Italy and Russia are an odd combination but those were the next two stops on tour.  Directly from the World Championships in Solleftea, Sweden I flew to Munich.  From there it was a four hour drive from Munich to Ziano di Fiemme in Italy.  We stayed just above the valley from where the 2013 FIS Nordic World Championships had finished up not three days earlier.  The snow at the race site was melting extremely fast and the snow was very deep and slushy.  Unfortunately the snow wasn’t melting because the sun, more from the rain and nonfreezing temperatures at night.  With the conditions being tough and slow we decided to go a touch higher to Passo Lavaze and ski there.  The amount of snow higher up was impressive.  I had been here for the past three years but this year they had the most snow I’ve seen there.  As well with the World Championships below in the valley the ski center at Passo Lavaze created a bunch of new trails.  Despite the weather being a little miserable, it was a blast to go out and explore these new trails.  Weather wasn’t pleasant but the snow conditions were pretty awesome a little slow at times but still very enjoyable.  Finally on the last two days sun came out for our workouts providing the weather I remembered and had hoped for.  Without much more ado, this training camp was over.  Part two of four of this trip was done.  It was time to drive back to Munich and begin the next part in the tour.

Sochi, Russia was the next destination.  To get there I flew from Munich to Istanbul.  As a complete surprise just before takeoff a stewardess approached me and said that I had received an upgrade to business class.  Score!  This was my first time in Istanbul.  I wish I could have spent some more time there but we arrived late at night.  We could only manage a few moments in the lounge (but those few moments were well worth it, it is the nicest lounge I’ve been to in all my travels).  Next time I hope that we can spend some more time there and be able to enjoy the lounge.  30 minutes after midnight we departed Istanbul for Sochi.  A short but roughish flight to Sochi.  Apparently the Black Sea is a little turbulent to fly over.  At 4:30 in the morning we arrived in Russia.  All our bags arrived, a good thing too because the next flight wasn’t for another two days.   Getting the luggage seemed to take forever, might have had something to do with the fact we had already been traveling for a day or that it was really early in the morning in Sochi and even earlier in Europe.  Anyway once we got our bags then we had to exit the airport.  Followed by repacking all the luggage into several waiting trucks.  In just over an hour driving, which I slept through, we arrived at the Park Inn.  So it’s now around 6:30, the rooms aren’t ready yet, so I had breakfast instead.  Finally I got into my room, so around 8:00 I got into my bed and went back to sleep for the night.

I woke up and started my day with lunch.  That afternoon I spent exploring the area and the race venue.  Getting to the top was an adventure in its self.  From the hotel, we hopped on a shuttle bus for a short drive through town arriving at the gondola base station.  Through a full security checkpoint complete with x-ray machine and metal detector.   Then onto the gondola for the ride up to the top and the Laura Biathlon & Ski Complex.  Another shuttle bus took us from the upper gondola station to the Biathlon stadium.  A short walk from the Biathlon stadium to a snowmobile shuttle up the last climb to the Cross Country stadium.  For the 2014 Paralympics all Biathlon and Cross Country events will be held from the Cross Country Stadium.  Once at the venue everything was well organized and seemed to work well.  Wax cabins were set up on large platforms and functioned well.  That first afternoon and through to the next day there was a lot of work going on.  They were putting the final touches in place as well as rectifying any issues that arose once the teams and athletes arrived.  One of those projects was a boardwalk connecting both wax cabin groups, the athlete’s tent and lounge and the loading area for the shuttles.   The Biathlon range was set up on the edge of the stadium.  It was well done; it looks as clean and official as a full 50m range.  With the range set up the only downside is that it makes the stadium very tight.  The trails are excellent.  For the most part they are wide, the course flows well.  On the Paralympic courses there are a few sections that are narrow, in particular a two way section on the sprint course.  The courses are tough, you always have to work there are no breaks and with the combination of the snow, the Games will be a true test of the fittest skiers.

The schedule for the test event was to be the Cross Country Long distance on Saturday and Sprint on Sunday.  Then the Biathlon Individual on Monday, followed by a day off.  Wrapping up the season with the Biathlon Sprint on Wednesday and relay on Thursday.  As we ate breakfast on Saturday morning the news came down from the venue that the race had been canceled.  Overnight a severe wind storm had blown over 30+ trees onto the course and destroyed several structures at the venue.  The gondola was shut down for the day and the power to the entire venue was rumored to have been knocked out.  As the day went on some of the athletes and coaches staying up top were posting photos.  Trees had even fallen onto a few of the cottages and the trees that had fallen were no saplings either.  The volunteers had to wait until the afternoon before it was safe to start clearing the debris.  Once they started, they worked the rest of the day and into the night to ready the venue.

Sunday morning was the Cross Country Sprint.  The qualifier hurt!  Hitting that course at full tilt right from go wasn’t pleasant.  There were a few mistakes in the race but all I could do was hope it was good enough to make it to the heats.  Just!  Top-12 moved onto the heats and I finished 12th.  I would have another chance to see what I could do on this course.  I felt better while I raced the semi-final, corrected a few of the mistakes and was right in there.  Coming into the last 100m I was fourth (top-3 move onto the final).   With three Russians in front of me, I was closing the gap.  I ran out of speed and trail, having to settle for fourth in the semi and eighth on the day.  I felt I could have been in that final but my focus was now on preparing for the upcoming Biathlon races.  The next day was the Cross Country Long distance race.  I was skipping the distance race.  Earlier in the day I had the opportunity to ski the course and it was an awesome ski.  I felt so pumped up, and I was skiing well.  The following day was the Relay, with the original schedule the plan had been to start a Relay team but it didn’t make sense now with the revised schedule.

Wednesday came around and it was the Biathlon Sprint.  I had a lot of emotion surrounding this race.  As I took my skis off after the race I knew there was a lot to think about.  I made a lot of small mistakes in every aspect of the race, from the preparation, to skiing, on the range, everywhere really.   Fifth, as a result isn’t even bad but I felt more lucky to get that result rather then I had earned it.  The times I had trained on the range, I felt very confident on this range.  In the race I missed twice, both were close but still misses.  I needed to reflect on the day for sure but I also just needed to forget it and prepare for tomorrow’s Individual.  I went back to basics for the next race, focused skiing and clean shooting.  It was a brutally slow day.  I don’t think I have ever pushed so hard and gone so slow in my life.  It slowly progressed into a great race for me.  I was in it from the start, only the eventual winner put a gap into the rest of the field.  My shooting was forced a little but as the race went on it flowed into feeling more natural.  It was almost perfect, with a single miss in the fourth bout.  I was very happy with that shooting.  On the day I would finish third.  A great finish to an awesome year.  With this final third place finish I took the Overall Biathlon title and the Crystal Globe.  Third time the charm, after two season finishing second, I took the extra step to the top of the podium.

Mere hours after receiving my crystal globe I was on the bus from the hotel to the Sochi Airport and beginning an epic travel day back to the red and white.  My destination this time would be the West side of the Rockies and Whistler, for the Haywood Ski Nationals.  That was a marathon travel day.  Starting at 1:00(local Sochi time), taking a bus to the Sochi Airport.   Two hours of scrambling at the airport to check-in I was finally able to sit down in the flying sauna.  Arrive in Istanbul, wait for our luggage, collect our luggage, explore most of the airport in a rushed 20minutes, and repeat the check-in process.  From there we practically walked right onto the flight to London.  Another three hours in a sauna.  We made it to London; finally a breather and a moment to relax.  It was a pleasant layover before the final segment of the travel day.  Departing London at 15:25 (local London time), and arriving in Vancouver at 17:30PDT.  The travel day wasn’t quite over; the team still had to drive from Vancouver to Whistler before calling it a day.  After over 30hours of traveling, 11 hours of time zones, and three flights I had traveled half the globe in a single calendar day.  Needless to say I was very tired and near useless.

Stay tuned for the adventures with jetlag….

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