XCFeedsBiathlon in Slovakia

FasterSkier FasterSkierFebruary 4, 2012

For the last week, I’ve been in Slovakia for the U-26 european championships.  I had no idea what to expect of Slovakia, but it turned out to be a pretty cool place.  I also didn’t really know what to expect of the racing, and I was feeling pretty apprehensive about the shooting, but that also turned out to be a good experience.

When we drove to Slovakia, it was dark out and we got lost and I had no idea what sort of place we were in, besides the fact that there was a lot of snow and the hotel seemed nice.

The next morning we woke up to bright blue skies, and it was quite hilly–mountainous even.  If the alps remind me more of the mountains in the western U.S., the mountains of our part of Slovakia were actually a lot more like the mountains of Vermont or New Hampshire.  There were lots of little villages tucked into narrow valleys with steep hardwood hillsides on either side, and bigger whiter-looking mountains in the distance.  One difference from Vermont is that all the hillsides in Slovakia have the patchy look of clear-cut logging  in every stage of regrowth.  They also tend to look a bit hazy–the air quality was “clearly” not that good.  I think it must be a combination of lots of wood-smoke from homes, as well as whatever was coming from the big smokestacks at the factories in the bigger towns.  The houses were a colorful combination of wood and brightly painted concrete or stucco.

The village of Myto Pod Dumbieron, where our hotel was.
The village of Myto Pod Dumbieron, just down the road from our hotel.

The roads are narrow, and when they go through towns they’re especially narrow.  The venue was about half an hour’s drive from our hotel, and at least half of that was on a narrow back road that was covered in a bumpy, rutted layer of solid ice that made driving interesting.  The venue was at the end of the road up a valley  lined with little villages.  The town of Osrblie seems to have very little besides some houses and a biathlon venue.  But the venue was great–a world-cup level course and range, which meant that there were some BIG hills out there, but the skiing was awesome.

The night before the first races, there was an opening ceremonies in the nearby city, with an athlete parade.

The night before the first races, there was an opening ceremonies in the nearby city, with an athlete parade.

There was also a full band that played outside in the -15 C weather.  And there were speeches in Slovakian and some awesome fireworks!

There was also a full band that played outside in the -15 C weather. And there were speeches in Slovakian and some awesome fireworks!

I had three races– a 7.5 k sprint, a 10 k pursuit, and a 15 k individual.  I went into the sprint race feeling nervous, mostly because I had had a run of races with really bad shooting.  I knew that I couldn’t afford to shoot badly in this field.  But most of all, I knew that it would be way more fun if I shot better.  The course had two really steep big hills on it, and but then at least a kilometer t of easier terrain coming into the range.  This was good for me–I could take it a little easier into the range without losing too much time.  I tried to think about that, and just focus on taking good shots and I ended up with 3 misses.  3/10 isn’t that good for this level of biathlon, but for me it was a big improvement!

Local craftspeople and vendors peddled their goods at a little outdoor market at the venue.  There were also some really cool singing and dancing performances in traditional Slovakia garb, though I couldn't take any pictures because they were always happening right before the races to keep the crowd entertained.

Local craftspeople and vendors peddled their goods at a little outdoor market at the venue. There were also some really cool singing and dancing performances in traditional Slovakia garb, though I couldn't take any pictures because they were always happening right before the races to keep the crowd entertained.

The next day in the pursuit I was feeling just a bit more confident, but not much.  But when I came in to the first shooting, I missed 4 out of 5!  As I was skiing away afterwards, I glanced at the wind flags–and immediately felt very stupid.  I had zeroed for no wind–that meant that if there was wind when I came in to the range, I had to take corrections on my sights.  Checking the wind flags as you ski in the the range is a very important part of biathlon.  And I had totally forgotten to do it.  Sure enough, all my shots had been blown to the right, because I hadn’t corrected for the wind.  I felt stupid, but I also felt a little relieved–at least there was hope that I would hit more on the next shooting!  Meanwhile, I had lost about 10 spots during my 4 laps around the penalty loop.  At the next shooting, I took corrections and then hit all my targets!  Skiing right by the penalty loop is a pretty awesome feeling.  Now I was working my way back up through the girls who had passed me before.  It was fun to be able to pass people and have people to ski with.  In the end, I worked my way up to 33rd, the same spot that I started in.

The course was on a big open hillside overlooking the town of Osrblie.  We had beautiful sunny, cold weather all week.

The course was on a big open hillside overlooking the town of Osrblie. We had beautiful sunny, cold weather all week.

Despite having 7 misses total, the pursuit  had given me confidence in my shooting ability–I had been able to take control of the situation and recover after missing 4/5.  I knew that I still had a lot to learn about shooting, but I went into the individual race feeling confident that I could hit most of the targets. And sure enough, I hit 4 out of 20!  Once again, that wasn’t all that great for the field, but for me it was awesome!  And it was good enough for 26th place.  I was psyched!  I was exhausted from the big hills, but I wanted to keep doing more races, because I felt like I was feeling more and more comfortable in each race.  Biathlon is fun!

The U.S. cheering squad up on top of one of the big hills.

The U.S. cheering squad up on top of one of the big hills.

Mark Johnson cheers on Casey Smith as he races to 15th in the Junior pursuit.

Mark Johnson cheers on Casey Smith as he races to 15th in the Junior pursuit.

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