March 29, 2011

The Finish Line

Oslo-Holmenkollen finish line - the end of a long but fantastic season!

The season is finally over; "finally" in the sense that it has been a long one, not to say I'm relieved to see it done. While I'm certainly excited for some down-time, this has been an amazing season. I saw a huge jump in my results and have readjusted my perspective and goals in a positive way. I'm leaving this season behind more motivated and energized as I look towards the seasons to come. This is just the beginning of an exciting road to Sochi.

A fan's Good Luck sign for Haley and me in Oslo before the mass start.

That said, I've taken the typical post-season road and promptly became sick as soon as I arrived home in Boise last week. The good thing about being sick in the off-season is that you don't worry about it, the bad thing is that you don't feel good when you should be out enjoying all the things you don't get to while racing. There are worse things than spending your days drinking tea and cuddling up on the couch with a book.

Already I'm looking towards the coming training season, though. Things will ramp up with a camp in Lake Placid in May, though training will begin before then on my own. Until then, though, I'll be enjoying my time off-sleeping, reading and just generally relaxing!

March 19, 2011

Well, I was in 8th place...

Unfortunately, I can't say I stayed there. Let me explain.

The Sprint in Oslo on Thursday went well. I had one penalty and finished 23rd-just 0.7 seconds behind my teammate, Haley Johnson. Today was the pursuit, and it was really exciting having the two of us starting so close. I shot well, with only 1 penalty in the first three stages. Leaving the range after cleaning my first standing shooting, I heard the announcer say I was in 8th position. I focused on skiing my own race, and tried to catch a ride when another woman passed me out on the trail. As I came in to shoot, I tried to think about my own race and doing things the same as any other stage, and not about the fact that I would be shooting on point 9...because I was in 9th place. Unfortunately, my legs and my nerves did not cooperate and I missed 3 targets. I was able to have a solid last loop and finished in 20th place. Haley also had a solid result, finishing just behind in 21st. It was an amazing experience for me, one that I will learn a lot from and certainly benefit from in the future. I would have loved to have shot better in the final stage, but even so it was a great race. And next time, I'll be better prepared and hopefully things will go differently. It really allowed me to see what's possible and where I should strive for next season.

The course in Holmenkollen overlooking Oslo.

The best part of the results was that both Haley and I qualified for the Mass Start tomorrow. It's the first time, perhaps ever, that two US women have started a World Cup Mass Start. It will be a tough race at the end of a long season, but it will be a great way to end this fantastic year. And then-back to the US for some much deserved rest and relaxation! Just one more time!

March 15, 2011

On to Oslo

Sunset at the stadium in Khanty.

After the World Championships in Khanty-Mansyisk concluded with Sunday's relay, it was off to Oslo. As a team, our relay did not go as well as planned. I did, however, have a great leg and felt very good about how I ended the series. It's always nice to have good results to go along with good efforts, but today it just wasn't there for us. It was, however, an improvement for the team as we all skied well and placed 14th, 3 positions higher than our Olympic finish.

Racing in the relay. Photo: NordicFocus

Most of the team is now in Oslo for the final World Cup. It's an absolutely gorgeous day here-and even after such a long season, moral is high and everyone seems to be looking forward to the last races. I'm excited for one more weekend and the opportunity to race another mass start. We'll see how things go, but I feel good. There's no better place to end the season, and hopefully it will be a good finale!

March 11, 2011

One Windy Day in Khanty...

When I set my goal of having fun and staying relaxed in the Individual race and World Championships, I could not have know how tough that would be. After days of sunny, breezy weather, we awoke on Wednesday to a blizzard with gale force wind gusts...not ideal for a shooting race such as the 15km. I kept my mind off the weather, however, realizing that everyone would have to deal with the wind and it was not worth stressing about. As the day went on, the wind calmed slightly...meaning there was less danger of mats blowing was still quite windy. At zero, though, I realized there were moments of predictable wind, and with a good zero, I was confident I could wait for the breaks and still shoot well. While some women went ahead and shot their normal cadence, my plan to wait and risk spending more time in the range worked out well. I hit 18 of the 20 shots and skied a fantastic last loop to a 17th place finish. Only one woman shot clean and one had only 1 miss, making 10 people of 93 finishers who shot 90% or better-something unheard of in an Individual race where the shooting is so important. I was ecstatic with my result and my effort. It was a tough day and I was pleased to have been able to overcome the elements and give myself a great World Champs race to remember.

Heading out for a classic ski to enjoy the sun the day after the Individual race.

Now the US women are looking forward to the relay on Sunday. After the men's 6th place performance today, we are pretty excited to see what we can put together. It will be a fun way to end the 2011 World Champs...then it's off to Oslo for one last World Cup. We're on the home stretch now...

Lowell Bailey and the rest of the men's relay field in the first leg.

The men at the flower ceremony after their 6th place performance. Congrats guys!

March 8, 2011

World Champs-Halfway

Birch trees. The native people here use birch bark to create many beautiful crafts.

After a strong relay performance, I was looking forward to the sprint and pursuit races this past weekend here in Khanty-Mansiysk. After missing 3 in my sprint race and crossing the line already 3:25 behind the leader, though, I thought my chances for even making the pursuit would be slim. Usually, around 2:00-2:30 behind is the normal top-60 margin. But apparently the course here in Khanty is anything but normal, and as the race wrapped up, I stayed 3:25 behind and landed in 48th place. Not where I was hoping to be, but to make the pursuit without having a great race was solid.

Unfortunately, I was not the only US woman to suffer from a less-than-stellar result. Only two of us made the pursuit, and the team had to work hard to look for the positives and re-group for the coming races. For me that meant right away. Sunday's pursuit was much colder, and like Ostersund, I opted for some face tape to keep cold and frostbite at bay. Starting so far back was tough: while the sprint loops are 2.5km, the pursuit loops are only 2km, and markedly easier. The 2km cuts out one hill entirely and significantly shortens the climb into the range. In the relay, the loops were taking between 5 and 6 minutes. I knew shooting would be key with the short loops and the already large margin I would start behind. I skied solidly and with only 4 penalties, managed to keep from being lapped by the leaders and move up, finishing 38th and gaining a couple more World Cup points. In the end, 14 women were lapped, proving again what an strange pursuit this was. I was very glad to shoot better and finish within the points, and though it was not my best race, the result gave me some confidence as I look forward to the rest of the races here.

Annelies Cook and I after a cold pursuit. Pleased with the effort but ready for a rest day!

Many times this season I've had the chance to reflect on how far I've come in just one year. One of the best examples is the first half of this World Championships. In the sprint, with three misses, I placed 48th and was not satisfied. Then, I shot 80% in the pursuit and moved up to 38th and felt it was simply a decent race for me and a good comeback considering how far back I had started. Last year at the Olympics, missing 1 target in the sprint race, I placed 45th and was ecstatic. And then, shooting 90% in the pursuit, I ended up in 46th place. It's great for me to see the change in my expectations and ability, but every once in a while I must remind myself that just last year simply getting World Cup points was cause for celebration. Before this season my best result had been 34th in the Olympic Individual, and so far this year I've had 8 results better than that one. Things are certainly heading in the right direction!

Huge, brightly colored Matryoshka (nesting) dolls are positioned all around the town square.

Coach Jonne getting in his "Rocky" workout...the rest of us opted to walk up!

Tomorrow is the 15km individual race. I feel ready and confident, but without pressure. I know this year has been great for me, and to prove it again here at World Championships would be fantastic. But that's not the focus. Tomorrow's goal: have fun and enjoy the experience, whatever the outcome.

USA women with Coach Jonne Kahkonen, enjoying the sun on an off-day exploration of Khanty-Mansiysk.

March 4, 2011

Getting things going in Siberia

Greetings from the cold north!

World Championships is underway with last night's mixed relay. It was a mixed bag for me, with great skiing and mediocre shooting, but it was a good way to find my race legs again and get psyched for Saturday's Sprint race. Having to use 5 extra rounds didn't set the team up very well, but my team had an overall solid day, finishing 13th. Feeling so good on skis gave me confidence going into tomorrow, and hopefully the shooting will go a bit smoother!

Opening Ceremonies in the stadium.

Out on course in Khanty.

Siberia has been fun so far. Warmer than anticipated weather and sunny days have allow us to really enjoy the World Championships atmosphere. While this definitely isn't Central Europe and far from the US, the differences aren't too stressful. Military presence around the whole venue is perhaps the most obvious change, but for the most part the guards are friendly, even stopping me on my ski today to ask to take a picture together!

A beautiful (and huge!) Russian Orthodox Church just down the road from our hotel.

A view over Khanty-Mansyisk...then out to the Siberian tundra!

The adventure continues with the Sprint and Pursuit races this weekend. I'm looking forward to both-hopefully my luck from Maine has followed me almost halfway around the world!