Posts Tagged ‘Oberhof’

“Don’t forget to also have fun, Susan.”

These were my father’s parting words of advice when I left Vermont after the holiday break and headed to Oberhof, Germany to continue the biathlon season. Over the years, I’ve noticed that my dad intuitively understands what motivates me to compete. His comment, and the fact that he felt the need to make it, caught me off guard. What was he seeing that I wasn’t? Of course I’m having fun, aren’t I?

But at practice a couple days later, I found myself wondering. It was “Oberhofing” out, a combination of freezing rain, fog and biting wind. After just a few minutes of skiing, I was shivering, encased in a shell of ice. As I lay down on the sopping wet shooting mat and struggled to load a magazine with numb fingers, the question began to creep in: why am I doing this?

Lots of rainy weather: I don’t think I’ve ever cleaned my rifle so many times before in a two week period.

Lowell racing in rainy Ruhpolding. (Photo: USBA/NordicFocus)

The rest of that week I continued to struggle. On race days, I went through the motions and did my normal routines, but it felt like a difficult chore. It wasn’t simply the uninspiring weather that threw me into the funk. I felt burnt out going into Christmas after racing while sick and probably didn’t give myself enough time to recover. Plus, while my results so far this season have been solid, I wasn’t living up to my own high expectations. Despite putting forth my best effort everyday, I didn’t come away feeling satisfied. Clearly something was missing. Biathlon turned stale because I was forgetting one of the key ingredients: fun!

And so the next World Cup week became a quest to find the fun again. Along the way, I looked for inspiration from my teammates, our staff, my competitors, and the thousands of Ruhpolding fans.

For the first day of training at Ruhpolding, I came up with two unusual goals and shared them with my coach. I felt a need to be a little goofy and creative, and to spice up my normal routines.
Goal One: Incorporate some telemark turns into the training.
Goal Two: Find an object somewhere at the venue and bring it back to decorate my hotel room; something that might make me smile when I see it.
Mission accomplished: I curved some big sweeping tele turns down the Fischer-S hill and rescued a chewed-up half of a pinecone from the middle of the ski track. It wasn’t the prettiest looking pinecone (or šiška as Gara our Czech wax tech called it), but interesting nonetheless, and a reminder that perfection is grossly overrated.

The best part about racing at Ruhpolding and Oberhof is the ambiance. Few other stadiums attract such huge crowds of passionate, drinking, singing, flag-waving fans. It’s a scene. They arrive hours early so they can find a good spot to watch and they’ll brave any sort of weather. Their enthusiasm is contagious and racing along the fan-lined fences is like skiing through a tunnel of pure sound. It’s easy to find zen-like mental focus when you can’t even hear yourself think.

Ruhpolding’s stadium has capacity for over 13,000 people.

Thousands more line the course. Photo: Hannah Dreissigacker

One evening, I was hanging out with the women’s team and we were chatting about various things we were each struggling with. Annelies came up with an idea to do some art therapy together. We started with a blank piece of paper and took turns drawing for 30 second bouts until we filled it up. Here’s what we came up with:

Perhaps my favorite moment from the week came during the men’s relay. Heading into the first exchange, Team USA was leading thanks to an incredible performance by Lowell. The TV cameras zoomed into the the second leg athletes waiting for the tag off. Our youngest guy on the the team, 19 year-old Sean, stood there grinning from ear to ear.

He was about to be tagged off to in the lead with the fastest guys in the world chasing after him. These guys were much older, stronger, and certainly more experienced than him but he was welcoming the challenge. In Sean’s smile, I recognized an attitude more important than results can ever be. It was the same spirit that brought me so far in biathlon in the first place, but one I had misplaced recently. It was a perfect reminder of what I really should be striving after.

Competing in the mass start at the end of the week and feeling back on the right track (photo: Hannah Dreissigacker)


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After competing in Schalke, I traveled to Oberhof, Germany, site of our next World Cup biathlon races and also a stop on the cross country Tour de Ski circuit. I arrived in town on December 30th, about an hour before the Tour de Ski classic pursuit race was scheduled to start. Perfect! I put on some warm clothes and joined the stream of people walking up to the stadium. Every now and then it is a lot of fun to be a spectator.


I saw one American flag in the entire stadium.


I was curious who owned it, so I introduced myself and made friends with Meiko, Antje and Johanna, a German family. Meiko spent a few years living and ski racing in Salt Lake and they are big fans of the US Ski Team.


Kikkan ready to start


Holly and Liz started near each other and stayed together the entire race- awesome teamwork!


Jessie across the finish

We watched the men’s race from the famous Bergsteig climb.


The lack of snow made it very difficult to see over the sponsor banners, so we had so build ourselves a rock platform to watch from while little Johanna got to watch ski boots fly by at eye level.


Norwegian fans living it up at the top of the Bergsteig








Hanging out with Holly and Liz for a few moments post race. They had a long night of recovering, packing and driving ahead of them to get to the next Tour stop. What a rare treat to watch and cheer for the XC team! Our paths almost never cross during the winter race season.

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For the past couple weeks, I have been training in Germany with the USBA national A team. We have spent time at some of the winter World Cup venues and shared the ranges with European national teams and club teams. The first couple weeks were in Bavaria, training at Ruhpolding. This week we are training in eastern Germany at Oberhof and using the indoor ski hall a lot. Unlike camps back home, we have almost all of our team staff together onsite, including coaches, wax techs, physios, etc, most of whom live in Europe.

One of my favorite things about being over here in the summer is that we can get out and see a lot of the surrounding area. In the winter race season, we are lucky if we see more than the venue, the hotel and maybe the grocery store.


In Bavaria we stayed in the town of Inzell, at the foot of a mountain. Our cabins had a pool out front, which helped us survive temperatures in the mid 90s. The pool was chemical-free and had recirculating water- the plant life along the edges filtered the water and kept it clean.


The valley was very green and idyllic, with lots of small farms. In some ways it reminded me of Craftsbury.



Former Craftsbury and Dartmouth teammate Chelsea Little came to visit on her way to start grad school in Sweden. We spent an afternoon at Konigsee near Berchtesgaden (photo: Sara Studebaker)


The team experienced all sorts of interesting Bavarian foods during our two weeks. Pictured above is Schweinshax’n, or roasted ham hock. My favorite meal was smoked trout, served whole. The most interesting was a lean unidentified chunk of meat that tasted a lot like corned beef. After I ate it, I was told it was cow tongue.


Training at the range. We shared the facility with many other teams, including Germans, Ukrainians, and a large group of French juniors. (photo credit: Chelsea Little)


Rainy days call for bright colors…


… and not just for us. I found a whole hillside crawling with 6 inch long Fire Salamanders one rainy morning. This sighting was very special for me. When I was in kindergarten, I used to have a pet salamander a lot like these (it was an Eastern Spotted Salamander), and back home it is really usual to spot them in the wild. (photo credit: Wikipedia).


We spent one afternoon at the University of Salzburg’s indoor shooting hall. They hooked our rifles up to various force places and lasers that recorded things like trigger pressure and the path our barrels trace over the target. (photo credit: Armin Auchentaller)


My favorite afternoon recovery workouts involved hiking through alpine cow pastures to mountain alms and maybe ordering a coffee or beer. The Stoisseralm high above our cabin had a great view looking down onto Salzburg. On the way back down we took breaks to pick blackberries and blueberries. (photo credit: Sara Studebaker)


Mountain yoga over Inzell with Sara

This past weekend we relocated to Oberhof, where we spend our mornings training on snow in the ski tunnel and our afternoons training outside. We are working closely with our team techs to test new skis for the coming season.


Ski hall from above (photo credit: Thueringen tourism website)


The view from inside. The smaller branches depart from the corners of the hall and the loop is surprisingly hilly.

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Since January 1st, the biathlon World Cup circuit has given us a tour of central Europe.  We started in Oberhof, Germany, a biathlon mecca that attracts over 30,000 fans.  Nove Mesto in the Czech Republic, site of the 2013 World Championships, hosted us the following week and treated us to some of the windiest, snowiest and most challenging race conditions we’ve seen.  Antholz, Italy welcomed us at the start of this week with mountains, altitude, and the first real sunshine of the season.


Favorite moment:

Cooling down with Sara after the Oberhof sprint.  There were so many fans exiting the stadium blocking the sidewalk and road that the only place we could successfully jog was a narrow space in between the 100 or so double parked shuttle buses.  We covered about half a mile running between buses.  Weaving between the crowd and the buses made me feel like I was on The Knight Bus from Harry Potter.

Sara and Annelies dryfire to warm-up before the sprint.

Racers in the crowded finish pen at Oberhof's women’s mass start. We watched from the sidelines because none of us qualified for the race. It's fun to be part of a crowd of over 25,000 fans and have a front row spot to cheer from. I couldn't help but think it would have been even more fun to be in the race.

Crazy Oberhof fans

Nove Mesto

Favorite moment:

I used to think we had a pirate on our staff, or at least a pirate want-to-be.  He is a wax tech from Czech named Gara, and he always greets us with a hearty “ahoy!”  When we arrived in Czech, I was surprised to discover that many of Gara’s countrymen were also pirates.  Everywhere I went, I heard people hailing each other with “ahoy!”  Then I had a revelation: perhaps Gara wasn’t a pirate at all; perhaps Gara was simply Czech.


Banners along the Nove Mesto race course. Nove Mesto is the only venue I’ve raced at every year since I started biathlon (they often host IBU Cups.) This year they introduced a brand new course in preparation for hosting World Championships next year.

A view outside our hotel

Most reachable surfaces in the surrounding neighborhood are colored with graffiti. It's actually nice to see some brightness in a gray place.

Some of the team and staff chilling in the hotel hallway. There were very few places in the building where we could pick up a wireless signal.


I got off to a rough start in Italy.  We had a very long travel day from Nove Mesto (made even longer by a five hour delay due to car problems) and I was feeling overly tired and depressed from being sick.  All the women on the team were starting to feel the strain of being on the road for so long away from home, family and friends.  I desperately needed to set the reset button in my brain.  The best cure: mountains, sunshine, and racing!

Favorite moment (so far):  When I left the range after my final shooting in the sprint race, I knew I was on track to have my best result yet.  I only missed one target and I was getting splits that I was sitting in about 15th place.  The rest of the race was a fight to earn a mass start spot.  Only 30 athletes get the honor of starting in a mass start- the top 25 ranked competitors from the entire season, and the next 5 best finishers from the previous sprint.  Last year Sara, Laura, and Haley all earned mass start spots at some point during the season (the first time any American women had in years), so I knew it was possible.  I placed17th in the sprint with my best finish yet, and I’m racing the mass start on Sunday!

But first things first:  team relay this afternoon!  This is only the 2nd time this year that we’ve been able to field a women’s team and we are excited.

Finally, the mountainous venue I’ve been waiting for: Antholz!

Armin, one of our coaches, standing behind the scope in his hometown. Most of the US team's staff are Europeans.

Official training under the first true blue sky I’ve seen in Europe this year.

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