Monday, March 28, 2016

Season Finale

My season finale began last Monday at 6am in Khanty-Mansyisk, Russia (which is in the same time zone as Islamabad, 10 hours ahead of Eastern Standard). Fourty-eight hours later I was pulling into Fort Kent, Maine for US National Championships.

Clear skies, sunny, cold, mid-winter conditions in Fort Kent
Photo: Pete Freeman Photography
As I tried to reverse my days and nights, my body went onto auto-pilot and did great work for me in two out of three races. In the 7.5k sprint on Thursday I shot 1,0 and bested the field by a minute and a half. I was so happy to clean standing for only the fourth time this winter. The top American woman biathlete, Susan Dunklee, couldn't make it to Fort Kent due to illness but all our other national team members and aspiring biathletes were present so the competition was small but high-level. In Friday's pursuit, I extended my lead to over two minutes, shooting 1,0,1,1. I was very happy with 85% shooting and another gold medal. 

Sprint podium: I won, Joanne Ried 2nd, Hannah Dreissigacker 3rd.
In the pursuit, Annelies moved into 3rd.
On Friday night my body started to protest; I did not sleep a wink and as the sun came up I got a little feverish. I safely completed the 12.5k mass start but it wasn't pretty. I shot 0,1,3,2 and skied survival pace. I am so proud of my teammate Annelies for cleaning her final shooting stage to win the last biathlon race of the season and her career! And as she and Hannah retire from this sport, it was great to see up-and-coming biathlete Joanne Reid on the podium in 2nd place all three days. 

Zeroing before the race.
Photo: Pete Freeman Photography
I am back in Lake Placid now with the full-blown flu. Time to take a break from biathlon and blogging! Check back in the spring!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sad in Siberia

The title sums it up! After traveling all the way to central Russia, ten time zones away from the US east coast, my goal for Thursday's sprint race was to finish in the top 60 and earn a start spot for Saturday's pursuit race. In my two most recent sprints I have skied and shot well enough to qualify for the pursuit; in Maine at World Cup 8 I missed one shot (0,1) and finished 32nd, and in Oslo at World Championships had the same shooting and would have placed in the mid 40's if it weren't for forgetting my penalty loop and getting smacked with a 2-minute time penalty. 

A warm welcome to a cold place, at the Khanty-Mansyisk airport.
Unfortunately I was unable to repeat that good shooting thrice. I started out with clean prone shooting once again and faster skiing than I've done most of the season. Then when I came in for standing I was nervous, shaking, and not lucid enough mentally to take the necessary steps to calm my body down. Instead of relaxing onto the target, I was fighting against the natural aim of the rifle and using tension to try to get onto it. This is an instinctive response but it does not work! In my mid-race state of mind, I forgot Lesson Number One from my first biathlon coach, Algis Shalna: "Do not try to hit the target!"

Algis Shalna, my first biathlon coach, is a hero here.
He became Lithuania's first winter Olympic medalist when
he won gold for the USSR in the 1984 Olympic biathlon relay.

Alas trying to hit the target didn't work, and I missed three standing targets, tying my worst shooting performance of the year. I skied as hard as a could to the finish, knowing I would be very close to the top-60 cut off. When all was said and done I was 63rd, about 10 seconds too slow.  I would not get another opportunity to race. Siberia is a long way to go for one 20-minute race and my team spent precious funds to send me here. It was so disappointing. If I had hit my last target, or shot as fast as the average World Cup shooter, I would have made it. But each penalty loop takes about 25 seconds, and I am still the slowest shooter in most races, with shooting times around 40 seconds-- that's 10-15+ seconds lost to the fastest person per stage. Biathlon lends itself to the "what if" game, which is as unproductive as it is tempting. 

Tim Burke finished 6th in the sprint, making it into the Flower Ceremony!
Here he is with our World Cup 9 staff L-R: Jean, Gara, Tim, Fede, and Max.
Russian dolls waiting to hand out flowers and medals.
Tim followed up his season-best sprint with another 6th place in the pursuit!
This year I finished the World Cup season ranked 67th overall, by virtue of my three top-40 results (16th, 23rd, 32nd), each of which earned me a corresponding number of World Cup Points. Last year, I was the last ranked person on the list, having placed 40th exactly once to earn a single point. While I am happy with my improvement overall, and especially in terms of my average shooting percentage (64% last year versus 79% this year), 67th is a hard place to be because I am often just outside the qualifying cut-off for the pursuit. With relatively few race opportunities, it is hard to improve.

Here I am riding a reindeer-drawn sleigh (usually reserved for medal-winners). 

For the last three days I have been cheering for my teammates and continuing to train in preparation for US National Championships in Fort Kent, Maine, which take place next weekend and will be my last races of the season. I may have failed to meet my goal in this week's race but DON'T WORRY!!! I am going to get first place at the World Cup finals dance party tonight.

Selfie with Jean. He is our head development coach and
our only coach here this week. Usually he does not travel
on the World Cup level so this is a fun change of faces.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Sledding in Oslo

Check out this high speed footage of sledding in Oslo, or as the Norwegians think we call it, sledging.
Starring: Guy, Graham, Peter, Ley, a gordon setter dog who looked just like the one we had growing up ("Jake"), and every bump on the trail! Narrated by me.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

2016 World Championships Experience

The 2016 World Championships started off in a crazy way that I never would have planned-- with a stupid mistake and a two-minute time penalty in my first race. After cleaning prone in the 7.5k sprint, I overcame a miss on my first standing shot to hit the next four. With only one miss out of ten shots, I knew I would finish well inside the top 60 to qualify for the pursuit, and maybe even score World Cup points by finishing in the top 40. I was thrilled as I left the range, savoring the final four hits. Then, just as I should have merged right into the penalty loop, one of the fastest skiers on the World Cup passed me on my left. In one instant of distraction, I jumped into her draft and all hope of a good result was lost. Half way around the course I had a moment of panic as I started to question with my oxygen-deficient brain whether or not I had gone into the penalty loop. Upon crossing the finish line I checked the live results and saw the asterisk next to my name in 84th place. I was embarrassed on behalf of our team staff and coaches and devastated that one of my best races of the winter was doomed. I had no choice but to try to forget about it.

View of downtown Oslo from our hotel up at the Holmenkollen venue.
With the pursuit off my schedule, I only had two more races, the 15k individual and the 4x6k women's relay. The individual was mediocre; I had one bad shooting stage (0, 3, 0, 1) that derailed the effort. In that event, instead of skiing the penalty loop, there is a 1-minute time penalty for each miss, so the shooting is even more important. My ski time rank was ok but not great, in the low 50's.

Ole Einar Bjorndahlen, the Norwegian biathlon "king"
adds to his extensive medal collection at age 42.

In the women's relay, we had our best shooting performance of the year, with only 8 spare rounds used among the four of us. (Each person can use up to three spares per stage if needed, so a total of 6 spares per person). And we did not have any penalty loops! However lots of other teams also shot really well, and they skied faster than us so we ended up 13th. We were still content with our good performance. Hannah and Annelies are both retiring after this season and these were the last World Cup/World Championship races for them. I am very sad to see them go. They have taught me so much!

L-R: Susan, Hannah, me, Annelies
In the fog! Bad news when you can't see the target from the shooting mat.
L-R: Coach Jonne, me, Susan, Hannah, Annelies, wax tech Gara
The best thing about World Championships was that I had both my brothers as well as two good friends in attendance. Guy and Graham made the trip for the 2nd time, having also attended 2015 World Championships in Finland. They cheered for every race in all their USA gear. My friend Ley, who lives in Oslo, was kind enough to host my other friend Peter who flew in from England for the weekend. We all went sledding together, which Norwegians believe is called "sledging" in English. Oslo has an awesome sledding route accessible by public transport. You take the tram to the top of the mountain, rent a sled, then hit the track for about 8 minutes of downhill, and then (if you survive!!!) you take the tram back up to the top, 5 stops. 

L-R: Guy, me, Graham, Peter and Ley (decked out in USBA gear!)
Check out Graham on the side of the trail at 20-25 seconds.

L-R: Guy, me, Graham

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

What to make of Sharapova's Positive Test

Check out my Facebook athlete page and also "like" the cause Protect Clean Athletes! (You may need to log-in to Facebook to see the image below.)

This "honest mistake" is known in my book as "using performance enhancing drugs". Since Jan. 1, two Ukrainian biathletes...
Posted by Clare Egan Biathlete on Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Friday, March 4, 2016

Welcome to 2016 World Championships!

After the Maine World Cup, I spent a week in Lake Placid (with my boyfriend ūüėĄ) before heading to Norway for a pre-World Championships training camp in Sjosj√łen. It was a winter paradise there with tons of snow and sunshine! 

Sjusj√łen, Norway. No wonder they are so good at skiing.
Photo Jonne Kahkonen

We went for a long classic ski through the Norwegian moonscape today. #biathletesclassicskiing #Sjusjoen #trainingcamp
Posted by U.S. Biathlon Women on Friday, February 26, 2016
Susan, Hannah and I went for a long ski on the famous Birkebeiner Trail.
You may have to login to Facebook to watch.
Now we are in Oslo at a grand hotel adjacent to the venue where most of the teams stay together. Throughout the World Cup season we see the same athletes and staff from other countries every weekend, but rarely have this opportunity to eat in a dining room all together. It is a fun and boisterous environment; World Cup athlete-moms Marie Dorin-Habert and Selena Gasparin brought their babies along, there is an occasional chorus of the happy birthday song, "cereal time" from 8-10pm is enjoyed by most, awkward, linguistically-challenged salad bar encounters are enjoyed by few but experienced by all, and hand sanitizer is ubiquitous. 

Each athlete at this year's World Championships was given a selfie stick...
On March first, Hannah and I observed the Balkan holiday Martenitsa by giving red and white yarn bracelets to some of the Bulgarian team. Our Craftsbury GRP coach, Pepa, did this for us every year to celebrate the coming of "Baba Marta," or Grandmother March/spring. The tradition goes that you exchange bracelets and then when you see either a stork or budding fruit tree, you hang your bracelet on the tree and make a wish. I was delighted when I gave a bracelet to one of the athletes and he pulled a bracelet out of his pocket for me!!! Check out my Martenitsa blog post from 2014.

We had to look up "how to" online. There is a secret to making
the two colors of yarn stay twisted.
Some of my teammates, staff and I attended the World Championships opening ceremony on Wednesday night. I have become our team's go-to flag-bearer. As the "rookie" it is my duty to ensure our top athletes can rest their legs back at the hotel. Also, no one else wants to do it! So both this year and last I had the honor of carrying the stars and stripes. 

Back row L-R: me, Jonne, Jonas, Tim, Leif, Sean.
And in front our young Norwegian escort!

As seen on TV

My first race is tomorrow at 2:30pm local time. I am wearing bib 47, starting at 2:53:30. I am excited to race on this course because it suits me well with steady climbs followed by long rest. On the shooting range I have been calm and confident lately so I hope to carry that through the week. My brothers arrive tomorrow morning from the US in time to see the afternoon race! My friend Ley, who lives here in Oslo, will also be in the stands, and my friend Peter is flying over from England to watch next weekend. Let the games begin! 

Back in Action

After taking a break from racing in the beginning of February, I headed to Presque-Isle, Maine for World Cup 8. I was nervous because I had not raced fast on the World Cup since November, but had a boost of confidence coming off a 5th place finish in a 5k cross-country Super Tour ski race in Craftsbury, VT. I was desperate to ski fast and shoot well in Maine so that I would stamp my ticket to the 2016 World Championships. Check out this Portland Press Herald article about me and my journey to my home-state World Cup.

Biathlon on the front page! This photo from Hochfilzen, Austria was
on the front page of the Portland Press Herald.
Photo NordicFocus
It turned out to be my best World Cup weekend yet! In the sprint, I shot clean in prone and then missed a single standing target. I took my time on the range in standing as I had major nervous shakes. After missing my middle target, I took a moment to reset my position, and then hit the final two. This was a big victory for me because in past shaky stages, by the time I've realized that I need to take a deep breath and refocus, I have already left the range having fired off my shots into who-knows-where. I paired the 90% shooting with a 26th-rank ski time and an 88th-rank shooting time (second-to-last!) to finish 32nd, for my second-best World Cup result to date. Twenty-sixth is by far my fastest ski rank time, with my next best being 40th! I was psyched. I still need to work on the shooting time.

Getting some rest.
Getting into prone position, opening my front site cover.
Photo Portland Press Herald
Prone shooting.
Photo Portland Press Herald
The next race is the one I am most proud of. I started 32nd in the pursuit, based on the sprint results. My teammate Hannah was wearing bib 27 and started about 5 seconds in front of me, and I caught her and a group of other athletes on the approach to the first shooting stage. Hannah and I had zeroed our rifles (when we adjust our sites for the day's wind conditions) on shooting point 2 at the rightmost end of the range where there was a ton of wind. But we arrived at the shooting range for the first prone stage in 29th and 30th place, which means we had to shoot on points 29 and 30, at the leftmost end of the range where the wind was totally dead. Our coach had prepared us for this scenario so we knew what to do (thanks, Jonne!). We both adjusted our sites 7 or 8 clicks, which translates to the width of the whole prone target. It is very unusual and nerve-racking to take so many clicks in a race, however it was the right move and we both shot clean! I missed one target on each of the next three stages and skied another fast course time (22nd) to finish 23rd. My only miss on my last stage was my final target; I will get it next time!

On course in the pursuit, moving from 32nd to 23rd!
Photo Portland Press Herald
Big smiles in the finish area: Hannah and I skied most of the race together
and both set new personal bests for the pursuit, finishing 24th and 23rd.
Photo Portland Press Herald 
Unfortunately in the final race of the weekend, the women's relay, I let my team down with a penalty loop in my standing stage. The first part of my race went really well; I cleaned prone and skied well to move us up into 6th place. But after the standing penalty I fell far back and handed off in 12th. Still, we finished 10th-- our best finish of the year so far and our best finish ever with this group of four athletes.

This is the face you make after finishing a hard race with a lot of mistakes.
Photo Portland Press Herald
My parents made the trip up from Florida despite the bitter cold forecast, and joined a crowd comprised mostly of school kids cheering for Team USA. It was a new and very motivating experience to have people on course cheering for me by first name! I am looking forward to World Championships in Oslo where both my brothers will be cheering live.