It has been over six months since I returned from my first ever World Championships, and completed my rookie World Cup season. Looking back, it was truly an exhilarating, challenging and unforgettable year.
The World Championships were held in Winterberg, Germany. It’s the crown event in the World Cup, and FIBT overall, season. Aside from the Olympic Games held every four years, it is the biggest race in the sport of skeleton. All of our training and preparation from the beginning of the season is geared towards “peaking” for this race. As I have only watched from the bleachers (or on TV) in the past, I wasn’t sure what to expect heading into this important week.
After the Sochi World Cup race, I boarded a plane back to Calgary. There was a break of nearly two weeks between the last World Cup Race and the start of World Champs training. Since I am a self-funded athlete I was not able to afford to stay in Europe with the rest of my teammates for the time off. I had to come home to work some shifts. Although I do believe in retrospect it may have hindered my performance, especially considering having to go through jet-lag two extra times and work shifts in a stressful and fast paced environment, I did not have a choice. In fact, had I not gone home to work I would not have been able to afford to attend World Championships at all. This despite being the second ranked athlete in Canada, and 9th ranked in the World Cup. It wasn’t all bad though, as I got to sleep in my own bed, eat home food, and get a boost of support from my family, friends and work colleagues. I flew back to Germany a few days before official training started. I was exhausted, but ready to give it my best!
I have been to Winterberg twice in the past. In fact it the second track ever that I slid on. Although the track is heavily favorable for fast pushers (it’s short, flat and very easy to get down), I still have a fondness for it. It’s a great track for gliders. As opposed to many of the tracks in the world, I actually find it relaxing to slide down Winterberg. In addition to being relaxed and able to push fast, the other keys to the track are good form and impeccable timing. Brute force and dramatic steers won’t get you anywhere here.
Training went well. I was able to get times under the previous track record, and break into the previously elusive 57s territory. However, given the strong field, I had no idea what to expect on race day.
When I arrived at the track on race day I realized this was no regular race. There were spectators everywhere, and as the day progressed the stands at the top and bottom of the track filled up, as well as space along the track and in the Kriesel. Also, the media presence was greater than ever with a camera of some variety pointing at you at every turn. It was noisy, boisterous and full of energy. The only other time I had experienced a similar feeling was at the Skeleton races at the Olympic Winter Games in Whistler in 2010. I tried to not let all the commotion intimidate me, and instead tried to harness all that energy and use it to my benefit. In addition, my parents flew all the way over from Canada to cheer me on, and their support meant the world to me.
My first run went well. I had a small mistake in the middle of the track, and a push below my expectations, but otheriwse I was happy with it. The second run went even better, and I managed to move up into 7th place! On this track that strongly favors fast pushers I was thrilled with the day one results. I packed up my equipment and went back to the hotel to prep for the next day, excited to see how this would all turn out.
The next morning I realized temperature had dropped more than I expected. I prepped two pairs of runners, just in case the weather changed unexpectedly. And now that I was faced with that reality I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t want to “fix what isn’t broken” and stay with the same runners that worked well the previous day, but I was worried the ice was too hard for those lower control runners and I would have the potential to be skiddy. I decided to stay with the same runners.
Unfortunately, my day didn’t go as well as I hoped. I fear I made the wrong decision to stay with the lower control runners as my runs were sloppier and skiddier. Although I had excellent pushes for me, including a personal best, it wasn’t enough to make up for the small mistakes. I dropped to tenth. Although tenth is arguably a good result at any World Championships, especially for a rookie athlete, I needed a top 8 finish to secure senior carding for the next two years. Other results, including other World Cup Races and Overall World Cup and FIBT rankings don’t count towards carding status. Having that senior carding would have made a huge difference in my life in terms of guaranteed funding for the next two years. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, but I am still proud and grateful to have not only participated in, but performed well, on the biggest stage of all in skeleton.
Returning from Germany signified a return back to my other life. I did get a couple of weeks of sliding in Whistler in preparation for the upcoming season’s selection race. Other than that, I immediately plunged back into full time work in an attempt to mitigate impending financial doom from extremely high expense of the season. I worked more than full time all summer, and coupled that with full time training starting in April.
It was a hard summer, one of the hardest summers I can remember. But I did what had to be done. Of course, at this level of elite sport, having to work so much is not conducive to an excellent training scenario but it was unavoidable. I worked and trained…hard.
Now the season is here. I have managed to pay back most of the debt I incurred last season, with limited savings for the upcoming season. I remain unfunded by my federation and the cost for the upcoming season will be up to $30 000. It’s daunting and seems almost impossible for me to have to face that, while trying to compete at the highest level in the sport. But I will face these challenges as I always have, one step at a time.
Our selection races begin tomorrow, October 23 and 24, followed by two races in Whistler November 5 and 6. Cheers!