The team spent a few days longer enjoying the simple pleasures of being a cross country skier. This training camp was one of the best I have ever attended for multiple reasons. It offered an opportunity for ideal training as we prepared for the World Championships. The hotel was incredible, and that includes the food, they did have a few interesting choices but they were all tasted fabulous. The added bonus of the great weather was that it made it very easy to overcome jetlag, one of the biggest objectives for the camp. We wrapped up the camp with a great intensity session that brought the team together in a very unique way but always catered to each individual allowing them to get the most benefit in preparation for the following week’s competitions. With that we packed up and headed from the memorable valley of Val di Fiemme (with hopes to return one day) and drove back to Munich. We would spent the night at the airport hotel and begin World Champions by catching a four hour long charter flight to Khanty-Mansiysk.
During the week there were many jokes and laughs of what was to be expected, or not to expect once we arrived in Siberia or even the travel to Khanty-Mansiysk. The intensity of these jokes increased as we got closer to the day we left and were at a fever pitch on the day we travelled. I would love to say that these were mere jokes but there were some that unfortunately held some truth. Arriving at the airport, wax tech Bruce and I unloaded the van and began organizing the team’s luggage to make the checking in process as painless as possible. Though, as with all travel it still took a lot of waiting and some patience but once we were going it was relatively quick and easy. Boarding the plan was where things got interesting. The plan was not brand new, far from it actually. Best guess is somewhere from the 70’s, or so I’m told, I wasn’t around then and have nothing to really compare it to. Someone, half-jokingly wondered where the personal entertainment system was. My seat itself was the best seat I have ever had on a flight, or at least in the top-3. I was in the emergency exit row, which means that the row in front of me didn’t exist. I essentially had a complete row of leg room. A good round of laughs arose when someone’s arm rest came completely off and we were just passing it around. Then to add to the laughter the Italians sitting a couple of rows behind pulled out a roll of duct tape and said that he thought he might need it.
To my surprise and most other’s we left on time. I had heard previous stories of departures delayed up to three and a half hours. As we pushed back one of the most hilarious things ever happened. One of the team members looked outside and saw a group of a dozen or so grounds workers from the airport standing together (in their high-visibility jackets) taking pictures. We thought that was a bit odd, until someone said they were taking pictures of a plane that couldn’t possibly fly- a kind of before the ‘crash’ happened photo. Well that sent everyone around laughing, and to add to our laughter as we started to taxi they are scattered into their cars and drove off, of course someone else piped in that they were now racing for cover. The lighthearted atmosphere continued with some applauding as the wheels left the ground. That was enough joking the flight wasn’t that bad, really. We had noticed that the flight attendants hadn’t smiled at all since we boarded the plane, suddenly that had changed as they walked through the plane serving lunch. And what a lunch it was, it was huge, in comparison to other in-flight meals. The flight continued without issues, but the joking had a resurgence as we began our approach into Khanty-Mansiysk. “Damn the pilot flew in the wrong direction we are landing in Saskatchewan!” was one of the quotes. This was because as we declined all we saw was an endless snow covered field.
An astonishing fact was that as we landed at 20:00 it was still light out. Our arrival was much of the same, organized but annoying as we had to wait for this or that. All the bags had arrived and all the skis, wax boxes and rifles were taken directly to the race venue. The only bags we had ourselves were our duffel bags. We got our rooms and moved in. With a long day of traveling behind us we were all looking for some supper and then try to get some sleep. We started supper at 22:30 and the next morning we found out that the earliest some got to sleep was midnight.
The next morning was relaxed enough for the athletes as we gained our bearings and figured out where everything was. If we were to ask the staff I’m sure they would say it wasn’t relaxed as they set up the wax room and organized the finer details that would allow the rest of the week to run smoothly. I went for a really easy ski, exploring the trails and shot on the range. This day was used to familiarize yourself with everything and learn the characteristics or personality of the range. Yes, each range has its own personality. The one here in Khanty-Mansiysk is a trickster. It was a supposedly calm day for wind, yet there was still a slight breeze rolling through. What was weird is that the wind didn’t look or feel that bad but it was moving the pellets a surprising distance. Usually you can feel the wind on your cheek if it picks up or drops but not here. To add to the difficulty each of the 12 lanes on the range seems to have different wind conditions, from stronger or no wind to complete opposite direction. Besides the wind it is an amazing range and I look forward to competing on it.
The day was capped off with the Opening Ceremonies. An incredible show of lasers, choreography and stunning performances. It wasn’t over-the-top but impressive all at the same time. Even on the way to the ceremonies we experienced some of the culture here in Siberia. Khanty-Mansiysk is an oil town, so with that there is money here; this was evident with the hockey arena and recreation center next door. The arena was brand new and is host to one of the best KHL teams in Russia, and with its design could, dare I say, put most arenas in Canada to shame. With that said, the houses and apartment buildings we passed on the way to the arena simply studded me. To think that people lived in, essentially what appeared to be wooden shacks. Like they say don’t judge a book by its cover- I haven’t been inside any of these houses so it may not be fair for me to say but I’ve seen abandoned buildings in better repair. It’s the way of life here and with the oil flowing who knows where this town will be in a few years. It was only 20 years that Khanty-Mansiysk was only a small town with nothing. Now the population is somewhere between 60 to 90 thousand, with fifteen thousand of those being University students. Incredible. Then comes the looks of the town. I mentioned the shack-looking houses then you have the very modern arena. Some of the churches look like they came right out of Hollywood depicting a Russian city. The town is a mixture of everything. You have the poverty along with old and new wealth; there is the old, the rundown and the stunning brand new. Last night we saw an attraction for mammoths and other prehistoric animals and then you think out the surroundings, I’m not sure but I would think you could see wolves, bears, and caribou, reindeer maybe even a tiger, who knows. It’s just a fusion of everything and I’ve seen all this in less than 48 hours. What other surprises await here in Khanty-Mansiysk?