World Championships in Winterberg, Germany

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.

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Even the bread and cookies were excited for World Champs!

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.

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#1 fans from Canada- my parents!

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.

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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.

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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!

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El Nino

So, it’s been a little warm here in Calgary lately.  Great for gardens, suntans and cycling, but not so much for skeleton!  Here is a quick snippet from a Global TV interview following our training session at Canada Olympic Park yesterday:

Link to full program:

http://globalnews.ca/video/2291833/news-hour-oct-21-11

 

World Cup #8- Sochi da!

From the moment the location for the 2014 Olympics were announced I started dreaming about Sochi, Russia.  The Vancouver Winter Olympics fired my desire to not be just a spectator or volunteer at the Olympics, but an actual competitor.  Of course, I had childhood dreams about going to the Olympics. I think most athletic people do at some point in their lives.  As 2014 approached, I realized this dream could turn into a reality.  However, it all came crumbling down early on in the season last year and the end result was no Olympics for me.

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Sochi 2014 signage at the finish line of the skeleton track.

 

This year when I made the World Cup team I learned that Sochi was on the circuit for the 8th and final World Cup race.  Finally, my chance to see the Olympic venue and compete at the Sanki Sliding Center had come!  However, at that point I still had to make it through two athlete evaluations, and our NSO hadn’t decided whether we would actually participate or not, so I wasn’t holding my breath.  As the season progressed and I jumped through the necessary hurdles I realized Sochi was only a race or two away.  During the week in Igls we learned, finally and definitively, that team Canada would be competing in Russia. Yes!

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Rosa Khutor

It was a great experience.  I felt like a rock star. Everything was taken care of by either the FIBT, the Russian Federation or private backers.  For example, we flew there on a private charter.  Luxury buses were awaiting our arrival to whisk us off to Rosa Khutor, the mountain village where our hotel was situated.  The hotel, the Golden Tulip Inn, was modern with well-appointed rooms, great food and reasonable internet access.  Each day for training we would shuttle to the track, which was gorgeous as well.  The start area is huge and it reminds me of a cathedral.  The whole track is covered and has a handy little walkway right beside it.  In fact, when the shades or closed apparently the track has a “micro-climate” which can be carefully controlled.  The warm up area has a luxurious covered 60m running track, perfect for warming up and training no matter the weather.

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The start area at Sanki Sliding Center

The track itself is very unique.  It has several uphill sections which make it feel more like a roller coaster ride, with negative and positive G-forces, than any other track.  The start is short and quick, which I like, and the track has good length to it.  It’s challenging as well.  Several same direction turns and high pressure areas require finesse and good track awareness.  After a few days of training, however, I realized it would take more than the allotted six official training runs for me to get a really good understanding of my third new track of the season.  Given the limitations, I tried to focus on the key areas and rely on good sliding principles to get through the rest.

On race day the conditions were fairly similar to training, and I was ready to give it a go.  I was off 8th, which unfortunately wasn’t a great race draw as the ice tends to degrade very quickly after the spritz.  I had a decent push, and a clean run, but it wasn’t fast.  I wasn’t sure what happened, but it was likely a combination of factors.  For the second run I decided not to change much as I couldn’t pin down exactly what to change.

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Coming up the outrun.

 

Unfortunately, although my second run was significantly faster, it wasn’t enough to move me up in the standings.  I finished a decent 12th, but I had hoped for more.  I do think that in the future this is a track that it well suited to me and I could do better.   I look forward to this next time I get to slide at this beautiful venue.

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Getting settled in for the run.

 

Next up, my first World Championship race in Winterberg, Germany!

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