World Cups #4 & 5- Konigssee, Germany and St. Moritz, Switzerland

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of travel, training, sliding, eating, sleeping, repeat.  It’s hard to believe that I have already been in Europe for 27 days. It seems like just yesterday I finished up my last shift at work and boarded a plane to Germany.  Since my last post about Race #3 in Altenberg, I have competed in two more World Cup races.  The 4th race was in Konigssee, followed by last weekend’s race in beautiful St. Mortiz.

Coming off a disappointing result in Altenberg, I was looking forward to getting back to Konigssee.  You may remember I made a journey there earlier in the fall to get acquainted with the new track and do 2 Europa Cup races.  As my last 4 runs there resulted in two gold medal wins I was hopeful that I could keep the streak alive and be able to crack into the top 10 on this more challenging circuit.

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View from my room. You can see the track in the distance!

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Green grass on a sunny day in Konigssee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The track was similar to how I remembered– sneaky and subtle.  It was, however, quite a bit faster than before and required very quick and precise steers.  During training I struggled with the Kreisel/doodle corners even more than in the previous visit, probably a factor of the increased speed.  Heading into the race I had similar goals to that in Altenberg- two personal best pushes and two clean Kresiels.  Although I was wary about setting process rather than outcome oriented goals again, I decided to trust it and see what happened.

On race day the sun came out and the ice was hard and fast.  As there was nearly a track record set in training the day before, I expected some blazing times.  I was off 4th in the race draw and watching the women slide ahead of me my prediction came true.  I had never slid into the 52 s range (although I was close in the previous races), and every one ahead of me did.  When I was called to the line I tried to stay calm and focused.  After giving my all on the push and relaxing into the sled I navigated the upper portion of the track well with very few mistakes.  I knew Kreisel was approaching quickly and in the corner just before, I had a bit too high of a line and flopped off into Kreisel.  It gave me a strange line, and despite my best efforts I was too loopy in the second pressure and nearly roofed it on the exit and hit the right wall hard on the way out.  It was exactly the line I was trying to avoid.  The doodles then became emergency steering mitigation instead of fluid and composed.  The rest of the track was fine as I managed to quickly get back into form, but I knew as I crossed the line it wasn’t the run I hoped for.

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Mega height in Kreisel

After the first heat I was in 10th place.  All things considered it wasn’t a terrible position.  I also managed to squeak into the 52s and have a personal best push! I studied the video in between runs and vowed to get out of Kreisel clean, even if it mean skidding my sled on the exit (which is reserved for extreme situations as it is a very dramatic type of steer that scrubs a lot of time).

In the second run I had a good push and a beautiful top section of the track.  My speeds heading into Kreisel were amongst the best.  As I entered Kreisel I focused on matching the pressures precisely and making sure my sled didn’t get too much height.  At the third and final pressure I was prepared to do what it took to get out clean but fortunately I had quite a bit less height and was able to let it go a tiny bit.  I came out clean (only by an inch or so!), and quickly tightened back down into form for the doodles and bottom section of the track.  I managed to cut 2/10ths off my time for another personal best.  I finished the race in 10th, and again achieved my pre-race goals.  This time the results better matched the process so I was quite pleased with that.

With Konigssee in the books we packed up and drove into the stunning Swiss Alps for the 5th stop on the World Cup Circuit, St. Mortiz.  I hadn’t slid there since 2008 and so my memories of what the track was like were fuzzy.  I do remember, however, the magic glow that St. Mortiz exudes, and the sublime feeling you get sliding down the only natural track on circuit.  Therefore I couldn’t wait to get back on the track.

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Training went well.  Sliding in St. Moritz was everything I remembered and more.  The track was smooth and in pristine condition.  It’s long, which is good for me, and a great track to let things flow naturally.  There is one tricky corner, Horseshoe, which can bite you if not careful, but aside from that it’s like taking a ride down on the smoothest, fastest, and least scary roller coaster imaginable.  I found my groove quickly and was able to get some very quick speeds and downtimes.

As training did go well,  I knew there was potential to have a good result, but as always training is just training.  Heading into the first run on race day my goal was to have a personal best push and a clean horseshoe corner (where I had struggled throughout the week).   But what I didn’t count on was my helmet visor breaking in the Sunny corner near the top of the track during the first run.  It has never happened to me before, and therefore I wasn’t sure what exactly was happening as the wind suddenly started rushing into my eyes.  Once I figured out what it was, I wasn’t sure if the visor would stay on my helmet for the rest of the run, or if my helmet itself was damaged as well.  Despite that, I tried to stay as calm and focused as possible and was able to have a relatively good run with the fastest speeds of the heat.   I finished in 5th position, which again with all things considered, was a fantastic result.

eyemoritzWith only approximately half and hour between runs I didn’t have much time to think about the previous run or re-warm up as I had to do something about my helmet.  Since I didn’t have a back up visor of that kind, for the second run I ended up taping the visor back onto my helmet which worked fine.  I would like to thank my fellow athletes and coaches from other nations in the mad scramble that ensued to find me something that would work in the very short time between runs.  I knew this would be a test of my ability to stay calm and focused for the next run.

When it was my turn at the block I focused on the positive, for example I thought how lucky I was to slide on this track, and decided to soak it all up.  I managed to push another personal best, and melted into my sled off the load.  I enjoyed every second of the run.  I was able to channel speed after getting through Horseshoe clean (hurrah!) and simply fly down the rest of the track.  I crossed the finish line unaware of my time or if I maintained my position because there is no clock at the bottom of the track.  When I exited the track I was informed that not only did I retain my position, guaranteeing me a top 5 finish, but that I set a track record!  I was ecstatic!

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Track record!

Although the next slider managed to beat my time by a tenth of a second, I was still very happy with my result. I even moved up one position and finished just off the podium in 4th position.  It was a good day.

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Women’s podium St. Moritz World Cup 2015.

Sliding in St.Moritz, the birthplace of sliding sports, is magical.  The scenery, the town, the track crew and staff–everything is  exceptional.  The track itself is a marvel.  Because there is no cement beneath the ice, it’s silent.  And the natural ice is a pure white colour.  Combine that with the sun shining onto it and the very fast speeds, it feels like what I imagine heaven to be like.   It was a privilege to be able to slide and compete there once more.

Now we move onto another new-to-me track, La Plagne. Set high in the French Alps, I am excited and nervous to see what the next adventure holds in store for me!

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World Cup #3- Altenberg, Germany

Ah, Altenberg.  Perhaps the most feared and respected track in the world.  As a common stop on the Europa, Intercontinental, and World Cup Circuits, most skeleton sliders have had an introduction to this track at some point in their career.  What’s the big deal?  It’s a combination of factors.  This ex-Easignst German “secret” track is set in a dark and gloomy forest, tucked into the middle of nowhere, and has notoriously dreary weather.  It was supposedly modeled after the Calgary track, but instead of being easy, fun and glidey like it’s muse, something went wrong and every corner seems too short/flat/long/tight.  Two corners in particular, Corner 4 and the 360 degree Kreisel are especially difficult.  As the announcer during our World Cup race stated “Corner 4 is really in skeleton terms a terrible corner… like you just can’t steer it nicely… like there is no fast way through there”.  It also has a super long and flat push.  By time you get on the sled you are exhausted!  Plus, most sliders have either personally experienced or witnessed a crash here that has left them physically and/or mentally shaken up.

Personally, I considered my last visit to Altenberg (December 2014) a success.  I had hoped I could pick up where I left off last time and work on “fine tuning”.  However, the situation was a bit different this time around.  First, World Cup sliding is very different than that on lower circuits, which I have discussed previously.  The best, most experienced athletes in the world are here.  It’s not enough to get down the track in one piece, everyone here has been doing that for years.  A combination of experience, good pushing, confidence and excellent lines are necessary to be at the top.  Although I am confident in my driving abilities, I don’t have a lot of experience on this highly technical track, and I also had some pretty bad experiences here in the past.  Add to the formula my newly broken thumb, still in an immobile splint.  Before coming to Altenberg I had not yet had the opportunity to try sliding or pushing with it.  I can tell you that led to more than a small amount of anxiety leading up to my first run down the track.

Training was up and down.  Old problems resurfaced and I struggled with corners 4 and Kreisel.  In the second last day of training before the race, I had an especially difficult run and flipped onto my side at the exit of Kreisel.  I was frustrated, worried, and some of that old fear was starting to creep in.

Luckily, with the help of my amazing support system, I was able to do some trouble shooting the night before the last day of training and figure out a game plan.  The plans worked and on the last day of OT I finally nailed Kreisel, and it felt amazing.

I had three goals heading into the race: two clean corner 4s, two clean Kreisels, and two sub 6.0 second pushes.  I was third off in the race order, and my first run went well.  I executed what I planned, and ended up in 10th place.

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Here I go!

 

Not a fantastic placing, but not terrible.  I didn’t have much to improve upon, however, as I had a pretty good run.  For the second run I tried to stay relaxed and be consistent.  As it turns out my second run was very similar to the first.  I had a sub 6.0s push, a clean 4, and a clean Kreisel.  But it was slow.  Very slow.  When I crossed the finish line I was shocked to see I had dropped 5 positions.  I almost couldn’t believe it.  Usually for that kind of carnage to occur it would involve some sort of mini-disaster (like a fall on the start 😉 ).  I filed through all the parts of my run in my head over and over and all I could come up with was that I had too much control, and lost a lot of speed by over-steering to ensure a clean exit of 4.  Even looking at the video my run didn’t look perfect, but it didn’t look terrible.  It was a hard pill to swallow.  I have learned over the years not to focus on results but rather on the process.  The hard thing to understand was that I had actually achieved all the goals I set out for myself, and despite that, not had a good result.

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Defying gravity!

 

I’m glad to be done with Altenberg for the time being and we have moved onto Konigssee.  Sliding starts tomorrow and the race is on Friday.  Hopefully things go a little better this week, but as always it’s anyone’s guess!

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World cup girls enjoying the rare sunshine.

 

     “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.’
                                                                                                      -Bill Gates
 

Home sweet home and a broken thumb: World Cup #2 Calgary

After the excitement and unfamiliarity of my first ever World Cup race in Lake Placid, it was comforting that the next stop on the circuit was back home in Calgary.  On the journey back I was lucky to be able to stop for a night with my husband to visit with his family in Montreal.  Although I wish the visit could have been longer, it was great to get to see them, if only for a day, during the holiday season.

Upon return to the Calgary airport, my long standing fears about flying with so much irreplaceable and time sensitive luggage (my sled, runners, and sliding equipment), came true.  None of my skeleton equipment managed to make it onto the plane during the three hour connection in Toronto.  It was especially stressful as an extra day of paid training, the next day, had been added last minute.  We made arrangements to get the sled as soon as possible and from then on there was nothing to do but wait.  The sled finally arrived at 3 am, and at least in the end I didn’t have to miss any training.

To prevent the fatigue and hopefully sluggish pushing I experienced in Lake Placid, I planned to take the last day before the race off.  Being my home track, I felt that it was more important to be rested than to take two more runs on a track I have hundreds.  Therefore, I did one day of paid training, 2 days of official training, then shut it down.  Training went very well. In fact, during my last day of training I got two personal best down times.  After sliding here for 7 years it becomes more and more difficult to get personal bests.  I think every athlete at some point wonders when they will plateau and stop improving. It was reassuring to know that I am in fact still continuing to get faster.  In a moment of self indulgence, I am proud to say I slid a 57.27s, which to my knowledge is the second fastest time ever slid by a woman on the Calgary track since it was built in 1988!  Although it wasn’t a race, I still consider this quite an accomplishment.  Small victories!

I spent the day before the race sled prepping and visiting with my family who came to Calgary to cheer me on.  I could feel the strength and vitality returning to my body.  On the morning of the race I felt rested and strong.  I was as well prepared as I could be and I was looking forward to rocking it in the race.

Unfortunately, the conditions of the track had changed since my training two days earlier.  The air and ice temperatures were significantly warmer than before, more than I had predicted.  I knew I didn’t have the best runners for the conditions but by that time there was nothing I could do about it.  I dropped off my sled in parc ferme and headed off for a good warm up.

It was excellent to see a large turnout for our race.  The stands were quite full and there were people milling up and down and track.  In addition to my family, I was honoured to see several of my work colleagues from Urgent Care come out to support me.  I’ve said it before, but again I truly feel blessed to work with such a great group of people.

I was 6th off this time around and blasted off the block.  Unfortunately, I think I was a little too excited and ran quite short, two cycles less than normal, and didn’t get good a good hip position off the block.  Regardless, once I loaded onto the sled I had a pretty good run.  After the first heat I was 6th.

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By time the second heat rolled around the air and ice temps were dropping.  I knew my equipment was better suited to these conditions, and combined with a slightly better push, I had the opportunity to move up in the rankings.  Only 25/100ths of a second was between myself and third place, and I felt that was doable.

When it came time for my run I felt great.  My legs were light and quick and I was happy with my equipment for the changing ice conditions.  I pushed off the block once more, focusing on dropping the hips and keeping things straight and light following that.

I went to load onto my sled, and then disaster struck.  For some reason, whether it was the additional speed from a faster push, or running slightly too far, my left hand missed my sled and jammed my thumb into the saddle when I was loading.  My hand ended up landing on the ice, along with my left leg.

The momentum shifted the sled the other way and I could feel it about to pop out of the groove.  I reacted as quickly as possible, managing to keep on my sled and in the groove.  But it was devastating as I knew my chances of moving up were over, and I had to be as perfect as possible the rest of the way down to salvage whatever speed I still had.

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Ouch!

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Push fail

 

I was able to refocus and have a great run.  I had the highest speeds of the day, and a good down time despite the start.  My push was faster than my first one despite the fall, which I think is an indication of how much faster I was going when it happened. However, it wasn’t enough to maintain my position and I fell to 7th by 6/100ths of a second.   Overall, despite my hopes and expectations for a better result, my team mates and I did very well with all three females and one male in the top 10.

As you saw I landed very awkwardly on my hand and stretched my thumb out into a position it really should never be in.  Although I knew something wasn’t right as soon as I tried to pick my sled up at the end of the race, I gave it a couple of days for the pain and swelling to subside.  However, the symptoms were persistent and I went in to get it checked out.  Unfortunately my thumb had sustained a small fracture as well as an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tear, more commonly known as “skier’s thumb”.  As a result I now am wearing a splint for the next 6 weeks.

thumb_ouchie_3Despite my injury, after the race I quickly had to switch into “work mode” in order to fund the second half of the season.  I sure have a lot more empathy for people who have hand injuries! It makes the most simple activities such as braiding my hair and zipping up my jacket very challenging.  Luckily I was able to get through my shifts without too much trouble, and some help from my colleagues who stepped in when I didn’t feel I was up to a procedure (i.e. suturing).

Now that the holiday break is over, and the coffers are replenished enough to (barely) make it through the next six weeks, I am back off to Europe for the second half of the World Cup Circuit.  Our first stop is Altenberg, and then back to Koniggsee the next week.

noodesllI hope you had a great holiday season, and thanks for reading!  And I wish you the very best for the New Year.

 

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