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!

World Cups #6, 7- Hot and Cold in Igls, Austria

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A quick stop on the way to Igls in Verona to check out Juliet’s balcony!

After the race that never happened in La Plagne, we packed up and travelled down the French Alps, back through Italy, and up into Austria.  Igls was the 7th stop on the World Cup Circuit.  As I predicted the cancelled race was replaced by a second race in Igls.  As alluded to in my previous blog, it’s safe to say finding out that news wasn’t my favorite moment of the season.

Igls is a track that I have a guarded relationship with.  Touted as one of the easiest tracks on circuit, it seems to be a place most athletes like to come.  It’s certainly not scary and doesn’t usually require any aggressive steering. However for me it has some significant limitations.  First, it’s short.  Really short.  Because of my deficit on the push time I need at least some length in a track to “make up” for it on the way down.  With a reasonably good run, the push can carry the entire way down.  In Igls, generally your push rank after the first 50 meters will predict your finishing rank.  This season my push ranks have regrettably been near the bottom.  Add to this my previous experiences at Igls.  In the most recent ICC race in 2014 I melted my visor and did the second run blind from corner 2 on.  The year before I decided to take a brand new sled down with only 2 runs in training and for the first and only time in my career failed to get a second run. Finally, in my first competitive sliding season I had to do 3 one-heat races in one day because of terrible weather conditions and despite training at the top of the pack all week ended up finishing outside the top 6 in all three “races”.  Needless to say, I would have been a lot happier had any other track been used as the replacement World Cup race!

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Cable car gliding over the track.

Despite all that, I boxed up my crappy attitude for the week and focused on having good lines and form.  I even stuck to the plan of a heavy dryland training week, in preparation for the upcoming World Championships, even knowing it could hurt my push on race day.  But I had to put my ego aside and focus on what was most important.

Training went well. I sorted out my equipment and pinned down my lines by the end of the six allotted training runs.  Race day came along without incident and I was ready.  I focused on having a technically sound push with as much power and speed as possible, and then settled into the sled.  I had a nice first run and executed my lines out of Kreisel and 9 the way I wanted.  I crossed the line knowing I had a good run.  At the end of the heat I couldn’t believe I was tied for 9th position!

I tried to keep it cool between runs.  A potential top ten finish in Igls was beyond my wildest dreams.   When it came time for my run I managed to push 5/100ths faster, however, I did fall before the person ahead of me.  But, it was only by one spot so I was guaranteed a top ten finish!  Another athlete fell behind me so in the end I finished 9th.  Although 9th may not seem like much, for me it was a huge accomplishment.  My push rank was 17th and 18th in those runs.  Therefore, I did what many, including myself would consider nearly impossible.

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The only damper on the day was knowing I had to do it all again tomorrow.  Our races were back to back, and the second race started at a ridiculously early 8 am!  This meant I had to go directly home from the race and eat, sled prep, and try to get in the tiniest amount of recovery.

One thing I hadn’t accounted for was the change in weather overnight.  The forecast had predicted snow, which I prepared for, but the air temperatures dropped significantly more than I planned for. Furthermore, as the sun hadn’t risen by the start of our race I was worried I had the wrong runners on for these different conditions.

Unfortunately I was right.  With the snow and the harder ice my runners didn’t have the amount of grip I needed.  During my first run I felt like I was “floating” on the ice which is never a good thing.  I had a decent run, but with the small mistakes and microskids was only in 12th position after the first run.

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Getting height in corner 10.

I hoped the ice would warm up a bit for the second but it didn’t.  In Igls, because the track is so short, the times are clustered very tightly and it is possible to see dramatic changes in positioning after combining two runs.  For me, this happened, but unfortunately in the wrong direction.  During my second run I was even skiddier which was compounded by a few small mistakes.  To my dismay as I crossed the finish line I realized I had fallen 5 spots.  I was devastated.  After all the athletes went down, I did move up one spot but finished 17th.  Although at the beginning of the week that would have been the result I expected, I was still terribly disappointed.

On the bright side, at least I didn’t hit a mysterious flyaway broom!

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Jane and the broom

Once again Igls proved to be challenging.  Given that next year World Championships are here next year it gives me even more motivation to get my push to level where it needs to be.  Otherwise any small tip of the scale, whether it be the wrong runners, a small mistake at the top of the track, a small skid, or any other of the myriad of problems that can occur on the way down the track, will have devastating consequences for me.  I accept the challenge and resolve to spend the off season doing everything I can to remedy the situation.  I want to allow myself to be in a position where I don’t have to always be perfect during the run.  What a breath of fresh air that would be!

Next stop, a track I have spent years dreaming about–Sochi, Russia!