As January comes to an end, the IPC World Cup season wraps up with it. The season started in December; Canmore playing host to the first six World Cup races of this Paralympic season. In the dawn of the New Year the team and I flew to oh so familiar Vuokatti, Finland for the second stop on the tour. Vuokatti would be holding two Cross Country races followed by two Biathlon races. Shortly after I arrived in Suomi, I was on the start line for the 10km classic race. Not my finest classic race but a good effort in preparation for the later Biathlon races. The following day was the other Cross Country race, a 10km skate. Opting to skip the skate race in favor of resting before the Biathlon Short distance race on Saturday. Despite only recently arriving in Europe I felt ready to race on Saturday. Come race day, my zero was one of the best I’ve had and my skis were fast. Everything was falling into place. A great opening lap, I was right in the thick of it. I lay down for the first bout, take the first shot. A miss! It didn’t sound right, I could tell the shot was way low. Something was wrong but I took the second shot and everything seemed to be working again. I knocked down the remaining three shots. With the single miss, I could quite easily still be in the race. I didn’t know how the others were shooting but I felt strong enough to out-ski this single penalty loop. Stepping it up and pushing hard through the second loop. Over the 2.5km I searched for any seconds that could be won. Again, I’m back in the range, knowing a clean bout and strong final lap that was all I needed to do. I take the first shot, but same result as the first bout, a miss. I know for certain I was on target. The next two targets go up, but the rifle struck once again- a third miss. I get the final target; going twice into the penalty loop hungry for more. I put the head down and went to work. I skied a great final lap, crossing the finish line knowing there was nothing more I could have done. In the end it had been a great race but I felt it was stolen from me by something malfunctioning with rifle. I would finish seventh, and of the six athletes ahead of me there was only one missed shot. An impressive shooting performance by the top guys in the field, and one of my worst in a Short distance race. I identified the problem with the rifle and prepared for the next day’s Pursuit race. I had an encouraging zero before the race, everything seemed back to normal. During the race, things were different. I no longer had the invincible confidence in the rifle or my own shooting. The shooting splits after the race proved that as well, I was inconsistent, hesitant and unfocused. Needing a perfect day on the range to close the gaps to the leaders I fell well short. After it was said and done I missed six shots and fell further through the results to eleventh place. Shooting has usually been my strength but after two poor performances on the range, I took comfort that my skiing was going very well. Despite having missed more shots then I care to recall, I was skiing fairly impressive times. That was it for Finland this season, the tour packed up and headed south to Oberstdorf, Germany for the final three Cross Country races.
Of the three races in Oberstdorf, my plan was to race the latter two, a free technique sprint and the classic 10km. I had been looking forward to the Sprint form the moment I heard it was to be free technique. In the qualifier I put down my best effort on an icy course. I went on preparing for the heats thinking I had made it. Hearing that my day was over, came as a shock. I was the 13th qualifier, a second out of making the heats. There was a flutter of doubt, four races in Europe and I hadn’t had the results I was hoping for. Time to turn that around! Sunday’s 10km became a soft, wet mess of a race. I stuck to the race plan, focused on the simple things and worked my way through the race. I came away from the race with one of my best distance classic races ever, sixth place mere seconds from fifth.
Now that I had figured out how I needed to race again it was off to the final World Cup stop of the season, Biathlon Finals in Oberried, Germany. Some may recall this was a World Cup stop four years ago just before the Paralympic Games in Vancouver. History warning- this was the very venue I earned my first Biathlon World Cup podium. This year the first race would be something very special, a night race. The Biathlon Short distance race would take place under the lights. It was fantastic, the racing was much the same but it felt new, different and there was a real excitement amongst the athletes. During the week in Oberstdorf I had some very focused sessions shooting and was again ready to shoot well. And I was on, hitting all ten targets in the Short race. I was skiing well but just fell short finishing fifth in a close battle for the top-5 positions. I took that confidence into the Long distance race ready to show that I was back on form. The shooting was, going clean for the first 19 shots but a lapse in thinking forced the final shot wide. With positive results on the range I tried pushing the body to no success and settled for a seventh place. The last race continued the trend; I would shoot clean but be found wanting more in the skiing finishing ninth.
Oberried turned out to be one of my best shooting World Cups in recent memory but lack of speed on the snow left me hungry for much more. The 2013/2014 World Cup season wraps up and the season turns to the focal point; the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi. I’m on my way home for some recovery time and the final preparations before the Opening Ceremonies on March 7, 2014.
Stayed tuned for (I hope) more frequent updates over the next few months.

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