After a month since my first race of this season, it was time for the serious racing to start- IPC World Cup action in Vuokatti, Finland. I returned to Vuokatti coincidentally one month shy of a decade since I stood at the start of my very first World Cup race (which was also in Vuokatti). Vuokatti has been a regular stop over that decade, having visited the town almost every season since I started. The schedule was not an easy one. I was planning on racing potentially five of the possible six races in eight days. I was excited to start the season off with a Classic Sprint. I thought it would be a great way to build into the racing and prepare for the following days’ Biathlon Sprint.
Classic Sprints have been, in the past, a strong discipline for me. Over the past year, I have been working and focusing on my technique and position. It has been feeling great, and I was looking forward to testing it out. A weakness for me in Sprints has always been the qualifier; I struggle with it. On the rare occasion do I have a great qualifier and continue that onwards through the heats. This time, it didn’t feel like my best; there were a few areas I could improve on. Somehow there was some speed in the qualifier because I finished fifth. I refocused and attacked the semi-final. It was one of my better races, advancing to the final. In the final, as the only LW6 to advance, I became the hunted (in IPC Sprints a ‘hunting’ start is used, where a ‘hold back’ time is calculated from a theoretical race time). Meaning I would start, then three seconds afterwards the other five athletes would start. I had to rely on the fantastic glide of my skis on the final descent and corner to set up a hard charge towards the line. Just before the finish line I overtook third place and was just short of second place. An exciting race and to start the season on the podium was the cherry on top.
Next up was the Biathlon Sprint. I could feel the effort from yesterday’s Sprints in my legs. I focused on my shooting, which resulted in hitting all ten targets. The skiing went well; I was disappointed in the end that I bled so much time over the last lap. I left the range leading the race and unfortunately could not hold onto that lead.
After a day off to recover a bit, still trying to overcome jet-lag, I competed in the Biathlon Individual. I knew my ski shape was competitive and my shooting was on so I had confidence I could win. I did make a mistake on the range, adding a minute to my time, in the end, it would not have affected the result either way. I was no match for my good friend from Norway, he shot clean and was blazing on the tracks. I had to settle for second place. The next race was a new format IPC wanted to try; a Biathlon Relay. I choose not to race it and instead watched the competition. It was an entertaining race, but the format is still very raw.
The second day off before the final two Cross Country races of this World Cup. Again I looked forward to testing my classic technique against the other guys, this time in a Classic 20km. The first two laps there were four of us at the sharp end of the race, skiing very similar times. By the end of the third, and for the remaining three laps, it became a race between myself and two others. For a majority of the race, I was in third place, right behind second with the eventual winner ahead by a bit more. And that would be the way it would end up as well; I couldn’t quite close the eight-second gap to second. Then finally the last race, a 5km Freestyle race. It is not a distance we race that often and in my opinion one that is too short. I always knew this would be my hardest race, and it was. After a week of racing, jet-lag and having the fitness but not quite my best speed I had to fight to stay with the best guys. I was pleased with my pacing and effort within the race, but I didn’t have the speed the others had, so found myself finishing in fifth place.
It was an incredible week for me. So many things throughout had gone right. I could feel the fitness I took into the races but never could quite unlock it all. I always felt I was capable of another gear but never was able to get into it. It leaves me confident that I’m in great shape, ready for next opportunity to compete, which will be at World Championships. This World Cup is easily my best, regarding results. Four out of five races I ended up on the podium. Four races in a row with a podium finish; coupled with the fact that those races include Sprints and Long distance races in both Biathlon and Cross Country (Classic even!) My strongest start to a World Cup season. I left Vuokatti in the red bib as the World Cup Leader in Biathlon. Most importantly I am hungry for more. Therefore focused on the upcoming training block in preparation for the 2017 World Championships.
I want to Thank all those who have supported me for the past ten years and beyond. I wish you all the Merriest of Christmas, Happy Holidays and the best wishes to you and your family in the coming New Year.

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