We came to Siberia expecting…well Siberian weather. Lots of snow, cold and dark. The only one of those came true and it’s the first one- with the warm (almost hot) weather even that is melting fast. We arrived to coolish temperatures where the lows at night were getting down to -10, but for the past few nights it hasn’t gone below 0. This is leaving the course ankle deep with slush. The tracks are set but don’t last long as the skiers begin to ski on it. This is not great at all, but there are some plus sides to it, these conditions were favorable to the Canadian sit skiers as both won their Long distance races. Meaning that Canadians won three out of six Long distance Gold medals. On the flip side I struggled in these conditions during the Biathlon Sprint. Living and training in Canmore is arguably the best place to be, but Canmore rarely has these late Spring slushy and soupy conditions, they have bomb proof, hard tracks. Where I can get an edge and push off the snow and can power my way through, where in slushy conditions you can’t power through because the skis get no return from the kicks, so you have to be light and try to glide and float over the snow. I shot well, only missing my first shot, then going nine for nine. It was a good race for me, I was a little disappointed in the result (finishing sixth) but I went over the race and extracted a few mistakes that I had made and highlighted them. This is what racing means to me right now. I go out there and race, learn how I have to react, how I can gain a second here or there and how to deal with anything that might come up between the start and finish lines.
The earlier 20km classic was another great race for me. I put a strong focus on Biathlon this season and that had paid off, but for the strong focus my classic suffered slightly. Going into the race my goal was to finish in the top-10, which I succeeded at finishing tenth. This would be the first day that the weather really changed dramatically and it became one of the toughest challenges first for the wax techs to provide the best skis possible. But since our wax techs are as good as they are they made the athlete’s job of dealing with the conditions much easier.
Exploring more the town on some of the down time has really changed my view on Khnaty-Mansiysk, Siberia and maybe even Russia itself. One afternoon on the town a few members of the team and I went to the top of the pyramid, which as its nickname would suggest is a building shaped like a pyramid. Five stories high, with the bottom three being a mall, the fourth I think are offices and the fifth a café. We sat down for a coffee and looked out over the town. Wow, the view was intriguing. There were elements that suggested Eastern European design but there were also incredible structures that would be quite daring in North America. The design of some of the buildings played with angles and shapes, colors giving a very modern and new or young feel to the city. Now knowing the truth behind the city it’s not surprising at the same time as it contradicts my impressions I had before I coming here. The city is a university town and the capitol of an oil rich region. You look out those windows and see a new town, a town full of potential and a ‘just wait till we’re finished’ attitude. It would be interesting to come back some time and see where they do end up.
Coming to Russia one of the biggest concerns was what the food would be like. To rate the food I would put it just under the top venues we’ve traveled to, so above average. We have had far less and worse on trips. There tends to be a little more cooking with fat then what we’re use to but it’s not over the top either. Like everywhere else there are a few things that should be left at the buffet. A particular favorite however are the potato wedges. We think they’re potentially baked in some sort of broth or meat because they have a unique but delicious favor and maybe addicting. Tasting the food has been occasionally a gamble but some of the translated names are even more unique then the taste. There are two types of flummery, one is oats and water the other is oats and (best guess) evaporated or canned milk. Chicken Royal is chicken baked with a light batter, usually tastes good. Yogurt is really good, mostly because the lowest fat percentage is 5.0% and goes up to 7.4%, but its sooo gooood!
Tomorrow is our last race here in Khanty-Mansiysk and that’s a good thing because the trails and range are not going to last more than a couple of days now. The snow is very dirty from the melting and debris falling from the trees. The range is already becoming a swimming pool. Patches of dirt are showing through and being covered by snow from the edges of the trails but that snow is almost gone too. World Championships and the2010-11 season are almost at an end and there are plenty of signs (from essentially everywhere) that it is time to end. With the last race and the travel home all planned for the next few days there could be some interesting experiences still to come.