Olsen Victorious in Chilean Biathlon Race

FasterSkierAugust 27, 2008

Racing at 9500 feet is a whole new world of fun.

I was just standing beside my bed this morning and my heart rate monitor showed 120 bpm. No lie. The past several mornings, my heart rate has been high, but not that high.

Before every race, I like to have a very good idea of how things will go. In biathlon, there are a lot more things that you can't control than in, say, swimming, or even cross-country skiing. There's the wind, which can move the bullet and blow your rifle around, and there's the sunlight, which can change the shape of the target in the sights. In my mind, I raced the 20-km course with negative splits and hit all twenty of my targets. That's not quite what happened in the end…

We live in a giant meadow, thousands of feet over tree line. All that there is to break the wind up here are scattered crags of rock that poke up out of the snow pack. The ski tracks could have been groomed anywhere (and judging by the large cant to some of the uphills, the groomer really took that idea to heart). What this means is that when the wind blows down off the 22,000 feet mountains, there is nothing to break it. Not in the range. Not on the tracks.

In training yesterday and from the coaches' experience, the wind picks up in the morning, but dies once the sun peaks over the mountains just before 10 AM. Today, the wind picked up, yes, but it kept picking up and getting ever stronger and gustier. By the time I started, it was blowing over barricades and small women and children. The wind picked up ice crystals and blasted them at our faces.

My original plan was to start off easy, but the first kilometer was an awkward canted uphill straight into the wind, finished with a steep 10 meter jump skate climb (at human altitudes, it would've been). If I had followed my plan, I would have been going fast nowhere. I had to do a hunchback V1 on this gradual climb just to minimize my profile and cut through the wind. It was a race well suited to the Chilean Mountain Warfare School. And there were actually soldiers doing avalanche training in the snowpack above us.

I kept a positive attitude about it all. It never helps to get frustrated over the wind. Everyone faces the same conditions more or less, unless you get lucky and can shoot during a break in the gusts, which definitely happened today for some. In the end, I missed an abysmal 13 out of 20 targets. I've never shot this horribly in my life. But then again, I've never faced such challenging conditions. But I skied a good race, with negative splits until the end. I maintained good technique and even had heart rates similar to low altitude racing.

And somehow, despite 13 penalty minutes added on for my misses, I won and became the South American champion. Believe me, I'm not resting on my laurels.

Tomorrow, we have a 15-kilometer freestyle ski race. We might get some new snow tonight. From what I've heard, if it snows here, it really snows. We'll see if we really get the half meter they're predicting. At least I won't have to contend with the shooting range tomorrow…

On Thursday, we're going down into the town of Los Andes for a Chilean-style barbeque with our hosts. Think lots of meat. Lots of beef. Lots of chicken. And probably lots of red wine. Great preparation for our 25-kilometer patrol race on Friday. I'm really working hard so that I hit that one target with only one bullet. I need to show our Chilean hosts that this American soldier can hit some targets, err… at least one — and not just ski fast.


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