We checked out the course in Lahti today. Skate sprints tomorrow. I like having races so close together-- race, travel, day-before, race. The course looks pretty good, very mushy on the uphills though. There's a bridge we go over twice and the snow there was a good 7" deep of sugar today. With the bridge and two 180° corners the course feels like an obstacle course instead of your typical ski race. That's fine by me, I like obstacle courses. On this one I have to remember to lean forward for the hills and corners so I don't get thrown back on my heels and lose momentum by the sudden pitch/directional changes.
We left Stockholm this morning and flew to Helsinki. The 45min flight was nice especially since last year it took us around 26 hours to get here from Sapporo. We're spending tonight at the Vierumäki. I'm not exactly sure what the Vierumäki is. I think it's like an Olympic Training Center, but huge. Tomorrow we're moving into hotels in Lahti so I won't get to explore this crazy compound in the middle of the forest.
Next Thursday I'll be back home so there's only one more week in Europe, which seems very short. The one thing that I really won't miss, however, is having to look up the html code for letters like ä so I can spell names correctly.
Madoka Natsumi of Japan was third in Wednesday's classic sprint, scoring what I'm pretty sure is Japan's first World Cup podium! It's exciting to see Japan do so well since they're part of the vagabond clique. At least that's what I call the Canada-US-Japan trio along with any other stray non-Europeans on the World Cup. Everyone else goes home between races and shows back up Thursday afternoon for the next weekend and we're the group that travels straight from venue to venue together. It does build up some camaraderie.
You have to answer a question for me. I was watching the women's 4x5 relay and on the third leg the Fin and Norwegian were in the lead and they were skiing together and suddenly they split onto separate trails. Obviously one skier took a wrong turn (altho they were right together when it happened). Did the Fin go off course or did the Norwegian. And then they were suddenly back together. Did the trails rejoin?
Well, they were trying this new type of ski race this weekend, see, where you have options and can pick which trail you take.
Just kidding. We were sitting in lunch after the race discussing this and how they'd have to disqualify the Finnish team. There was no way around it as far as we could see-- Roponen (FIN) straight up skied OFF the course. Then the Finnish team walked in with their flowers from the podium ceremony so we were nonplussed.
There's three concentric loops that ski part of the Mördarbacken- a big loop that's the whole dang thing, a medium loop that the 5km classic loop skis, and a small loop that's hardly troublesome at all. The three loops come together before the hill then break, dropping down to various levels before rejoining for part of Mördarbacken. Then the small loop peels off to the left, then the medium loop peels off also to the left and the big loop starts the hard core climbing. So, um, there are a lot of options at that part of the course. And every option was used at some point for some course this weekend. The skate leg that Roponen and Steira (NOR) were skiing on the third leg was two 2.5km loops, marked by the green arrows. Apparently this intersection was mismarked and the classic legs of the relay had gone straight (the way Roponen went) so there were no v-boards across the trail. (I think they quickly remedied that.) Roponen had even specifically asked before the race if they were following the green course so they couldn't dq the team. And they came into the intersection off a downhill pretty much neck and neck so they picked their route before they knew which way the other skier was going. Steira must have checked the course on the course maps.
Roponen took the middle loop and Steira dropped down on the big loop so Roponen had a little bit of an easier path but she also slowed down so that when the trail rejoined she came back in right behind Steira. Another lesson-- make sure you know what course you're skiing!
Some video of Kikkan & I skiing today. Mostly for Erik to analyze but I figured since I was uploading it to youtube anyway...
We're skiing easy so it's not too exciting. But it was a fabulous day to be out skiing in Falun. Warm temps, firm tracks, sunshine and smiles!
The walk to the venue gets shorter and shorter every day. What used to be prohibitive sheets of ice to be walked around are now mud and diminishing lumps of rotten slush. We're living in perpetual spring.
Bjørn Dæhlie: So our warm-ups match alright but if you've been looking at race photos or video you might notice that we're all wearing different, unmarked Bjørn Dæhlie suits. This is because the USST suits are in Italy. Or somewhere. Not here wherever it is. So when we were in Estonia we got some Bjørn Dæhlie suits-- from a ski shop in a nearby town-- a mix of colors and styles, whatever they had on the shelves. Which cracks me up. Eventually we'll have our real suits but until then we'll be rocking the Bjørn Dæhlie variety pack. Like a pack of skittles-- every color of the rainbow.
Torin Koos: Bowled freakin' SEVEN strikes in a 10-frame game last night. There's some good bowlers on the USST, you might be surprised. Zim, Cook, & Kik were even practicing their left-handed bowling with pretty impressive success.
Garrott Kuzzy: Says, "The flat at the top of Mördarbacken is going to be the sweetest part of the course." Or something equally ridiculous. If your idea of fun is hating life maybe... He also gets to race up the Mördarbacken SEVEN times this weekend so it's a good thing he seems to be excited about it.
Kurt Jepson: Kurt (of Saco Bay Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy) is our p.t. for this week. One of the perks of my job is getting to meet people who are insanely good at their jobs. I've been learning lots of random p.t. tidbits from Kurt.
Kris Freeman: Kris's girlfriend is visiting. I really want to ask her to lead a dance class for us but I'm a little shy-- she's a professional dancer! I'm jealous. (um, of her for being a dancer, not of Bird for dating her. to make that clear.)
Kikkan Randall: Kik's in full swing planning her wedding. (You can check out her wedding website.) I get to offer my opinion for most of the important decision. Sometimes she takes my advices and sometimes not. For some reason I don't think she took me seriously when I suggested she ask the baker to use funfetti batter in the wedding cake.
The Swedish Team: Showed up today... in helicopters. Just kidding, but there were helicopters landing in front of our hotel (the Scandic in the background) today.
Charlotte Kalla: Speaking of the Swedish team, Kalla was getting mobbed by the media out on the course this morning. It looks like she's had tons of interviews to do. I bet the rest of the field at Jr. Worlds is pretty happy that she decided to race the WCs instead of Jr. Worlds.
Falun: The race course has plenty of snow. I assume a lot of it's manmade. There is one wicked rocky section on the skate course that's like skiing through a minefield. Especially this morning when the track was frozen solid so if you hit a rock it wasn't about to move out of the way for you.
You may have heard of Mördarbacken hill in Falun? I will tell you if you haven't heard about it before-- it is a big uphill. The elevation gain by itself is challenging but what makes it truly murderous is how the pitch changes over the course of the hill. Solid up until near the top where it gets really steep but the killer is that after the steep part it goes to gradual and then even a nice grinding flat section before you descend. Less famous than the Mördarbacken is the descent. Now that is worth being excited about! You get two bridges over other ski trails to go over. The second bridge you hit flat and then it drops off. The first time I skied it I wasn't expecting the drop-off and caught some major air. The second time I skied it I prepped for the drop-off and still got air. As soon as you get some weight back on your skis you immediately have two switchbacks that you barely make no matter how good your line is. I will try to take some video during the race-- I am sure there will be plenty of video of the uphill part of the Mördarbacken.
These pics are from a couple of days ago when we were still in the Czech Republic and I was out on an urban run-- my favorite way of touring a city. The sun came out and there was a little bit of fresh snow on the ground so I knew it was going to be a good run. Kikkan turned back at the 15min mark but I decided to keep exploring because it looked like we were getting into a cool part of town.
Being in front of a stadium, even one just populated by saplings, made me feel like performing. I did some pirouettes and adagio and found that the fresh snow with a bit of an icy surface underneath was perfect for turns. And I had my ipod with me. I tried some more hip-hop style moves but the slick surface made anything with jumps a little hard to stick. So I took a twenty minute or so break from running and did some dancing for my tree audience.
Kikkan & I were watching some of the other exchanges since we decided we should work on ours. I was impressed by how much the exchange zone looks like chaos but every single person knows exactly where he's going so it really flows pretty smoothly.
Also be sure to check out Kikkan's video that she put together from the pictures and video we were taking this weekend at her fasterskier blog.
Since the lap was a little long at 1.4km the women only raced two laps each in today's team sprint. When we got out to the race venue and started testing skis I didn't particularly like either pair I had race waxed. The beauty of having wax techs, however, is that I can just say that I don't like the skis and they get fixed. So Larry grabbed the skis I liked the best and one lap later I tried them out again and they were much better. What's more when I got back from that lap my other skis had been rewaxed for me to try again also (I decided that those were now too slick and stuck with my initial fav pair). Magic.
Then they closed the course and I realized that it was getting perilously close to race time and I was not a put together athlete yet. So I ran back to the where my bag was to change into my race top, bib, leg numbers, thin gloves, & dry hat. Then I ran back out to the stadium where I ran into Grover with my skis (apparently I wasn't the only one who thought I was a little behind schedule). All the other starters where in position already so I was a little embarrassed to be the last one to show up at the start. Grover set out my skis and I stripped out of my warm-ups. Then one of the volunteers started asking me where my transponders where. D'oh. Where the heck was I supposed to get the chips? So Grover's says, go, run & I have no idea what time it actually is but I doubted that the guy with the gun would bother waiting for me if we weren't on schedule. Luckily one of the volunteers had brought over my chips so I put on one and she put on the other and I was back and clipped into my skis safe and ready to go. Except not because I immediately realized I had a huge rock stuck in the heel of my boot and Bertrand and Grover with their boots picks had already cleared out from the start. I managed to pry it out of my boot though. I also managed not to fall over while doing so, which is good. And I even had a minute to stand there and focus before we actually started.
The first lap went well, it was super fun to be back in a pack. I like skiing in groups a lot more then in an interval start. Kikkan & I had some poor hand-offs and dropped away from some of the other teams to ski most of the race in 7th. The format is 3 teams advance from each semifinal plus the next 4 fastest teams (the lucky losers) so we knew that potentially 7 teams from one semifinal could advance to the final. I didn't think that there was much of a chance that we would have a faster time then the fourth place team in the second semifinal. And we didn't, but we were only 0.5 seconds off from qualifying. D'oh again. Kikkan and I immediately looked at each other and said, "it's my fault," and proceeded to explain where each of us could have made up half a second. And since your final place is according to seeding we got bumped down to 13th. In Sapporo we were 11th also just out of qualifying for the final. The Randall/Valaas sprint team has some work to do but at least we're consistently on the edge of making it into the final.
This is my new favorite site for results since you can look at the split times too. Then you can check out how the race developed and not merely the end result.
Kikkan said she had her best WC distance skate race today so that was exciting and congrats to her. And it was nice to have some more guys than Bird in the race-- Kuzzy & Zimmerman. That's the first step to getting some more depth on the team.
They vastly improved the course since yesterday. Yesterday it was dirty, rocky sugar sink followed by excrutiatingly slow patches of manmade snow. Hopefully they get a chance to do some more good work tonight for the team sprint tomorrow.
Kik-46 Bird-26 Kuz-59 Zim-60 if you're interested in places.
These pictures have nothing to do with Valentine's Day. Although we did take a picture of the very adorable Valentines that we made for our boys (Cook, Freeman, Newell, Koos, Zimmerman, & Kuzzy are here). We even got some Valentines in return!
There is actually snow here to ski on apart from the race venue. The canadians report that the race venue is still mostly dirt. The nordic combiners have a race tomorrow afternoon so they should have the course built by then. We hope. It's not looking too promising for the 2009 World Championships venue. Our trip to ski this morning was also not very reassuring. While we were sitting on the bus waiting to leave we spotted our bus driver through the window getting what looked like directions from another driver-- lots of hand motions, it looked like there were some corners on this drive. We started driving and got out of the city and started to gain elevation. This was promising because there was no snow and no sign of snow. We drove up this very scenic valley. Scenic in the sense that there were leaf strewn sides with large old rock outcroppings and small rundown homes with small yards and garden tucked into the flat land as able. And then every time the valley opened up there was a huge abandoned factory and a cluster of dilapidated houses or apartment buildings. I can't imagine who would have thought there'd be the demand there for huge factories up in this valley. Makes me appreciate capitalism. Anyway. The valley was not right because we stopped and our driver went out to ask several other people for more directions. Then he turned us around and drove up another small windy road. After several more wrong turns and stops and asking directions and talking fruitlessly on his cell phone, some of the Japanese athletes on the bus got out and got a taxi, which we then followed to the ski area. All in all it took us about 70minutes to get there. Good easy ski. 20minutes to get back to our hotel (different bus).
After lunch we got blood drawn for doping control. I hear some of the russians got the 5-day suspension for having hemoglobin levels too high. I'm sure if they're suspended it'll be announced.
We made it down to Liberec in the Czech Republic uneventfully on Wednesday. We found ourselves in a rather strange hotel. It maybe would not have been so strange if I had had any idea of what to expect beforehand. Our hotel is attached to an amusement park type complex called Babylon with an aquapark, arcades, little kid rides, stores, restaurants, and best of all, the IQ park. IQ stands for Interactive Quest. Kikkan and I spent some serious time this afternoon in the IQ park since we did not have a workout. It was highly entertaining. At least to me. It was basically a mini Seattle Pacific Science Center. It had interactive displays, puzzles and all of my favorite physics demonstrations. I think Kikkan and I got around to playing with almost all of the displays. We even solved a few tough block puzzles and tanagrams. I solved a puzzle I was working on at the exact same time a guy sitting next to me figured his out and we both went, "yes, got it!" or that is what i imagine he said in czech. So we turned to each other and celebrated our mutual successes with a high five.
On the way back to our hotel room we stopped in the square insided the hotel to look at the boa constrictores, rabbits, turtles, chipmunk, fish, and molting iguana that they have in some big glass cages.
I hear there is skiing to be had here, but not at the race venue yet. I will let you know tomorrow. At some point I will also buy a pass to connect my computer to the internet and then I will post a bunch of photos. I will also use apostrophes again as I have not found those yet on the public computer keyboard in the lobby.
If there's one non-ski related thing I learned from my trip to Estonia it's why English is truly going to continue to be the universal language. I've recognized for awhile that English is the most useful language to know but I always thought it was kind of arrogant to actually acknowledge that. I felt that thinking everyone should speak English was supporting the whole attitude of colonization and conquest with which the English speaking world forced everyone else to learn English. In case the other colonizing nations are feeling ignored here I will say that Spain, France, and Portugal have done a good job of getting their language spread around the world mostly through soldiers and priests.
Now the soldiers and priests are out of fashion and the modern linguistic colonizers is the entertainment industry. About half of Estonian tv is in English with Estonian subtitles. If you grew up watching tv in English with Estonian subtitles you'd learn English AND you'd probably learn to read really early. Most of the music that's been playing here has been in English too. So much for America being a leader in business or technology, it's the entertainment industry that's making English the universal language. And as long as we pour as much money as we do into movies, tv, and music I cant imaging that changing.
It's actually a bridge with a walkway underneath so you can get from the wax cabins to the start without crossing over the course. When the snow was faster it was actually pretty fun since you could just double pole over it and then get a nice glide out down the other side but because of the very soupy and slow snow conditions by the weekend most of the girls ended up throwing in a few strides to get over the top.
Kikkan got a little bit boxed in out of the starting lanes but came back on the first uphill and was looking solid. Newell killed it from the gun, except he didn't look like he was skiing at a super high effort-- just really fast. And had a bit of a gap on the rest of his quarterfinal for most of the course. I think both Kikkan & Newell chose the left side of the finishing lanes while the rest of their heats took the right (there were several large puddles to be avoided in the middle) and there was enough of a difference in snow speed that they lost a lot of time in the last 100m.
It was a pretty miserable day weather-wise so I was glad to come back inside after the racing was over in time to watch Tim Burke take 10th in the pursuit at the Biathlon World Champs on etv.
Freeman skied into 16th place today- I thought he skied a good race, started out conservatively and then finished strong.
I watched the women's race out on the course. It's fun to actually be out there and see everything that's going on, both on and off the race course. Like the huge hot tub at the top of the first hill full of soaking Estonians. And the campfires... I think the party goes all night. But I wasn't in the stadium where I could watch the video screens. Just on one hill watching how each of the racers skied one section-- pretty worthwhile way to watch the race, actually.
I watched the men's race inside on both the TV and the split times on my computer. Which was not the same atmosphere but it did make it fun to watch Freeman climb up the results list at each split station. We got to watch the race develop by having everyone's splits at our fingertips and we got to watch racers skiing various sections of course on the tv.
Even without racing yet it's good to actually be here and to breathe world cup skiing. It's a whole other scene and it's exciting. Kikkan said that on the big hill today the crowd was chanting in time with her striding. How invigorating would that be?
I went out early to ski before the start of the women's race this morning. Okay, 9am isn't exactly early, but it's close to early. Even when I was out skiing the spectators were already arriving at the venue. I ended up cutting my ski a little short cuz I just couldn't handle so many people watching me ski. So I ran home to change, dodging the incoming flow of spectators, and came back out to watch.
20seconds of Kikkan's first lap
Although I know most of you are asleep and won't be up until the results are finalized and published if you're looking for real-time results for a FIS race, you can find them here:
Tonight was the opening night of the World Cup races here in Otepää. The festivities kicked off with a sprint relay with countries represented by not their athletes but by the team staff. The U.S. was represented by Andy Fecteau (Bend, OR, Physical therapist), Tony (Seattle, WA, USST vip), and Oleg (Estonia, Wax Tech). They didn't win (the Norwegian team did) but they still skied really hard and I think this was Tony's third time on classic skis so they did quite well. It was fun to have all of the athletes on the sidelines cheering for once, not just from our team but the other teams as well.
On one section of the course this morning there was a man digging near the side of the trail. It reminded me of digging out water runoffs on hiking trails to let a puddle drain from the trail but I figured they were probably going to put in a time check (they lay wire under the trail at the split stations). And then, splash! I skied through a puddle of water. Just plain old draining a puddle after all.
Wednesday was a day off from skiing so after a leisurely breakfast (I don't know what people mean by jet-lag we seem to keep sleeping in too much) Kikkan and I went to explore Otepää.
Town is pretty small, pop about 2500, so we wandered around for awhile. We did find an old stone sign with a map on it to ponder.
but we could make neither heads nor tails of it so we continued wandering.
We managed to find a nice old church that was mostly redone since 1944 but had been originally built a long long time ago according to the sign (conveniently in both Estonian and English).
Then we found a hill to climb. Estonia seems pretty flat from what I've seen so a hill was a pretty exciting find. Don't get me wrong, the 5km course for the distance races this weekend's going to be brutal.
The sign called it "hillfort" and there'd been a series of forts built on top of the hill. They claim the first signs of human activity on the top of this hill date back to the 6th century B.C.E. although permanent human residence of Otepää only date back to the 7th century C.E.
At least the old foundations were good for jumping off!
Estonia's had some disputed ownership for awile, variously being under the control of Germany, Denmark, Sweden, the polish-lithuanian commonwealth, and Russia. The Estonians declared independence from Russia in 1918. Then in 1940 they were occupied and then annexed by the Soviet Union. Although from 1941-44 Estonia was under German occupation. And it sounds like being part of the soviet union pretty much sucked for the Estonians.
Finally Estonian went back to being officially independent in 1991 but the last russian troops didn't get out until 1994. Wow, the kind of political tensions out here have got to be way different and more bitter than with our N.American neighbors (the US keeps the land it annexes).
Anyway, from the top of this hill with the remnants of old fortresses we found a sweet zipline!
Although we didn't have anything to zip down with so we could only pretend.
And we had to walk down the hill instead of zipping.
It appears that we maybe weren't supposed to take the path down that we did.
We walked down to the end of the zipline and even found another one.
Finally found a helpful signpost... only 10844km to Salt Lake City!
There's been major activity here at the Tehvandi Stadium here in Otepää. Every time I walk past the stadium from our hotel to go ski or to go to lunch our dinner at the main building there's more fences up and more big white tents going up. This morning when we were skiing Kikkan & I were wondering if they had been adding snow to the 5km loop they had groomed. It wasn't long before we had our answer-- a huge pile of snow dumped in the middle of the trail and getting muscled around by a cat. Then some more piles further along. we got good at dodging both huge snow chunks and snow cats today. The snow they're spreading out on the course is snow they made last winter and stored over the summer for this race. Now that's what I call dedication to holding a ski race. Not only do they have snow making machines they also made the snow a year ahead of time in case there weren't days cold enough to make snow before the World Cup races. I, for one, appreciate that kind of foresight when it comes to ski races. Other people seem to appreciate it too. there's tons of people out skiing every afternoon-- lots of kids in matching club outfits. It's easy to get excited about a ski race when you get to watch the venue transform from a nice ski trail into a serious racing venue.
There's also a merry-go-round outside of our hotel which is a fun stop on the way back from skiing.
It was quite the pleasant surprise to find some other Americans in Otepää this morning-- the J1 trip athletes are here racing this weekend. They had skate sprints Friday, a 5/10km classic today and have a 3x3 and 3x5 relay on Sunday. After our ski we went out and watched and cheered. I'll put up pictures and results after the relay tomorrow so if you know anyone who is interested you can tell them to look here (I'm guessing these juniors aren't calling their parents every day). There were 38 women racing and 42 men. The race included juniors from Estonia, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Latvia & USA.