Night in the Black Forest

The past week I returned for my third time to the Southwest German town of Oberried, for the second World Para Nordic Skiing World Cup of this Paralympic season. In Germany’s Black Forest, Oberried has hosted World Cup events in the two past Paralympic seasons, 2010 and 2014. Going into this World Cup, I could feel a little more dynamic movement in my skiing. In December I felt very fit, but I struggled to convert that fitness into speed on skis. Where here in Germany I already felt faster, right from the first day arriving in Europe. This time I hit the ground striding. The first race was a fantastic 10km Classic. With some challenging snow conditions, the wax team nailed it. The Canadian team had the best skis on the day. With the eagerness to race again, incredible skis and a refound pop in my legs, I would race to a second place finish. One of my best Cross Country result ever. It is something special to kick off the World Cup week with that kind of start.

The next day was a 20km Freestyle race. It was a challenging course compared to that of the flatish course from the previous day. I worked throughout the race on being as efficient as I could be. That worked well for most of the course; there was one section that I know now I struggled with. Still, I’m very pleased with the day; I know the efforts on the day helped for the later races. Following the long race, I had three days off as I skipped Tuesday’s Cross Country Sprint. Then the fun began on Wednesday.

A unique feature of the Oberried World Cup four years ago was an addition of the first-ever Biathlon Night Race. Luckily the organizers decided to bring that back this time around. Honestly, it does make for a strange couple of days with a very different schedule that I'm used to with normal races. On Wednesday official training didn’t begin until 16:00 for the Sitting classes and I wasn’t until 17:30. Even Wednesday night for training the atmosphere was so very different, enter the range with all of the lights there, then ski out of the stadium and its dark, skiing from light to light. I was feeling strong that night and was looking forward to Thursday’s Biathlon Sprint under the lights. Thursday morning was quite chilled, relaxed no need to rush anywhere. I got out for a nice run in the morning after a leisurely (and very good!) breakfast. After much waiting, I finally headed up to the venue at 16:00. The Germans do love their Biathlon, that night was probably the largest number of spectators all week, and it was a party. I started the race well. I knew the only way to stay with the best skiers was to have an aggressive start and control the range. That worked well for the first lap as I had the fastest time and shot clean. I maintained that speed through the second lap and with amazing control cleaned the second bout of shooting as well. I was skiing well, but one of the Ukrainians turned on some turbos and put a few seconds into me on that final lap. I was thrilled to finish second; I did what I could. That Night Race was such an awesome experience I hope it isn’t another four years before we get to do that again!

Friday was the day to recover from the late night that was Thursday and prepare for the final two Biathlon races. Saturday was the Individual and Sunday was the Middle Distance. The weather turned to stay above zero and barely let the snow freeze and set up overnight. Meaning I was skiing through a few inches of soft, wet granular snow. I was excited about how I felt during Saturday’s race on the course, but overall I was frustrated with my performance. The shooting was great for the first two bouts, but in the third, I lost my focus and suddenly had a miss (adding a minute to my time). I think I would have been ok if that was it. Then as I came into the range for the final bout I considered pushing the limits of speed, I decided to just stay with the normal routine. My frustration after the race came from not refocusing on making sure every shot was a hit, but instead I added yet another miss. I was so angry with myself for allowing a second stupid miss. The staff gave me fantastic skis, the body felt great and was responding every time I wanted more. Then to throw away a great result with two stupid misses, that was tough.

Sunday I was started to feel the rest of the week building up. I didn’t quite have the spark I had in the earlier races. I believe I still had a very consistent race, but it just didn’t have the speed I might have needed to contest for the top. It was an extremely tight race from third to seventh separated by only 20 seconds. I was only ten seconds from third, and 1.6 seconds from fourth. With the single miss in the third bout.

I think the Oberried World Cup was a great success for me. There are still a few things I need and want to work on over the next 34 days or so. I feel I’m right where I want to be regarding my preparations for the Games. Now I’m back in Canmore until I depart for the team’s staging camp in Japan. I look forward to next four weeks executing the final prep to get myself ready. For those fortunate enough to travel with Air Canada in February check out one of the five covers of the EnRoute Magazine, there might be a familiar face. To Team Canada that will be competing at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, I wish you all the Best of Luck!

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