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Sochi Flashback

Updated: Sep 3, 2018

📷The day that I have focused on for the last four years had arrived. March 10 was the first competition day at the Games, and I would get the show started with one of my strongest events - the Biathlon Sprint. And I was nervous, anxious. In Sochi, I went into the first race as ‘let’s see what will happen,’ there was no pressure. In the end, it was one of my best races of all time. In Korea that was different. Everything I believed, had fallen into place, it would be up to me to control my race plan. And yes, I was way too much in my head that morning. Beginning to think about the results, not the process. My job essentially is to performance-on-demand, but doing it is the hard part. As I got onto the snow, I was slowly shifting the focus back to process and what I needed to do to get ready. A big help with this was a teammate. Collin was finishing up his first ever race at the Paralympics, with a very real chance of a medal as he headed out for the final lap. He has never podiumed in Biathlon, but with great skiing and only a single miss, he was going to do just that. Seeing, and hearing Collin win his first ever Paralympic medal was amazing. For me, it took the edge off a bit. It was a very pleasant surprise, but more importantly, it was only the start of a remarkable Games for the Canadian Nordic Team.

I was still nervous getting ready in the Start area. As the competitor before me started that was when a lot of those nervous left. There was nothing else to do but control my race. As I took those first few strides out of the gate most of the remaining nerves left, I was out there to do what I do. As I approached the range for the first time, there was a little self-talk, and a few of the nerves came back. There was a quick moment of relief as that first paddle flipped up. Again as the second shot flipped up the second paddle. After that, I was good. I shifted to the hunter. I don’t remember much of the second lap. I do remember the second bout. To begin that bout there were a few issues that stacked up. The rifle wasn’t perfectly balanced. So I adjusted it. Then I realized the spring stand that holds my rifle up was too high. So I adjusted that as well. After losing some time with both of these issues I took a breath, to relax and wipe the thoughts from my mind before starting my bout. After all the distractions of starting this bout, I had the control to hit all five of the targets. Going clean in the race. I got up and turned on the jets for the final ski loop. Remembering the Sochi Biathlon Sprint where 1.5sec separated the podium. I knew every second would be critical. As I crossed the finish line, I thought I had won, but there were still at least two competitors out on course. One of them, the Frenchman, was tearing up the course and would take the win by almost 30 seconds. I began these Games the same as I had in Sochi, a Silver medal in the Biathlon Sprint (but this time I shot clean). This race would give the confidence that I needed to challenge in the upcoming races.

The following day was the Cross Country Long for the Sit-skiers. My focus for the day was to be very chilled and relaxed, resting and preparing for the final six days where I would be competing on five of the days. March 12 was the only competition I choose to skip, the Cross Country Freestyle Long. I enjoyed being out there and cheering on my teammates over the two days. I had an easier workout that day with some shooting as I got ready for the next Biathlon race.

Day Four of the Games was the Biathlon Middle; four bouts of shooting over a distance of 12.5km. My shooting consistency is one of my strengths, and with four bouts this race starts to trend towards stronger shooters. Figures, this was the only race I would miss a shot in. After the third bout, three skiers were left to fight it out for the win. Daviet, of France, Reptyukh, of Ukraine and me. It was always going to be a tight finish. If I wanted to try and take the win, I would need to take a risk on the range. As I set up for that final bout, I had a small conflict brewing. My conscious self was of a mind to control the bout, guarantee the hits. My sub-conscious, on the other hand, had heard rumours of an all-out speed bout. Both sides clashed as I wasn’t ready but still squeezed the trigger. Missing that first shot, from there I instantly switched everything to speed and before I could blink I had the last four targets hit. I knew then I had some work to do. Trying to put pressure on the other two that were behind me, I pushed as much as I could over that final lap. In the end, I didn’t have the ski speed to hold them back, settling for third place. Strangely, I was closer to the winner’s time in this longer race than I was in the shorter Sprint. Biathlon at these Games was proving to be a three-man race in the Standing category. There were a few moments after this second race where memories of Sochi came rushing back. At this point in Sochi, I had earned a Silver and a Bronze medal but wouldn’t contend in any of the remaining races there. I was determined not to repeat Sochi.

The following day was to be my first Cross Country race at the Games, the Classic Sprint. My goals for the day was to start with a strong qualifier and make it to the final. One strong contender decided to withdraw which opened the door slightly, but there were still a handful of skiers capable of winning this Sprint. Two of which are the best Classic skiers and sprinters on the circuit. Both who were on the Classic Sprint podium at the Vancouver 2010 Games. It was going to be interesting. I don’t always qualify well, so that was why I wanted to focus on that for this race. And I did. In the Qualification race, I crossed the finish line in second place, 0.3 seconds behind the Nitta, of Japan. A few minutes later there would a strange result come up onto the scoreboard. A skier from Kazakhstan suddenly was two seconds faster then Nitta and I. Since the team knew what the Sprint course was we thought it would favor anyone double poling. That just showed. As the Kazak had double poled.

📷 I would end up third in Qualification, and into the second Semi. The Semi was fairly standard nothing overly exciting happened. My focus was on being one of the first three to cross the line, moving onto the final. Halfway through the Semi, I was able to cruise a little (conserving energy) to the finish line knowing I had secured a spot in the Final. For the Final, I didn’t have a plan as such, all I could do was to ski hard and react to how the race unfolded. That might have been my undoing. At the high point of the course, I was sitting in fourth but quickly glided into third place. As Nitta, Ilkka, of Finland and I pulled away I knew I was a very strong position and that I had great skis. On the downhill coming into the stadium, I was tucked in behind the other two and slingshotted past as we approached the final stretch. We were within the final 100m, and I had the lead. This was where I might have panicked a little. Knowing I shouldn’t rely on my double pole, I thought I needed to switch to striding. I didn’t trust the glazed track I was in to have the traction I needed. So I jumped out of the track. One of the biggest mistakes I have made. The snow was incredibly slow outside the tracks. I lost a lot of momentum; I managed to salvage a little by getting back into another set of tracks. But I had lost my advantage. At this point, the only way to stay a contender was lunge like I had never lunged before. I did everything I could to get my toe as far forward as I could. A photo finish. After finishing, I knew immediately that I had made a huge error in the finish stretch and could only hope that my lunge was good enough to stay on the podium. I just hoped I wasn’t fourth. After a long time, long enough to have skied the entire race again, the scoreboard finally showed the results: a tie! Ilkka and I had tied for third place. The excitement, the anxious waiting and thrill of my first Cross Country medal at the Paralympics. I look back on this race and know that I didn’t trust my abilities. My strengths. Because of that, I was lunging to stay on the podium when I could have been lunging for the win. It is a hard lesson to learn, especially at a Games. Learning that lesson would lead to success down the road (maybe even a day or two later).

The next day was my final day off from competition at the Games. The following three days would end up being a whirlwind and one of the most exhilarating weekends I have ever had. But Thursday’s focus was pure and simple, recovery. Recovery from the previous efforts and prepare for the final three races of the Games. The final Biathlon competition; the Individual, a 10km Classic, and a Cross Country Relay (if the team needed me). Ever since the test event in PyeongChang a year earlier I’ve been looking forward to these final three races. The Individual is the Biathlon race that best suits my shooting and skiing strengths, but I have never properly taken advantage of it. With improved recent performances in Cross Country, I believed I had a real opportunity to be a serious contender in the 10km Classic. And, if I was given a chance to compete in one of the Relays I wanted to ready to do my best.

Little did I know what was in store for that final weekend of the Games…

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