Oslo World Champs – 30km Pursuit

A somewhat average start to the Oslo World Champs with the 30km pursuit. The start pace wasn’t too furious however I got caught up slightly on the first climb with the concertina effect. This happens  in every mass start and I was ready for it, leaving a small gap in front, however one of the skiers ahead in my track crashed and stopped dead, so I was forced out of the track for the first climb which wastes quite a lot of energy. I then settled into what I thought was a quite comfortable pace up the major climb, however found myself rather fatigued at the top of the course. This was the start of about 15min of absolute hell! My skis weren’t great on the downhill so straight away I dropped off the back of Simbo, then as soon as the climbing began again, I would have been more comfortable stuck in an electric fence! My legs felt lactic, my technique fell to pieces and my stomach felt as though it was tied in a knot. Ewan then caught me halfway up the climb which was quite a relief in the end as I was able to just tuck in behind and try and relax a little. I then had a bit of a chuck and cough on the downhill and gradually began to feel better again for the 3rd and final classic 5km loop.

Feeling a lot better, Ewan and I then changed over together and started the skating leg. Immediately I felt dramatically more energetic on the skate skis and decided to put the hammer down in a desperate attempt to try and make up for lost time as I knew it would be a struggle to not get lapped. I pulled away from Ewan and was quickly catching Nils Koons from NZ who was more than 40sec up after the classic leg. Unfortunately,  just like last World Champs in Liberec 2009, the lapping rule destroyed the only good part of my race! With about 1km to go on the 2nd skate lap my efforts payed off and I managed to catch and pass Koons. After putting more time into him before the lap, we were then both pulled however this was 10m before the lap checkpoint meaning that he was given the higher placing despite being 20-30m behind me! To add to the frustration even further, I would have made the next lap according to the splits. In the first 7.5km of the skating leg, I only lost 1min 40s to the lead pack, and when I was pulled out, with only 3.75km to make it through, I was still 1min 15s ahead of the pack. So i’ll let you do the maths.  This is incredibly frustrating as all the hard work that I put into catching Koons and attempting to finish the race was all for nothing according to the results, so I’m going to claim 67th place irrespective (instead of their 68th and lapped) which I suppose isn’t too bad considering I was ranked 69th. It was quite a shock to find that I still had heaps of energy at the end of the race! If I didn’t have those problems on the second lap I think it could have really been a good result. I’m still not too sure what caused these problems, however its most likely the electrolyte drink not sitting well on the first two laps combined with going out a little too hard. I missed my third drink (as it was taken /stolen by the Ukrainian skier who we were also skiing with!) but this could have been a good outcome because it seemed to settle things down quite a lot. I think I will consider another drinking option for the 50km Freestyle next Sunday.

Ben had a decent race up in 62nd and probably the most impressive result of the Australians was Ewan who was ranked 75th and placed 69th. Nick Grimmer also experienced no luck at all with the lapping rule and controversially was pulled at the end of the classic leg, however still achieved a respectable result in 75th. As I have mentioned in an earlier post, the crowds here have been incredible and today was certainly no exception. This is the first event I have ever competed in where the crowds have been at least 3 or 4 rows deep lining almost the entire course. The stadium is another thing all together with all the grandstands completely packed! This all creates an atmosphere which is very rarely experienced by any athlete.

Next up is the 15km Classic which should be much better for me as I can pace it myself and the officials aren’t given the power to ruin people’s races by imposing unreasonable lapping rules. From last weekend’s result and today’s skate leg, I am confident I have decent form and I am therefore hoping I can produce a good result.

Oslo World Championships Underway

Worlds Opening Ceremony

The Nordic World Championships in Oslo are now in full swing! Last night marked the start of the championships with an incredible opening ceremony which definitely gave a real perspective on just how important these championships are to the whole Norwegian community. The crowd was enormous and the atmosphere was like nothing else I have ever experienced. It was also amazing to see just how many people were out there cheering for us with quite a few even bringing out their Aussie flags! This is just a taste of what the whole championships are bound to be like right the way through.

Yesterday was the first event with the 10km classic qualifier. This is an event for those who have FIS point averages higher than 90 who are seeking a start in the 15km classic next Tuesday. The top 10 finishers in this qualifier are then given starts in the 15km. Mark Vandy put his Boss hat on and came through with a personal best result in 4th, only 4s from the podium (and yes they actually have the full flower ceremony for this event!). Ewan Watson (my older brother) also skied well with 6th place and equal PB FIS points. Nick Grimmer showed he is in good form with 11th place and Darlo (Chris Darlington) achieved a respectable 15th place. So an overall very successful day for Australia has now meant we can start a full quota of 4 in Tuesday’s 15km Classic. Fortunately, Simbo and I are below the 90pt cut off so we have automatic selection for this event.

Today’s event is the Freestyle Sprint, where we have four men and one female starting. Despite having a good ranking FIS pt average, unfortunately I missed selection for this event because I was sick for the race that was used for selection 2 weeks ago in Beitostolen. I will admit straight away that I am disappointed that I was unable to obtain a start in today’s race. This is primarily because I have made some very big improvements in Sprints this season and it is quite frustrating that I am not able to see what I am capable of in the most important Sprint race of the season. It is just one of those unlucky situations where a criteria is set and no discretion or changes are able to be made. Although disappointing, I am not letting this get to me and I am taking on the outlook that I will now be able to better prepare myself for the upcoming distance events where I realistically have a better chance of pulling out something special. I am very much hoping that I will be selected for the Team Sprint however where I can make full use of my sprinting improvements!

My first race isn’t until Sunday with the 30km Pursuit. Classic intervals on the main distance course (the 6.3km loop) felt awesome today and it was a big shock to find that there were more supporters and people cheering today in the intervals around the course than in most small races! People have been out camping around the track since Tuesday! It is quite a crazy scene as unbelievably they are not allowed to leave their tents and they will be there right until the end of the championships. Definitely not something that I would be up for at any stage of my life, however it’s great to have so many people around that are so passionate about the sport.

Drammen 15km Cl World Cup

Today was the first time this season that I have felt in control the whole race, which is an awesome feeling! As I was saying in my previous report, I was quite concerned about my health and whether I would be able to recover and regain some form. Unfortunately I got significantly worse last weekend and had to go on a course of antibiotics for my lungs which were feeling so far from healthy it was rather worrying. After a few days of lying around I started skiing lightly again on Monday and didn’t feel great with the very cold air (around -17°C) not help the situation. So over this period I decided to get back in the gym which is a rather controversial way to get the legs feeling fresh for the upcoming weekend, but it definitely works for me. Wednesday Level 3 (just below threshold) intervals felt great! I sounded about as healthy as a 60 year old smoker, but the rest of me felt great and it gave me quite a good confidence boost that I would be fresh for World Cup this weekend.

As always, World Cup courses are very demanding, however the 5km here is something else. As I may have described in an earlier post, out of all the courses in the World Cup circuit, the 5km course in Davos probably offers the best opportunity for people to blow up. After skiing here however, this is right up there! It starts off in the stadium and keeps going up, with a small tease of a downhill about mid-way to the top of the climb. After a long, fast downhill, I found my legs felt almost fresher before the downhill – definitely a result of having to hold a low position for quite an extended period and there is nothing but another long varying climb afterwards to test you further.

I decided to go out relatively easy and steadily work into a strong, but controlled pace. This worked very well and it turned out to be the most successful and enjoyable race of the season. So for a course that initially looked very unfriendly, it turned out to be a course that I really enjoyed racing on. My skis were right on perfect with grip as I can’t remember slipping once, so an awesome job by the guys. The only setback was I somehow managed to rip off a toenail during the race. Fortunately I had no idea that it was happening during the race, but the pain came quickly enough as soon as I had finished. It is amazing what you can naturally block out during a race, but I am more amazed at how much pain such a small problem can cause!

At the finish I was 80th, and around 11.5% behind (92 FIS points). It is a great feeling to have bounced back from sickness and some rather disappointing results in Turkey and to show some of the best form of the season. It has always been a bit of a question as to how my form holds up towards the end of the season with such a busy race schedule, but I am very happy with how I’m feeling, especially with the World Champs in Oslo just days away. Simbo (Ben Sim) also had a good race today for his first World Cup of the season up in 59th and Van Wilder (Mark Van Der Ploeg) had a respectable result in his distance World Cup debut.

It has been great here with the team in Norway and as per usual we are always finding ways to entertain ourselves. Probably our proudest team achievement of this part of the trip is the gourmet meal selection we have been preparing for ourselves. From Masterchef quality marinated chicken roast to gourmet pizza, we are frequently surprising ourselves. Good quotes also come out of these cook ups with the best of them (unfortunately courtesy of myself) as follows: “Hey Simbo, we have loads of eggs to use!” This was then followed by a fumble, half catch (panic) then unintended throw of a mostly full case of eggs, then copious amounts of cursing…. With already a good loss of dignity, I top it off by cracking an egg into a bowl using a particular method which somehow made a good percentage of it spurt onto a freshly washed pair of trackies – Smooth!

Hopefully tomorrow will be another good day with the skate sprint.

A new understanding of the insult ‘You Turkey’!

To put it very simply, my experience as a whole in Turkey gave new meanings to many words including disaster, pfaff and disorganisation! To be honest, I really should keep this report short to avoid offending people because the temptation to describe just how far from ideal the whole experience was is rather overwhelming! The feedback allowed to be published is restricted only to the positive kind, which I completely disagree with. The Nordic World Junior/U23 Championships are due to be held in Erzurum next year and I would have thought it would be important for the all forms of constructive criticism to be taken into account so that things can be improved upon. So I will purposely leave out quite a lot of content and focus on the more positive of points. I will confirm however that all the organisation from our side (that being Australian University Sport) was in my eyes flawless and I greatly appreciate the effort that was made by all those involved.

As you can interpret from my previous report, I will take full responsibility for the first three days of absolute anarchy whilst trying to fix up one of the stupidest things I’ve ever managed to do (losing my passport). As I mentioned, the first race was not good primarily due to the stress of the previous 3 days, but also due to the lack of acclimatisation to the very high altitude. We were living at 2000m and racing up to 1800m, and let me tell you, coming from Estonia at 150m gave my system quite the shock! The sprint race was slightly better with 35th, but I was probably even more disappointed as I was really hoping to make the finals (top30) but just managed to fall short.

The 15km Pursuit was probably my best result of the Championships with 26th Overall, ahead of some highly ranked skiers, but just short of my main goal of top 20. I should mention that my skis for this race were exceptionally good. It was very tough waxing conditions with fresh snow and controversially, they decided to groom just 10min out from the start which is incredibly frustrating as it changes the conditions significantly. Despite all these unnecessary setbacks, our three Wax Techs; Paul (PK) Kovacs, Mark Raymond and Fabian Mauz handled the situation very well and my classic skis were definitely among the very best on course. Throughout the whole competition, our skis remained very competitive amongst all the other nations and for this I am very thankful. I would just like to also mention that despite having the appearance and abilities of a wax tech, don’t be fooled, Pk is actually an athlete. Luck didn’t fall to his advantage this year and he just missed out on qualification for these championships, despite racing very well in races not included as selection. Like a true Lad, he came to Turkey anyway to help us out and we were all very grateful to have him there – Thanks Pk.

Esther and I also had a good ski in the Mixed Team Sprint. Endurance racing is thought by many to be much more painful than the sprinting events, but I can now guarantee that the team sprint is the hardest event of all in the sport of Cross Country Skiing. It is the ultimate interval session with a 1:1 rest to work, but due to the adrenaline and pressure (which is further increased by being a team event), all three of the sprints are at maximum capacity and the legs really are punished by these efforts. Never in my life have I experienced so much lactic acid in my legs, and to be honest I was quite shocked by my incapability to walk properly for quite some time after the event. I am almost scared of this event and find myself concerned about the potential that I will be doing it all over again in Oslo for the World Championships. I would of course be very proud to race the event at World Championships and hope that I am selected to compete. I think that this is the adrenaline, pain and sense of achievement that I live for and what keeps me addicted to racing.

The 30km freestyle mass start was final event of the Championships and unfortunately the greatest of disappointments. I started off very well and felt very comfortable sitting in the pack in around 7th position. Once the first downhill came round however, everything went wrong. I experienced uncontrollable coughing and by the bottom of the hill I was ready to pass out. I tried to keep going after this, with more problems on every downhill but decided to pull out to avoid further irritation of the lungs. Despite quite a large amount of disappointment and quite a few unpleasant experiences, we all founds ways to enjoy ourselves and made the most of the positive points such as good team atmosphere, swapping uniforms and interacting with different athletes from all across the globe.

I have now arrived in Beitostolen, Norway with the rest of the Australian World Championship Team. The plan was to rest and not race this weekend, but unfortunately I am now sick (which is undoubtedly a continuation of the problems I had in the 30km). It is disappointing but was bound to happen. There are very few people that I know from across a whole range of nations that were at the World University Games that didn’t get some form of sickness. Hopefully I can bounce back quickly from this setback and be back in top shape for Drammen World Cup next weekend and Oslo World Championships the week after.