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Archive for January, 2010

Olympic Trials

Imagine this:

It is 7:30 pm on January 10th, 2010.  The last several days have been stressful, as Olympic trials are known to be.  This year’s trials process consisted of 3 races, a time trial with your teammates and then 2 races with an international field.  The three American women with the best 2 out of 3 races win tickets to Vancouver in February.  The last of these races, a 10 km pursuit with 4 shooting stages, was supposed to take place earlier this morning, but at the last-minute it was canceled.  A thick fog rolled over the hills of eastern Germany, making it nearly impossible to see the shooting targets and the officials called off the race.   Coaches and athletes spent an anxious afternoon, wondering how a committee within USBA, biathlon’s national governing body, was going to handle this disruption of the Olympic Trials process.  The decision is about to be announced.

Tracy shoots into the fog. Can't see the targets? Neither could we. Halfway through zeroing, the officials called off the race, which was supposed to be our 3rd qualifier.

We line the hotel’s narrow hallway, sitting slumped against the walls, and our coach stands up to talk.  A time trial would seem to be a logical replacement for the 3rd trials race.  I am expecting to hear race details for the following day.  What time will we be leaving to drive to the venue?  When will we have to test skis?  Which shooting point will we zero on?  To me, a time trial seemed like a reasonable substitute for the canceled race.  However, the first thing the coach says is “this is going to be a very short meeting.”  Uh oh.  “They haven’t made a decision yet about what to do.”

Then one of the men on the team pipes up, “actually they just sent out an email, about three minutes ago.”   I have a sinking feeling.  We sit in silence, our hearts pounding in our chests as our coach retrieves a computer and logs onto his email.  He reads it aloud.  Instead of creating a time trial to replace the canceled race, the committee decided to name the team based off of two races.   A certain clause in the rules allows them to do this.

I felt crushed.  Not only did I not make the team, but they named the team without the third race.  There was no closure for us athletes.  I had been ready to give it one last shot in the final race.  Now I wouldn’t have my chance, and it didn’t feel fair.  Earlier that day, I had been talking with a teammate about all the times people have come from behind in Olympic trials races.  That one race could have changed things considerably.  Biathlon is a sport with a large variation in results.  Anything can happen and often does.

The weekend was disappointing, but life goes on.  A few hours after the team meeting, we had a really fun team party and almost everyone, whether they qualified or not, stopped by.  We bought some fireworks and plan to create some ruckus with them later in the week.  The most meaningful part of this experience for me is how BethAnn Chamberlain, Tracy Colliander Barnes and I, the girls who didn’t qualify at these races, have been able to support each other over the last couple days.   We wished the Olympic Team well as they traveled to Ruhpolding for the next World Cup and then we drove to Nove Mesto in the Czech Republic for more IBU cups.

Athletes that don’t qualify have to refocus, and that’s our next challenge.  At these Czech races, I can qualify for Under 26 [years of age] European Championships later in the season and I’m going to put my best effort towards that end.  Yesterday, I signed up for the Craftsbury ski marathon back home, which will take place in another couple weeks.  It is something I’ve always wanted to do.  It’s so easy to get wound up in the Olympic Dream, and when that comes crashing down, you have to remind yourself of the underlying reasons why you got into the sport in the first place.  For me, that was because it is fun, so that is what I’m aiming for as I plan the rest of the season.

Will I be here again four years from now?  Hard to say.  That seems an awfully long time from now, but it’s a possibility.  It’s easy to direct frustration towards the decision makers and the rules system, but  Sarah Konrad had some great words of wisdom for me.  She is a former Olympian who just missed the cut in 2002 but returned to kick butt and qualify in 2006.  Her philosophy is simple: “You were ‘on the bubble.’  You have worked hard, and were close to making the team… Let this experience make you stronger and more determined.  Next time, don’t risk being on the bubble.  Be the best.”

Team camaraderie: Following the team naming, Lowell Bailey pulled out his guitar (he is very talented and won a Lake Placid Idol contest earlier this year). Kevin Patzoldt led on vocals while the rest of us improvised percussion instruments and sang for hours. It was a great party until a stranger from the room next door asked us to quiet down. (Photo: BethAnn Chamberlain)

Taking a break to wander the streets of Prague en route to Nove Mesto.

Addie Byrne is loving her brand new turquoise national team training suit. She arrived in Europe on Monday and is gearing up to race in World Junior Championships in couple weeks. The look of excitement in her eyes as she tried on her new uniform reminds me of how cool it is to represent the US internationally. In these next races, I have to race fast and represent all my teammates back in the States who didn't make it this far.

Just like life at the Training Center in Lake Placid.... I found a puzzle in the Nove Mesto grocery store and it's been providing hours of hotel room entertainment. BethAnn, Addie, and Tracy join in.

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Siegsdorf, Germany

Happy New Year!

Last week a friend asked me how the Germans celebrate New Years.  I greeted 2010 from the balcony of our gasthof, which was a prime viewing location for the evening’s festivities.  The party lived in the streets and was fueled by fireworks, lots and lots of fireworks.  Everybody in the village was shooting them off and there appeared to be no regulations whatsoever.  It was impossible to predict where the next explosion would come from; perhaps half a mile across town, down the street fifty yards, or immediately below us in the parking lot.  For 40 minutes, it rained ashes.  Sometimes a rogue rocket would streak sideways through the smoky haze, wobbling in spirals.  I witnessed one bounce off a car parked in front of the hotel, reverse direction, and then fortuitously explode over the river.   Another crashed into the building next door, peppering the wall with a blast of sparks.  I’ve never seen anything like it.

Fireworks chaos in Siegsdorf

I spent New Year's morning at a natural history museum across the street from the hotel. Considering the size of the village we were in, it had an excellent collection, including a complete mammoth skeleton discovered locally. Here I pose with Rudi, the Siegsdorf Mammoth.

We spent our first week in Europe training in Ruhpolding.   The venue is nestled between a couple mountains and the ski course features some steep wall-like climbs.  Much of the snow we skied on was man-made as the first half of the week was warm and rainy.  We trained along side the British team (which lives there year-round) and German club teams.  Spectators flock to Ruhpolding in hope of glimpsing the German national team in action, so everyday there were people in the stands.  On occasion, we did share the range with some German team members.

A tour group heads towards the Ruhpolding Stadium. The building in the background is temporary, it's set up for the World Cup in a couple weeks.

At the end of the week, we finally got a snow storm.  Somehow, I had managed to miss every other snow storm this year.  I left Minnesota before it got dumped on and New England was hit soon after I flew to Europe.  There is something magical and invigorating about the first heavy snow of the year.  During our last day on the range in Ruhpolding, the snow came down so hard that you could see the snowy outline of a person on the shooting mat after they stood  up. On Sunday we spent nine hours driving to Altenberg in the middle of another storm.

A quintessential scene of the German countryside: complete with a train, a small flock of sheep (to the left), and Bavarian houses with solar panels. The day before the snowstorm it felt like spring.

Then the landscape transformed into a winter wonderland.

Coach Pat on the range

BethAnn, Laura and I loving the snow (Photo: Laura Spector)

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