World cup debut! World Cup race #1 in Lake Placid

After years of preparation, training, blood, tears and sweat and everything else that goes with it, it finally happened.  I achieved my longtime goal of earning my spot as the Canada-1 sled and competing in a World Cup skeleton race.  Was it everything I had ever dreamed off?  Yes, and no.

The first race of the World Cup Circuit for 2014/15 was in Lake Placid, New York.  Traditionally this has been a track that I really like and tend to perform well at.  However, I hadn’t been there for 4 years and so I was a little nervous heading in, not to mention the fact that it was my first World Cup experience as a competitor ever. I honestly had no idea what to expect.

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Photo courtesy Ken Childs

After only a couple of training runs my body was starting to remember what it felt like to slide this challenging track.  It has 20 turns in 55 seconds, in comparison for example to Calgary’s 14 turns in 59 seconds. The result is its common descriptor as a “washing machine”.  It has a relatively long push, followed by a flat and easy to skid on upper section.  After corner 5, it’s hold on for dear life through the quick and dirty “devil’s highway” section, up and over the big Lake Placid sign in Corner 10, and through one of the toughest corners in the world, corner 12, where it’s more common to be airborne on the exit than not.  Following that comes big 14 and into the oxymoronic curvy straight, commonly known as the “chicane” where many a race is won or lost.  Next comes the final “heart” section,  corners 17-19 where in previous races I have been lucky to hold onto my sled.  Overall, it’s fast, technical, and has a few different personalities to contend with wrapped up into one.

After a few days of training I was feeling confident with my lines, but it was coming at a cost.  I was feeling the effects of the recent travel to Germany, then back home, and then back across the country again to Lake Placid.  World cup is also a different ball game than what I am used to.  In addition to the regular training, video analysis, dryland training, and athletic therapy, there are other activities to consider such as headshots, media interviews, as well cameras everywhere you look.  It adds another level of intensity, and scrutiny. Although it was beyond exciting I was starting to feel a little worn out.  I tried to mitigate the damage with sleeping as much as I could, eating well, hydrating and putting in some balanced time at the gym.  By the end of official training though, I could feel the tension in my back and neck, and my legs were heavy.

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Headshot and interview day!

Race day approached quickly, and the evening before I worked hard to make sure my sled was perfect, my bib was sewn, my bags were packed and I had some food ready for breakfast.  The morning of I knew I had done everything I could and I had to let it go and do what I do best- slide.

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Photo courtesy Ken Childs

I was the 21st and final female off, as the race was seeded based on last year’s points (I only was allowed to compete in a partial season).  I knew this would be a big disadvantage as the ice can significantly slow down as more and more sliders go down, but there was nothing I could do about it.  I pushed off the block hard, ran as fast as I could and settled into my sled.  The run was impeccable until corner 12, where I entered too late, flew off the end, and hit out.  Previously a nemesis of mine, I hadn’t hit out of 12 all week, but of course it happened in the race.  Despite that, I managed to place 11th after the first run.

 

The second run wasn’t much better.  A small error in the top led to an out of control middle section.  By the chicane, I truly felt the effects of the “washing machine” track and was behind on steers.  A couple of taps through this tricky section and a late entry into 17 sent me flying off the exit and nearly bucked me off my sled.  I crossed the finish line with trepidation and was lucky to maintain my position.  Although I had hoped for more, I finished 11th.

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Photo courtesy Turc Harmesynn

The worst part about the race was learning my push times.  They were slow, and much to my disappointment significantly slower than in training.  I can usually count on being a tenth faster in racing than in training, but for some reason this time it actually went the other way.  After analyzing everything that happened during the week, I mostly attributed it to fatigue and made a plan to fix it for the next race in Calgary.

Overall I can say that my first world cup race was successful, and I would like to thank everyone who helped along the way.  It takes an immense amount of support and help from my community to keep things rolling smoothly and I truly appreciate it all.  And of course a huge congratulations to my teammate Elisabeth Vathje who won a silver medal in her first ever world cup race!

Next onto my home track, Calgary.  And of course, Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season to all!

 

 

Double gold in Konigssee

biggest decision since the selection races in November was what to do with the month between the finish of selections and the start of the World Cup season. The options were to stay in Calgary and work/train, plus or minus some travel to Lake Placid, or join the majority of the team in Germany for some extra training for a few weeks. Given that my season is entirely self funded (see Globe and Mail article for more background), it is a careful balance of what I need to do to be competitive and what I can afford. Therefore, I chose a compromise. I stayed home for the first week, which was a flurry of arranging travel, equipment preparation, training, and squeezing in a few shifts at work. I then hopped on a plane to Konigssee, Germany for the next two weeks. The first week was paid training and the second was more training culminating in two Europa Cup Races. Given that I had never been to Konigssee before, and considering it is a track on the World Cup circuit in January, I hoped that the extra sliding and race experience would be worth the cost.

The Konigssee track is in a beautiful location.   It is nestled near the bottom of snow-capped mountain peaks, surrounded by quaint farms, and at its foot is a deep and serene lake which is often shrouded in dense mist. The track itself is short and technical. Being short, the push carries along a significant portion of the track. However, the bendaway and Kreisel sections are the great equalizers and it’s not enough to be a great pusher here.

View of the track from the lake

View of the track from the lake

 

Even though I have competed in Europe for several seasons, somehow I always managed to evade Konigssee. To be honest, I wasn’t too upset about that. Years of watching World Cup races on TV instilled a sense of fear of the track. Several of the world’s top sliders have had some pretty nasty crashes there in the past couple of years, specifically in the tricky Kreisel and subsequent zigzagging “doodles” section. I didn’t know what to expect on my first runs down, but I tried to be as prepared as possible and certainly was on guard for some emergency steering if necessary.

Fortunately I made it down the first run in one piece, and although I felt somewhat calmed, I had now experienced for myself the sneakiness of the track and could understand why it could cause so many struggles. However, I enjoyed the week of training and started to figure out the nuances as training progressed. By time race day came I was fairly confident with my lines.  Heading into the first race my main goal was to put together two consistent runs, and keep continuing to learn the track even though it was a race.

In the first race run, after I pushed off and settled onto my sled, I felt the track was considerably faster than in training. I felt speed building through the swooshing S-curves and felt some extra height at the end of S4 which pushed me right at the exit. I was able to save the bendaway section, but I could see Kreisel looming in the distance. The speed made the dreaded area of the track even more challenging. After I managed to navigate through the Kreisel, the increased speed in the doodles tossed me around like a rag doll. I finished the run in second place, but I knew I could do better with some adjustments.

The second run I was able to fix a few of the problems, and was able to move up into first place! I was thrilled to win gold on the track that I had worried about for so many years. To my amazement, I discovered that I might actually like this track!

The second race followed the next day. I went in with similar goals- be consistent and relaxed. Double races are hard because they require two full days of sled prep, maximum warm ups and pushing, and all that race day adrenaline. It can be hard to manage energy in this situation. I felt heavy and tired during the warm-up but was determined to give it everything I had when it was my turn to push off. Again, the track was fast, and I had significant problems again at the end of Kreisel and through the doodles in my first run. I finished the heat in first place, by only by the tiniest margin of 1/100th of a second! I knew my mission to be consistent and relaxed was going to be tested in the second heat. I used the time between the heats to refocus and work on a strategy for fixing the problem spots. When I stepped up to the block as the last athlete off, I knew it was time to execute. Fortunately, I had a pretty good run. I even managed to (finally) get through the doodles relatively composed and cut 3/10ths off my time. The end result was another win! Double gold in Konigssee!

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Europa Cup Race #2 women’s podium

Now I am on the plane back to Calgary. Most of the team continued onto another race in Winterberg, but I decided to go home for some training, World Cup prep time, and save some costs. In the end, I think I made the right decision to travel to Germany, not only for the training and racing experience, but also as a chance to get to bond with my teammates and new head coach Ivo. It’s a really great group of athletes and I think the future of skeleton in Canada looks bright.

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It’s hard to imagine, but the next time I put on my race suit and step up to the line will be my World Cup Debut in Lake Placid. I can’t wait!

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