Thursday, December 19, 2013

Le Grand Bornand, France and beyond!

It was such a nice experience racing in Le Grand Bornand. I had never spent any time in France, and I feel awful to say I had always heard French people were not very friendly but it was completely the opposite: Everyone said 'bonjour' on the street, helped you out with directions, and were the friendliest people around. It was also fantastic weather, great snow conditions, and an absolutely gorgeous area, making the week in Le Grand Bornand perfect.

Mum, Dad and I drove, after a morning exploring castles in Brescia, Italy to Le Grand Bornand. It was such a delight to find our apartment was situated just across the road from the racing track. Since New Zealand does not have enough athletes for the relay, my first race was on the Saturday, giving me 4 days to train, prepare and explore. We had a hilarious trip to Geneva one afternoon where the GPS took us into the city on the truck route, finally parked, and then payed 40 swiss francs for 3 coffees and 3 scones at a very posh hotel right on Lake Geneva, finishing off the trip by getting lost in the middle of the city in the car during rush hour, and driving back to Le Grand Bornand. But it was nice to see Geneva and some of the country side, which usually is not possible due to the racing schedule.

I was bib number 72 for the sprint race on Saturday, with Adele Walker from the Great Britain team starting bib 74, 1 minute behind me. In this race the minimum I had to do was make 15% behind the leaders to keep my place on the World Cup circuit. I had a very strange feeling going into this race as it could mean the end of my career. I started the race with Mum and Dad cheering from the sidelines, and told myself whatever happens, happens. Mum had been asking me a few days earlier that, if I don't make my qualification, what will I do? Maybe I should come home and get a job. I couldn't quite wrap my head around ending my career in the middle of the season, retiring from biathlon so suddenly, and going straight into the working world...but what else could I do? I cannot afford to race IBU cups as the start money does not cover the cost of accommodation, and if I don't make 15%, I cannot start on World Cups. The answer balanced completely on my performance in this race.

I came in for prone shooting, and missed 3 targets out of 5. There was no wind, and no reason for this to have happened (at the end of the race, my dad told me all my shots were to the right of the target), bringing it down to me and my positioning. After three times around the 150m loop, I went out with fear and adrenaline cursing through my body. "This is the end. I have never made 15% with three misses out of 10, and I still have standing shooting to go". At that moment, I had nothing to lose but to put my head down and give it my all. And at that same moment, I finally felt like I was racing. I felt the love for the sport that I had not been feeling in my last races. The summers disasters and stresses, the hours I had put in, and the unconditional work and support my family and friends had put in for me to be here all bundled together as I went into my second loop.

I came into standing shooting almost, but not quite, thinking my dream and career was over. Lane 22 stared at me, so I scooted in there thinking "I turned 22 at the last Olympics. Maybe it's a good omen". And it was - I hit all 5 targets and had the 3rd fastest standing shooting time. The urgency to get out of the range and onto the track was so intense it was on the border to frantic. At this moment I realized I am passionate about biathlon, and I am not ready to end my career just yet. The importance of that 15% became so apparent at that moment that is kicked me into a gear I had not felt in a long time.

Upon finishing, we had no idea if I had made the 15%, but mum and dad, despite the 3 misses, agreed that there was a difference in this race. I looked like an athlete out there. Not that I didn't before, but there was something different about the intensity of my race. A few minutes later, it was confirmed that I had made the 15% re-qualification (13.5%), and that my career in biathlon was not quite over. The relief that flooded over me at that moment, and to have my parents there with me, is a moment I will never forget.

Now remember, I did not make anything spectacular. I made the necessary 15% that every athlete must make to be on the World Cup. But with no financial support from New Zealand, no coach and no wax tech, asking Swix to prepare my skis the day before the race, and always struggling to get around Europe- I am proud of this result. I am not embarrassed to say I am not the fastest or the strongest, but I am still able to qualify and re qualify for the World Cup circuit, which I guess is a feat of it's own. As I am not winning races, I need to recognize the, albeit small, but important successes in my career.

Before the race, IBU television asked me about my Olympic qualification, my chances and how I was feeling about it. (As you all know, New Zealand has set the biathlon Olympic qualification much harder than the IOC- I must achieve 50% of the field three times in the world cup before Christmas, where the normal Olympic qualification is 2 times 20% in an IBU cup before the Olympic Games). I had difficulty responding to the question from IBU television as I had not made the Olympic qualification and this was my last race before Christmas, meaning I  would not be competing at the 2014 Olympics. Now that I have qualified for the next three world cups though, Biathlon New Zealand has approached the NZOC to ask for an extension in the qualification period, which would give me three more chances for Sochi.

Now that I am going to be in Europe for the next set of races, I decided to stay in Europe for Christmas. Not only could I not afford to get a return flight to Canada, but I often get sick when traveling, and a Christmas in Italy sounded quite enticing! I flew to London for 2 days, where I walked for 8 hours through the city, ate from vendors, and was trampled by the immense crowds of Christmas shoppers. The city is just amazing anyway, but at Christmas with the lights, it is just stunning. I flew into Pisa yesterday, and am now back at my base in Frassinoro, Italy- near Modena. This weekend I will be racing a Cross country Europa Cup in Valle d'aosta, just to keep the body moving.

Merry Christmas everyone, and Happy New Year! I might need to call on some of you to roll me from Italy to Germany as I will have eaten so much delicious Italian Christmas Food! 

1 comment:

  1. I've just stumbled upon your blog from the IBU site and for me this is a reason that I love biathlon. There is no other winter sport where there are so many different athletes from so many different countries competing and so many great stories behind them. I really hope that you'll be able to make Sochi and that we can continue to see you on the WC. All the best from Upper Silesia in Poland


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