Callaghan’s Twins

After the many surprises and adventures in France, the team made its way through the central part of Europe, driving from Bessans, France through Switzerland and onward just across the border into Germany.  Our destination was the small, but typical German town of Oberried.  Oberried is nestled in the famed Black Forest of Germany, just outside the popular University City of Freiburg.  The final hour of our drive there we were greeted by a dusting of snow and to our surprise there was a fair bit of snow in Germany.  This is something very rare for us to experience, seeing that the last three World Cups held in Germany have all gone to backups of back up sites.

The plan was to start our drive from Bessans to Oberreid around 8:00 in the morning on Monday.  Our departure was severely delayed due to a somewhat basic chemistry lesson.  When the temperature at night drops below -25 the chemical properties of diesel go from liquid to a gel-like substance.  Oh and will not allow the vehicle to start!  It was our luck the truck was parked at the top of a hill going into town.  Our first approach was a manly one.  We would start to push the truck down the hill and jump-start it.  The logic was sound, so we became the first entry ever in the 8-man bobsled.  It didn’t work!  Approach number two; pour steaming hot water over the fuel filter to warm it up and pull the warmed diesel through and try to warm up the injectors just that little bit so it would start the motor.  The engine started, ran for a minute or so and cut out, but that would be a great start and within ten minutes the truck was running.  We were on our way after an almost two hour delay.

Tuesday was to be our first ski at the venue… except we were not allowed on the race trails.  That suited us fine; they had actually received a lot of snow the day before and we wondered onto the recreation trails.  It was a ski in paradise!  Fresh, soft powder, freshly groomed, in the Black Forest with all the tree branches sagging under the weight of the snow piled high on them.  It reminded me a lot of skiing on the island.

As much as being reminded of the skiing on the island was wonderful, there was another area that was coming to mind.  The venue for Biathlon and Cross Country skiing for the Olympics and Paralympics – the Callaghan Valley.  The fresh, wet and very humid snow that was here in Germany is what will be expected at the Whistler Olympic Park in March.  But it wasn’t just that day that was to mimic the Callaghan.  Our Cross Country Sprint was the best dry run possible for the Paralympics.  It was a classic Sprint, so it will be one of the races that will happen at the Paralympics.  The temperature at 8:00 in the morning was -4, by race start which was a 10:00 it warmed up to 2 above, and by the time the finals rolled around mid afternoon it was around 10 above.  It had snowed the night before and there was still a lot of humidity in the air.  The clouds had moved on, leaving us with a beautiful sunny and warm day.   It all sounds great, and it was;  however a classic race is already tough to wax for and the changing conditions and being above zero with fresh snow was not making the wax techs job any easier.  That is why we have the best and they nailed it, giving us the best skis in the field.  I can attest to the great skis as I was on rockets three times on my way to an eighth place.  I witnessed the other side of Sprinting that day.  My qualifier was great, but I was put right away into a tough heat and just got through by the smallest of margins and then was eliminated in the semi-final by the eventual winner and third place skiers.

Then the Biathlon Pursuit, my favorite race and the one I wanted to do well.  The weather was the complete opposite.  I think every winter weather condition possible happened that day; we had small and large flakes, dry and wet snow, ice pellets, hail and rain.  Again another great dress rehearsal for March and again the techs prevailed with fast skis.  I shot clean in the qualifying round, and skied really well to finish up in second and wait for it, only 1.79 seconds back.  Then the moment of truth the final, based to some crazy formula to calculate the pursuit start I started third.  I was on fire skiing but had a slight hiccup in both my shootings missing one in each; I put myself into a tough fight to hold my position and fought off a hard charging Ukrainian to the line for third.  Yes, third!  My very first Biathlon World Cup podium.  I am now set and have the confidence needed to do well in Vancouver.   The last race for me for the 2009/2010 World Cup season was the Cross Country 20km.  I had no real expectations for this race, I went out to gain race experience, and I was hoping for a top-12.  Well that changed in a hurry.  It was a tough course, so my main focus was to learn to pace myself.  At the end I would give myself an A for the pacing.  I skied the first three laps really well; I was right on track, catching good skiers and dropping them.  Remember that young Norwegian I mentioned two updates back well, he started behind me and caught up to me, we then skied the remaining three laps together.  We both pushed each other to go faster, it worked.  With a final burst up the last hill, I got ahead and held him off and finished 7th.  I cannot even come close to describe how the race felt.  That was an amazing race for me.  Everything I wanted to accomplish in that race I did; and much more.  I gained so much race experience in those 20km, and those lessons will never go away.  Along with a result I’m extremely proud of.

I now head back to Canmore after a remarkable World Cup trip.  Of the seven races I did; two podiums, five races in the top-5, five races with a top-4 ski time and six races in the top-8.  I will go out on a limb (no pun intended) and say that the past two World Cup weeks have been my best racing so far.

Mark


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