My Games kicked off with the Biathlon Sprint. An event that I have earned the Silver medal in for the past two Games. There was a moment when I thought repeating that would be special. But so would be a Gold. My goal was forever to come to this morning feeling ready. Confident in the fact, I had done everything I needed to do so that I could perform. I felt that way more than four years ago in PyeongChang. I started the race exactly how I wanted to. In the end, I believe I skied maybe one of my best races that day. It showed I was at peak performance physically. I was the strongest skier that day. Where I was disappointed was on the range. Reflecting upon the race, as I said, the skiing was there, automatic. The racing felt so natural, almost meditative, and I took that into the range. But I didn't need it there. The Zhangjiakou National Biathlon Centre is one of the windiest venues I've competed at. It's a very different wind to other venues. Ok, bear with me, but it's consistently inconsistent. It blows in gusts, then as it dies, it shifts direction, almost as if being pulled in a vacuum, before beginning the next gust by shifting the direction back. On the first day on the range, I had a feel for it. And maybe I was overconfident in my abilities on the range, which showed the next day. I wasn't as sharp as I had been that first day. On March 3, I understood the wind on the third day of shooting, but a miss or two showed me where the edge was. Maybe losing that last day might have been the key to figuring out that range. I needed to shoot the way I usually do but perhaps with a more conscious awareness of the conditions, which I didn't because everything else felt natural. Even worse was that after the miss in the first bout, I repeated the same mistake in the second bout. To miss two in a Sprint race is way below the standard I have for myself. Only because I had incredible ski speed with amazing skis could I make up for the mistakes and ski myself back into contention and earn a Bronze medal. I took a lot of confidence from that race and the harsh reminder I needed to be better on the range if I wanted to be competitive in the remaining Biathlon races in Beijing.
I had Day 2 off from competition, but I was getting ready for the Cross Country 20km the following day. Though this is the distance I skipped four years ago, this time being a classic race, I focused on it. I had confidence in my ability, but for me, it just never quite clicked altogether. I struggled throughout the race; though I was skiing well, it never got into that final gear that I needed to contest the leaders. There has been little racing over the past two seasons, and I think I felt that fact today. I had done several races or time trials at every other distance, but I hadn't done a 20km in a long time. On the day I did my best, I knew there were several minor errors, and they all added up. On a slow race that took almost an hour to complete, 20seconds faster would have gotten me a silver; instead, I would end up fourth. I've targeted a 20km Classic race on a few occasions now but have never performed to my expectations. I want to take a closer look and figure out what I need to do to perform in this race the next time I get an opportunity to do so.
I had no time to think about the 20km because the following day was the Biathlon Middle. My Games history for this race is two consecutive Bronze medals. The time between these two races was always tight, and recovery would be critical. Something I'm well versed in by now. As determined as I was to get my best recovery, that night was a rough one. My guts were not happy, maybe a side effect of limited travelling in the past few years. With twenty minutes to the end of zero, I wasn't sure I would start the race. But that was not something I had done before, and I wasn't going to let that day be the first time. Not knowing what was left physically, I shifted my race focus to the only thing I had complete control over; the shooting. I had to go clean and see what I had left on the ski course. After my frustration and disappointment from the Sprint, all the more important to go clean and prove my shooting prowess. I started the race well enough, or so I thought. I shot clean in the first bout, but as I left the range, I heard a high-tempo of someone following me; I looked to see that Gregoriy was skiing right behind; he had made up 30seconds over the first lap. We skied together on this second lap. We both shot clean again in the second bout. Not that I saw this during the race, but I was told later that he waited on the range behind me so that I would be skiing ahead of him. I might have taken the bait and was leading through the third lap. We entered the range for the third time; both shot clean once again. This was an exciting race. I started the fourth lap, I was getting instructions from my coach, and I had to start thinking about how to play out the rest of this race. I didn't trust that I had multiple attacks in my body, maybe only one good one. I was skiing hard and figured Gregoriy was conserving energy by skiing behind me. On this fourth lap as I was waiting for him to be close enough that I might step aside and get in behind him. It never happened. We had others around us, but he wasn't on my tail as close as he had been. I didn't have enough course to figure it out before entering for the fourth and final bout. I kept my focus on my shooting, one shot at a time. I remember a similar pressure situation four years ago in the Individual on my way to a Paralympic title. I think I handled the situation this time much better than in PyeongChang. I kept my rhythm and pattern and hit all five targets, meaning I shot 20 for 20. But this race wasn't over yet! I saw Gregoriy merge left into the penalty loop about a hundred meters later. I had the advantage, but I would never underestimate Gregoriy's finishing speed, and I didn't know if I had anything left. I put everything left into those first two climbs, trying to hold onto any advantage I might have. As I turned to head back at the far point of the course, I could see Gregoriy hadn't made up much ground yet, but there was still time. I had one more major climb- all I could do was attack the climb, get over the top and see where I stood. Into the course's final section a coach yelled;
I have no clue what, but I could tell I had done it by their tone. The gap hadn't gotten tighter; if anything, I had opened a bigger gap to Gregoriy. I couldn't take the foot off the gas, but I skied into the finish, knowing I might have just earned my second Paralympic title. After everything, I did not expect that result, but I'm sure glad I stuck with it and raced. I came to Beijing to prove I was one of the best; today, I did just that!
I had the next two days off from competition before the three final races of the Games. The next race for me was the Biathlon Individual. The event I was defending Paralympic Champion in. I don't think that added any pressure; to me, it added confidence. I had done it before; why not again? I was recovered, and I knew what I had to do to succeed on that day. I put myself in a position to contest for the win. But it wouldn't be my day. I did have a miss in my second bout, a moment of unfocus, and I misread the wind. Even shooting clean and getting the one-minute penalty back would have halved my time behind. The Frenchman was too strong, and I couldn't beat him on the skis. And I was a ways ahead of the third place, caught in no man's land. I had a great race; I felt I had done almost everything right; there was someone better that day. The silver medal would complete the set; I guess there's that. I showed my consistency in Biathlon, winning a medal in each of the three Biathlon races in Beijing.
The final races and thoughts are coming soon.