It was only a matter of time before I knew that my shape that I had had in Cable, Wisconsin would fade away.  To be on such a high peak there usually follows a fair ‘crash’ in shape.  I was fortunately enough to slow down that crash with some terrific training in Canmore over the following four weeks.  The conditions were unbelievable.  It was sunny almost every day with the temperatures usually reaching above zero, but still freezing at night.  The trails at the Nordic Centre were in great shape, maybe a touch worn out because there hadn’t been any new snow in several weeks.  It was still great skiing.  Then again skiing everywhere else was unbelievable as well!  Lake Louise, Cascade Fire Road, Mt. Shark,  Kananaskis Country and Goat Creek were all in great condition.

The first week was a pleasant recovery week.  As much as this week was about recovering from the past few weeks of training and World Cup it acted as a prep week for the final training block.  A training block that would end with the World Championships in Sweden, the World Cup test event in Sochi and finally Nationals in Whistler.  With this heavy competition block coming up I needed to get some volume in.  I really enjoyed the next three weeks.  Some of the best skis I’ve ever had and I was focused on my training and preparation for the upcoming races.  If things couldn’t get any better it dumped snow with about a week left before I departed.  Now great skiing turned into tremendous skiing everywhere.  Bluebird skies, warm sun and endless trails, this was my life for the final week of this training block.  Not bad eh!

The last week seemed to fly by, suddenly I realized I needed to start packing and getting everything organized before I left.  On February 21, I left Calgary, flying through Frankfurt, Stockholm and arriving in Sundsvall, before a short drive to Solleftea, Sweden.  A quick two days at the site to prepare before the first race of the 2013 IPC Para-Nordic World Championships.  The first race was a classic sprint.  On the morning of, I felt pretty good despite a fair dose of jetlag.  The qualifier went well, finishing seven, but it hurt.  The body wasn’t quite ready for that. I probably needed that hard intensity to shake off some of the jetlag.  I prepped for the semi-final.  Starting this year semis and finals would now have six racers starting compared to the four starters previously.  In my semi-final I started with four others, which was pretty cool.  I got off to a great start and about 300m into the course I was comfortably in second position.  Coming into a corner I tried to stay aggressive and as I set my ski down it bit, meaning it stopped, the grip wax stuck to the snow in a bad in way.  It threw my balance and I came crashing down.  I was quick back on my feet but I had lost the group and now was really chasing.  I did well enough to get back to the trail end of the group. At this point I tightened up as I panicked to get back into the group, when I should have instead just relaxed.  Over the top and into the finish stretch I was not in great shape.  My legs had nothing else more to give.  Jetlag was catching up as well as the fall.  I finished sixth in my semi and finish the day in 12th.  Not a great start to Worlds but there was more to come and this would be the worst (I hoped) of the jetlag and associated symptoms.

I had two days off before a rapid succession of four races in five days.  Next up were the Biathlon races and first the Sprint.  This race would end up being one of the best races I have ever done!  I was super relaxed beforehand, had a good zero.  I was ready to go.  As I stepped up to the start line I was in my own world, there was nothing else- it was quiet, tranquil, and finally a soft ‘beep’…  I stepped through the starting wand and the race was on.  I had the privilege to start last as the World Cup leader, as well as being in the red bib.  I’m not even that sure what happened during this race but it all fell into place.  The race seemed to blurr by.  I did realize I missed a shot in the first bout, but was quickly through the penalty loop and on course charging once again.  Before I could even think I was approaching the range again, when my coach tells me I’m leading by 10sec.  A flash of white after I hit all five targets and this was the first time I remembered thinking anything. I asked myself ‘how badly do I want this?’ Whatever I had left I put into that final lap.  Just before the final approach, my coach says I have 15sec ahead of second place.  I kept pushing.  I could reach out and touch that gold.  Just before the finish there is a very steep climb.  The snow on the hill was like climbing up a sand dune.  It never seemed to end.  But just like that I was across the finish line and had the fastest time of the day by more than 20sec.  I couldn’t believe it, I had won!  I was World Champion, it was my first World Champs medal and it was going to be gold.  It was almost surreal, that race hadn’t felt real but the result was real enough.  Later that evening as I had the medal around my neck and looked up to see the Canadian flag flying the highest.  That was the moment it hit me, of what I had done!

One of the hardest things to do is have an incredible race and repeat that the following day, that was now my challenge in the Biathlon Middle distance.  I would miss a single target of the 20 shots, which was a solid result considering the challenging wind conditions.  I made the mistake of starting too slowing and thinking I could build from there.  I was tired from yesterday’s effort and the previous training.  I should have started hard and see if I could hold on.  I still need to learn things like that.  I would have to fight till the end and surprisingly held onto a third place finish.  The following day was a rest day for me to recover from the two great races and prepare for the final biathlon race the Individual.  After two great results but two very different races in regards to my focus, I knew how I wanted to approach this final race.  The wind died down to barely a whisper, meaning everyone would be in this race because the shooting would be easy.  I started hard and with a high tempo to keep the speed throughout the race.  My shooting had to be on as well. I shot clean in the first bout, a slight slip in the second left me with a minute penalty and the last ten shots were all hits.  Hitting 19 out of 20 was a great result and I skied as hard as I could.  The first two races the podium had consisted of the same three guys.  However that changed in the final Biathlon race.  The sprint podium was myself, followed by two Ukrainians.  The middle distance was the same two Ukrainians then me.  The Individual… a Norwegian, a Frenchmen then me.  I finished third, but I was the only skier to have been on the podium for all three races.

I was extremely impressed with how the World Championships ended for me.  Two years ago in Khanty-Mansiysk, I left there wanting more, two fourths and a sixth place in the Biathlon races.  Close but no bling.  After two great years of training to leave with three medals, and one being a World Champion title, still puts a smile on my face when I think about it.  The Championships may have ended but the trip is only beginning.  Next stop is Val di Fiemme for a training camp in Italy, finger crossed for blue skies and sunshine.  After that we travel to the final World Cup of the season in Sochi, Russia.  It will serve as the test event before next year’s Paralympic Games.  Then to cap off the season we head to the host venue of the 2010 Paralympics, Whistler for Nationals.  Stayed tuned for the next update after Italy and Russia…

Mark


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