|The Laura Biathlon Stadium; Olympic venue for 2014!|
The World Cup's most anticipated stop this year is undoubtedly the new venue in Sochi - which will play host for the Olympic Games in February 2014. It's safe to say that all the athletes and staff were eager to check out these new courses and get a feel for the area, so excitement was pretty high as we began our travel from Oslo to Sochi. Travel days that end or begin in Russia are often long and can be difficult. Gun control in Russia is serious, and papers must be in order (often many times over) well in advance of arrival. We are lucky to have a staff that is very on top of logistics, so our entry into the country was relatively smooth. Unfortunately, we had to wait for all the athletes on our flight to clear customs before our bus could leave the airport for the future Olympic village. After an additional 2.5 hours waiting around, we finally arrived at our house (after what probably would have been a beautiful gondola ride up the mountain, had it not been midnight and thus pitch-black out).
|Susan enjoying the (dark) gondola ride up to the future Olympic village.|
The accommodations here at the village are great. We have a good sized house with 5 double rooms and a good sized common area. All but two of the athletes are in one house (some of our staff is up here in the house, and some stays at the bottom of the gondola since all the housing is not yet finished in the village), so it's been nice having some good "team time" together. While the accommodations are great, the food leaves a little to be desired. Russian food is pretty different from what we're used to, and between the lack of fresh vegetables and fruits and all the mysterious-looking meats, it's tough to adapt to. Eating gluten-free has been an especially tough challenge, but I was prepared, bringing some cereal and bread with me, and between myself and the 4 or 5 other athletes that are gluten-free, we've been having some luck getting the cooks to label things and have some form of GF carbohydrate for us to eat. Buckwheat is a popular choice, and has become a staple of my diet here!
|One of the cabins in the village, with the amazing mountain view behind!|
|Construction is nearly constant here. The Olympic village is nowhere near complete...it will be interesting to see what everything looks like next year!|
|A view from the walk between eating and our house - the venue is in the trees in the middle of the picture, and the cabins are off to the left at the bottom of this little hill.|
The venue itself is amazing. The building used for timing, jury meetings, doping control, media, and a host of other things, is the largest ever built for a biathlon stadium. The stadium is huge and well-designed, and no-doubt will be packed next year. Despite having to check our rifles in and out of a locked room each day, and the endless circulation of shuttles between the village and the stadium, things have come off without any major problems so far.
|The stadium, with lots of space for spectators and the massive timing etc. building behind.|
The courses are some of the most difficult on the circuit. The climbs are monstrous, and depending on conditions, the downhills can be tricky (several athletes had pretty bad crashes in the Individual race, causing some injuries and broken rifle stocks). Working on V1 climbing skills will be paramount to doing well here next year. However, the range approach is downhill into the flat stadium, which provides good rest before shooting. And you can't beat the view...the Caucasus Mountains provide a beautiful backdrop to the venue and village. While these are certainly not my favorite courses, I'm looking forward to improving my climbing ability and working hard to better fit my skills for the next time we're here.
|Skiing up the first big uphill out of the stadium. The Sochi venue is nothing if not picturesque! (Photo: Jonne Kahkonen)|
This weekend racing continues with Sprints on Saturday and Relay races on Sunday. Unfortunately, we only have three women here, so won't be fielding a relay team. The Sprint should be exciting, though, and next week we head to Khanty-Mansyisk for the final races of the season. It's about 11 months until the Olympics, perfect timing to be checking out the venue, and just enough time to work out the kinks and come back stronger next year!
|One of our fabulous wax techs, Gara, and me enjoying some beautiful ski testing weather!|