World Championships Khanty-Mansiysk part III – What a Year it Has Been

The 2010-11 season is in the history books and will go down as a year that can only be dreamt of.  With four World Cup seasons under my belt and my first Paralympic Games, I had two third place finishes at World Cup.  One Cross Country and one Biathlon.  With an awesome year of training behind me, I looked forward to the World Cup season.  I was hoping to continue improving on previous results with a goal to land on the podium three or four times throughout the season.  I got the year off to a stellar start, with a second in the first Biathlon race of the season.   That result was a total shock to me and to everyone involved.  I felt very natural on the range, which showed in my shooting not only in that first race but for the entire season.  The final shooting percentage was 97%, 155 hits out of 160 shots in International competition.  There were a few costly misses, the first being in the second Biathlon race.  I struggled in the morning’s race but clean shooting in the afternoon part of the race led to a third place and my second podium for the year.  The third Biathlon race will be one that sticks with me for some time.  For one reason, it was my first World Cup victory, a huge milestone.  The second reason was how I won that race.  I believe there is no such thing as the perfect Biathlon race, but this one was as close as I have ever been.  The skiing felt great, the boards were rockets, I loved the course and I paced the entire race bang on.  Pinging the metal for 20 clean hits, everything seemed to come together and resulting in a huge accomplishment in a relatively young season.  In Finland I was three for three for Biathlon podiums and second in the overall points.

That ended the first part of the season, which meant it was back to Canmore for two weeks, recover and train for the second competition block of back-to-back World Cups in Sweden and Germany.  My red hot shooting continued for the Sprint in Sweden adding another ten clean hits.   The Swedish cold tried to put a chill on my shooting and it succeeded somewhat.  Having my worst shooting race of the season, missing two shots in the Individual.  Two more Biathlon races led to two more podiums, I was second in the Individual and first in the Sprint.  The win in the Sprint gave me the unique opportunity of racing the Individual in the Red Leader’s bib.  Things heated up as the World Cup circuit headed to its third and final site.  The weather in Germany was much warmer, but that wasn’t the only thing hot.  My second in the Swedish Individual had dropped me to second in the overall, a mere ten points back.  It was going to be a tight battle for first place in the overall and would be decided by the two remaining races.  The first German Biathlon race was a Pursuit.  Shooting clean in the qualifier would hand me the fastest time in the qualifier and a great start for the afternoon’s final.  I took full advantage of that, closing the gap in half over the first loop, dropping five targets and closed the gap as I entered the range for the second time.  Dropping five targets again, I got up and went for it.  I took my third victory of the season and a commanding 40 point lead in the overall.  But it was not to be.  Illness struck hard the day before the final Biathlon race and I had to make a choice; either don’t start and settle for second or go in fighting and see how things shake up.  In the end it was a bit of both.  I started the race and hit all ten targets but could not ski a competitive time and finished 10th, second overall by four points.  I did everything I could in that race.  Sure I was disappointed but there was no reason to be.  At 21 I had just finished second overall for Biathlon, heck I was 12th the year before.  I was racing amongst guys that could all double my years on the circuit.  It also didn’t come down to the last race; I could have sealed the deal by simply missing one less shot earlier in the season.  To finish the year with three victories (one in each race format), two second place finishes and a third.  Six out of seven Biathlon races found me on the podium.  An incredible season!

It was time to get back to Canmore for a few weeks for training for the final event of the year, World Championships in Khnaty-Mansiysk, Russia.  The first race was the Biathlon Pursuit, a miss in the qualifier set me back to finishing fourth in the morning and it would go on to hinder my afternoon.  I would fight to get back onto the podium but would end up just short.  The podium was separated by 5.4 seconds and I would finish ten seconds behind the winner.  I was pleased with that start to the World Championships.  My second race in Russia was the 20km classic.  The weather would play a huge role in this race as the conditions were quite difficult to wax for.  Our boys got it right and I skied to a 10th finish which was one of my best Long distance races.  I struggled to find my speed for my third race, the Biathlon Sprint.  A single miss dropped me from a possible third to sixth.  I was disappointed with that.  After a pretty deep heart to heart with my coach I changed my approach.  I had been too caught up in the results.  I wanted the result, I wanted a World Championship medal badly and I was unfortunately allowing that to distract my performance.   In the final race, the Biathlon Individual, I still struggled to find my top speed but I gave it everything I had in the challenging slushy conditions.  I found my edge again in the range, I had been one of the better shooters over the World Championships but I wasn’t 100% myself (probably 99% or so).  Shooting 20 for 20, I would ski myself to a very satisfying fourth place.  I left Khanty-Mansiysk without any hardware but a lot of lessons learned and an incredible experience.  My worst Biathlon result this year was my best from the last World Championships.  I would have loved to be bringing home some bling but it was my best World Champs.  It took four years at least to get to where I am now and I just have to be patience, it will come when I’m ready.

As important as the results at the end of the year are how you got there is far more crucial.  Training with Rocky Mountain Racers has been such a huge benefit to me.  The results I was able to achieve this year are in large part due to the training, support and motivation I received from RMR.  I mentioned earlier this year, the two ways of getting better; one is consistently being chased so in order to stay on top to you push yourself ahead.  The other way is to fight your way from behind to catch up.  That was exactly what I did this year.  Right away when I started training with the club I knew that it was going to make a huge difference.  I was just another athlete; I didn’t have a disability just a different way to do some things.  Working with the club wasn’t just a benefit for me but for the other athletes as well.  I can remember during the spring when we were doing a lot of strength work.  Everyone else could do chin ups, I couldn’t.  Just that simple fact made me want to try, even if it were just one at first I wanted to do a chin up.  Then it came to one handed push-ups, I rocked those and it gave me the opportunity to help the others.  One of the keys of this season’s success lies in the fact I could shoot almost every day.  Sure we had tests and competitions during training where we all tried to be the best, but that also existed in the everyday training.  One day one athlete would be the best on the next day it could be someone else.  It’s not just that I trained with athletes my age, or able-bodied athletes it was that I was training with the best in Canada.  Scott had an incredible season it started with fantastic results on the IBU Cup.  Then he set records at Canada Games winning four Gold medals, the most any single athlete has ever done.  Another teammate Aaron became the first skier to qualify for both Biathlon and Cross Country World Juniors in the same year.  He then wrapped up his season with four National titles.  These are only two of the many incredible athletes that I have the opportunity to train with.  The club is extremely dedicated to its athlete.  John and Luke do everything they can to offer the most competitive program in Canada.  That doesn’t stop at the coaches, all the parents are always there helping out and cheering everyone in the club on.  The parents and supporters are the ones that make the Rocky Mountain Racers’ program so successful.  A big thanks to every one of them.

I give a lot of credit to this single year, but that’s not the truth either.  My success is the accumulation of the past four years both training and competitions.  The over 2000 hours I’ve trained has now built an endurance base.  This allows me to train longer, harder which then allows me to get better.  The racing experience has taught me a lot.  How to react to the changing conditions, whether that is how to overtake another athlete or segment the course to discover the best plan of attack to gain seconds on others and not lose them.  It has been four years of technique that I now have a satisfactory base upon which I can improve further on over the next few years.  Six years of shooting has given me the confidence and skill to shoot clean in any circumstance.  I can lie down on a mat and instantly judge whether I need to adjust my sights or not (which was required quite often in Khnaty-Mansiysk).

Support can come in some many different ways.  Cross Country Canada has given incredible amount of support over the years and without them I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be where I am.  They provide the resources and opportunities to train and succeed.  Family support, we all know it’s there but I don’t think it’s recognized enough.  Whether it’s encouraging words after a tough of race or training or a training partner for an intensity session (thanks Menno for that awesome intensity day on the Red Rec).   Family is one of the biggest pillars that support the best athletes in the World.  Being from the East Coast you are bought up helping each other out.  In severe snow storms when one farmer helps out another, when neighbors come to together and help out in times of hardship (like the day after my accident several people showed up offering to help out in any way they could on the farm, most had never worked on a farm before).  I again witnessed this kindness early this year.  I was out East over Christmas and there happened to be an Atlantic Cup the first weekend in January in Charlo.  I contacted the race organizers and asked if I could come and compete, as my brother and dad were already planning on going.  They instantly said yes, no hesitation.  I credit those races for the confidence I had at the first World Cup event.   I had two great races there and that boost in confidence lasted I’m sure to the first Biathlon race in Finland.

As I wrap this review of the year up, I think it’s time for me to say my Thanks.  But where do I beginning?  My coaches Robin, Kaspar and John, your advice and countless years of knowledge have guided me to where I am now and I hope that we can continue and reach unthinkable heights.  To the techs, you guys are the best!  The skis are always fast and the grip solid, you work endlessly and deserve a huge Thanks.  So to you Ian, Bruce and Laurent, Thanks.  To Bjorn, first thanks for the skis in Sweden and Team Leader skills at World Champs.  Thanks to Joanne for relieving all those sore muscles.  It’s impossible to ski fast without the best boards, for that I trust in the red, blue and yellow of Salomon skis and boots.  I may only use one pole but I rely on that one much more and I put all on weight on Leki poles.  To everyone at RMR thank you and I want you to know I look forward to another year of working with you all.  To every single person that has supported me in any way over the years I say THANK YOU, without you I could not do what I do.

I’m heading back to Canada for some time off, an opportunity to recover after a busy year.  I will look back over the success of this past year and look forward to the next.

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