NewsOtherRacingTravelNew Zealand Winter Games – Update 4

FasterSkier FasterSkierSeptember 13, 2009
Pavel Sotskov - Racing in the New Zealand Winter Games
Pavel Sotskov - Racing in the New Zealand Winter Games

Pavel Sotskov is a recent Dartmouth College graduate who is training and working in New Zealand for the summer at the Snowfarm. He has been in New Zealand since mid June and will be returning to Presque Isle, ME to race for MWSC this coming winter.  He has sent several updates on his experiences.

This summer, Maine Winter Sports Center became one of only two US teams to compete in the nordic skiing events at the inaugural 100% Pure New Zealand Winter Games held at Snowfarm, NZ. Being summer, the preview statement may seem like a contradiction, but unlike the northern hemisphere, here down under the season is winter, and the snow is great.

The games were not only the southern hemisphere’s largest sporting event, but also the second largest winter sporting event in the world, only being surpassed by the Olympics. Sure, not all the world-cup racers were in attendance, but as the FIS point penalty of 15 points for all of the three men’s races dictated, the field was still much stronger than anything I have seen in the US. In fact, only world-cup starts have penalties below 15 points, so if you are interested in lowering your FIS points, this was the event to enter.

The stadium at the SnowFarm
The stadium at the SnowFarm

Personally, I skied all three events: 15km classical, sprint, and the 10km skate to finish off the week. Coming into the event, I had my sights set of Ivan Babikov (CAN), but the newly converted Canadian even managed to scrape away from me in the sprint race, in which he trumped me by a whopping 0.05 seconds. Now anyone that has skied against either Ivan or myself knows that we are no sprinters (and I am no distance racer, compared to him), but it was nice to know that the competition was friendly enough to welcome all levels of skiers. While Ivan continued on to be first and second in the distance races, I scored respectable FIS points, and managed to beat several of the Japanese National Team skiers also in the event.

One of the most exciting aspects of the Winter Games was the expansive amount of news coverage that all the events, including nordic skiing, got in print, television, and radio media. Every morning the news papers around New Zealand ran several front page articles on the previous day’s results, human interest stories, and pictures from the events. Sky Sport, the down under version of Eurosport broadcasted about half an hour of nordic skiing per day, where I managed to ski several creative shots of my legs in action, among other footage. The station estimated that over 500 million viewers watched the coverage, which is by far the largest audience I have ever been broadcast to, even counting my days as the morning show host on WFRD-99ROCK in the Upper Valley of New Hampshire.

The start.
The start.

My biggest popularity boost of the Winter Games however, came from a photo from the skate race that appeared in the “Photo of the Day” area of Life magazine’s website (http://www.life.com/image/90045574). The picture showed me hop-skating behind a Japanese skier as the two of us scrambled up the biggest hill of the course. It was a slight disappointment that the caption stated that I was being beaten by the other skier (in reality I was on my second lap and he was just starting out), and more importantly that we were both in the Paralympic 5km skate. I’m not sure how this misunderstanding could have come into play, but my suspicion is that the IPC race title had so many classification acronyms and numbers that the photographer figured we would look more official if he listed the longest category name he could find under the picture.

In any event, my dreams of pop-culture stardom were shattered when our photo was overtaken in the “most popular” category within 6 minutes by a candid shot of Miley Cirrus holding an ice cream cone and smiling. My fall in popularity was shocking.

On course...
On course...

For some, the racing week was over with the conclusion of the skate race, but for those interested in trying out the Winter Games’ demonstration sport, a International Triathlon Union World Cup Winter Triathlon event, the three days recovery were a much-needed respite between racing action.

The triathlon consists of a 7km on-snow run, 12km on-snow bike, and a 10km skate ski to the finish. On the day before the actual event, Ben Koons (MWSC/NZL), Andy Pohl (NZL) and I decided it would be advantageous to practice the on-snow biking course, even with the 4 inches of un-groomed snow that had fallen at the SnowFarm the night before. After half an hour, and about 1.2km of biking, we decided that it was actually probably faster to run with the bike on your shoulder, and that the distance we covered was all the training we needed for the upcoming competition. This decision proved to be less than optimal for me, as I lost approximately 5 minutes to Nat Englem (NZL) on the biking leg the next day. I struggled to gain some time back on the ski, but still finished 6th overall.

My mental focus was not aided by the fastest woman competitor, who kept passing me on the flat sections of the run and bike with the largest syringe I have ever seen sticking awkwardly out of her jersey pocket. I am not accuse her of doping, but i have to admit that the thought did cross my mind. My 6th place finish meant I did not receive the $1,500 first prize given to Nat, nor the 24-pack of beer awarded to the second place finisher, Ben Koons. I settled for the contents of my pre-race goodie bag, which included two stickers, two apples, a set of cramp-ons, a bottle of beer and some pre-teen girl “Disco Diva” body spray. I guess the race organizers failed to clearly state the racers’ demographic when they were soliciting company sponsorships.

In all the Winter Games were pulled off without a hitch – perfect weather held out for 3 out of the 4 race days, and banners, news media and a large crowd of spectators ensured that the races felt like the Olympic Games. The event is scheduled to happen every two years, as a prelude to the Olympic games (no one told the organizers that there are no skiing events at the summer Olympics). It is great to see how much the New Zealand culture supports skiing, and how welcoming the community is for such large-scale events. As I near the end of my stay here in the Southern Hemisphere, I am taking some time to travel and see the rest of the beautiful country. More great pictures to come!

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