, to the Island for Christmas, but still I have my fingers crossed for a blizzard to dump some snow so that I can enjoy the hidden jewel of skiing at Brookvale.  This was the first time I headed overseas for a world Cup before Christmas.  It is a little different and interesting as I got a glimpse of holiday celebrations and decorations in another part of the World.

We were in for another jam-packed World Cup schedule with seven races in nine days. The World Cup began with three Biathlon races; a Saturday, Sunday and the third on Tuesday.  A day off on Wednesday, which then was followed by four Cross Country races in a row.  Though the second race was a Relay so not everyone participated in it there was the option to race.  I was only in Norway for my third day when I was on the starting line of my first race.  The World Cup (WC) season began with a Sprint (a 7.5km race with two bouts of shooting).  I skied a good opening loop but whether it was the nerves of the first race or the jetlag I wasn’t focused enough on my first bout of shooting.  I missed the first shot at 12 o’clock, but normally if I miss I can refocus and go on.  I didn’t do that this bout, got lucky for the next three shots, but finally ran the course of my lack of focus and pulled the fifth shoot to 10 o’clock.  This immediately put me in a World of trouble.  I quickly but not franticly skied the two penalty loops, and was back on course.  I skied a solid second loop.  Where the coaches told me that I missed the first shot at 12 o’clock.  I mention this because that was exactly what I needed to hear to regain that mental sharpness I needed to bring this race back.  I came into the range for the second time, focused, concentrating on the needed information and in my zone.  I laid down and went to work.  Five for five and away I went.  I charged through this final lap, but I had no information to where I was in respect to standings.  After the two misses, I went from going after the win to salvaging a podium, as I skied the final lap I was confident I had managed to stay in third at least.  Therefore I was pleasantly surprised to find out I was second.  A good start to the season, but there was a lot of room for improvement.

The next day was a new format for an old race.  The newer format is very similar to the able-bodied race which I have raced several times before.   This gave me an added boost of confidence.  The Pursuit is a race where the starting order is based on the finishing order of the Sprint.  In IPC there is an additional piece, where each disability gets a predicted race time for the Pursuit, using the predicted times they would start athletes that are more disabled earlier, then add to that the time behind that were from the Sprint.  The final product is a highly debated start order, and those calculations can make or break your race even before you start.  With my second place finish and the remainder of the calculations I would start fourth.  I quickly made my way to third; of the four bouts of shooting I missed a single.  That just wasn’t enough, I had second place in my sights, I closed the gap but could not get to him, finishing in third just four seconds behind second place.

I was slipping down the standings, but I refused to slip any further.  Tuesday would be the next race.  The Individual was the next race, a shooters race, though you need the endurance to stay in the game, or even be able to out-ski  the minute penalty for a missed shot.  Based on the splits I was second after the first kilometer but after finishing my first bout of shooting I had the lead and only kept building on it.  I would take my first Biathlon victory of the new season by over a minute and a half.  I also earned the red leaders’ bib, so I will start in red at the next World Cup.

Thursday would be the start of the Cross Country races, first up was a 20km free.  I did not race; it was never in the plan for me to race.  Friday would be my next race; the Relay.  This was the first time a Relay would be held at a WC.  The Relay format was completely redone in order to allow more teams to participate.  Brian, Colette and I were all eager to team up and give this new format a try.  Brian started us off with a strong classic leg, I was next flying through the 2.5km skating leg.  I tagged off to Colette so she could tackle the second classic leg.  As Colette finished her leg Brian took off for his skating leg.  A best ever Relay finish for Canada with a second place.  It was a tough day, with the short course; you just go as hard as you can.  That 2.5km felt harder than the 12.5km I had done on Sunday.

As Colette and Brian raced in the Sprint race; their third race in as many days.  I prepared for the final race the 10km classic race on Sunday.  I worked with Laurent our grip specialist to narrow down the choice of skis to a couple that I would then test the morning of the race.  Sunday’s race was on a climbing course and with the strong wind gusts filling the tracks with fresh snow; it wasn’t the easiest classic race.  I would finish 11th, which for me is a huge improvement.  Then there were the ‘insider’ improvements where I was much closer to the guys that I have compared myself to over the past few seasons.  I had a few sections of the course where I was skiing as well as or better than the best guys.  Now the work begins as I try to extend those sections as well as increase the number of them.  Eventually I will have an entire race where I’m skiing with the best.   The classic race was my fifth and final race for this Sjusjoen World Cup.

Overall this was a very successful WC trip.  A complete set of the podium placing’s in the Biathlon races, the Red Leaders’ Bib, along with a relay medal and proof of some solid improvement in classic.  Now it’s time to get back to Canada for the holidays and a short break before we get right back into it and start preparing for the meat of the season.

I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a grand New Year!  Hoping the holidays provide you and your families with joy and plenty of snow!

Mark


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