This year’s World Cup season started in the (almost always) overcast Vuokatti, Finland. There were a few moments where I saw blue sky and even the more elusive sun. Those moments were short lived. The schedule was a busy one with two Biathlon races starting things off. Two Cross Country races sandwiched in the middle, with two Biathlon test events to wrap up this World Cup stop. A little more regarding the test events later. I would really have to count but I believe there are only one maybe two venues in the World that I’ve raced more than Vuokatti. It is now as familiar to me as Canmore is. In ways that’s a good thing, in others not so much. The food has changed very little in all the years I’ve been coming to Vuokatti, since 2007, my very first World Cup. On the plus side I know the trails really well. I also know what happens in the range in any weather condition or lighting conditions. The one thing that I have never, nor will I ever get use to is how little sunlight there is in December or January. It plays with your mind worse than Jetlag. Then combine the two and you understand how a zombie might feel.
Before I left Canmore I had spent a lot of time shooting with the air rifle and making some changes. As I develop as a shooter what once worked isn’t the most efficient anymore. What felt right a onetime doesn’t now! As my understanding of shooting air rifle evolves I am forced to adapt. I had to make quite a few of those adaptions or changes just before I left for Finland. I had had some solid races in Canmore before departing but I was still becoming comfortable with all the changes. It simply takes time. First World Cup race was the Biathlon Sprint. I felt like I was on a fast first lap pace but it wasn’t the case and found myself fighting to catch up right from the start. I made no mistake on the range hitting all ten targets. To me the shooting felt a little disjointed, not as rhythmic as I would hope. It took some time but by the final lap I was skiing well and charging hard. Too little, too late! In the end I had to settle for a fifth place finish. Not the start I had hoped for but a solid place to start from and hungry for more.
Day two was the Biathlon Individual. With each bout I felt better and better with the rifle. The speed was coming and each bout felt more consistent than the previous. I would add another twenty hits to my total. Similar to the Sprint I struggled to find the pace in the earlier laps of the race. It wasn’t until the last three laps where I was skiing as fast as the rest of my field were. The Individual is a shooting race and with the four clean rounds I found myself second on the day.
The next day I could catch my breath with a rest day before the 10km Classic. All fall my classic has been very solid, so I looked forward to finally testing it out against the best. After yet another slow sluggish start, where I was skiing well but could have skied better. I turned it around and was holding against the leaders and was creating a gap to those behind me. In the final lap I was skiing very well and wished I had started that way. Either way I would finish fifth, my best classic result ever and one of my better Cross Country result in some time. With still two Biathlon scheduled before the end of the World Cup, my coach and I made the choice to skip the second Cross Country race, the Sprint free. The course was a tough but fun looking one. I would have enjoyed racing on it. I needed to stay smart and save some energy for the last two races.
Monday was a day off and official training for the upcoming Biathlon test events. There were going to be two Biathlon races where instead of using air rifles the Standing and Sitting classes were going to use electronic rifles. A trial to allow athletes and teams a chance to try the system in a larger scaled test. With the limited number of electronic rifles available and importance of the races for World Cup points, the schedule was reduced to a single race and the categories were split up with Blind and Sitting to race on Tuesday. Standing would follow on Wednesday for their race. The categories were further split up into groups of ten (because there were only 12 rifles). This way each athlete would be allowed to zero in their own rifle instead of sharing. There were a lot of unknowns going into the test events. The local organizing committee, competition staff and volunteers did a great job at adapting to the changes and held some great races. A special mention to Kurviven for providing the rifles for the test and working tirelessly to have the best and fairest competition possible. Wednesday morning it was my turn to race with the electronic system. From the first time I had heard of the possibility of testing the electronic rifles I wanted to be prepared for the test event. Bringing my .22 stock so I may use a stock that was fitted to me and I would feel comfortable with. I used my sights from my air rifle. All in an effort to test the electronic system on its own and not be influenced by a lack of familiarity with stock, sights and everything else. I knew the race was going to be a fast one. The electronic system is not affected by environmental influences, so I expected a lot of clean shooting, and fast clean rounds as well. I charged hard right from the start. After a quick clean first bout I was in fifth place, but only 3 seconds behind the leader. A very tight race was unfolding. Another great lap of skiing and a quick clean second bout of shooting. I was still fifth with a gap of 14 seconds to the leader. But close enough to move up some placings. It wasn’t to be; I didn’t have that much left for the third lap and began losing large chunks of time. In the end I finished sixth. The top-7 finishers in my category shot clean. The race had become a Cross Country race and I wasn’t able to stay on pace. I had put in a hard effort and felt a little disappointed that the result didn’t reflect that. That is the situation in my category now. There are six to eight guys that can win. You need a better than perfect race to win, I didn’t quite have that.
The first World Cup stop of the season is over. I am pleased with the results but I know there is much more that I’m capable of. I now get a little break from racing and some time to head back to Prince Edward Island for the Holidays. Here’s hoping for a good ol’ East Coast blizzard so I might ski the trails I grew up on.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and safe Holidays to all!

One Comment so far:

  1. Arend en Hanny says:

    Gefeliciteerd Mark , hele fijne kerstdagen allemaal en een gezond sportief 2015 !

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