I’m finally starting to feel comfortable on the World Cup. Each weekend of course still brings new venues, twists, adventures, curve balls, mistakes, stories, and all the other surprises that makes this lifestyle fun and exciting, but I have found a sense of place on the road and developed a vague idea of what might come next. But Moscow? Russia? Ummm…. this one really through me for a loop and I had no idea what to expect. So like any knowledgeable college student, I did some last minute cramming with a quick Wikipedia search, learned a few fun facts about the city, and made a quick mental list of sights to visit over the next couple days. Then I boarded our flight from Munich and landed in the Russian capitol three hours later.
Welcome to Russia. Luckily we had a shuttle bus waiting to transport our team and the Australian team to our hotels. We walked outside and were blasted with a wall of freezing cold air and cigarette smoke.
The beginning of the drive was not too scenic. While wee slowly inched a long through the traffic, the pollution effects of being Europe's most populous city with over 11 million inhabitants was clearly visible.
High rise apartment buildings in various states of derelict were the norm.
Juxtaposed against the communist remains were more classic examples of Russian architecture.
Just when we thought we were in the Russian ghetto driving through a maze of blown out looking buildings, there would be a church or another building like this one giving a reminder to the long and colorful history of Mother Russia.
Moscow leads the world with the most billionaires but the inequalities of wealth were quite visible. Luxury car dealerships sat next to flea markets. Bright lights and new sky scrapers were being constructed next to buildings like this.
Finally over two hours later, after passing countless flower shops (seems to be a popular item even in the dead of winter), and after the novelty of the game "guess what that sign says" wore off, we arrived at our hotel. Mikey Sinnott described it well as Vegas in Fairbanks. The Hotel Korston had a casino, night club, strip club, bars, restaurants (including one shaped as a boat and in the middle of a pool with fish), a shop selling jewelry, Russian nesting dolls, fur, and small appliances, a casino, and metal detectors at all the outside doors.
This was the view out our hotel window so I was very excited to explore the city the next morning.
Unfortunately the next day brought sub zero foggy, smoggy, freezing weather.
The stadium where we would be racing as well as some of Moscow's skyline was still somewhat visible.
With temperatures hovering around -10F, we really bundled for a exploration jog around the city.
I was amazed with the number of people that were outside in the cold temperatures. Fur and heels were the fashion of choice but I chose my Ibex woolies and breathing mask instead.
I really wanted to see the Red Square and St. Basil's Cathedral among other famous city landmarks but the Russian subway was quite confusing. I needed Pepa to help me translate the signs like this one. We didn't have a lot of time and nobody was feeling particularly adventurous so we skipped the Moscow subway for this trip. Two days, with one and half of them devoted to ski racing was not enough time to see all of Moscow.
After lunch we boarded the shuttle to the venue and got stuck in a few more traffic jams. It took 20-50 minutes to drive to the venue depending on the time of day and how many times the bus driver got lost. We later realized that it was a 10 minute walk so if you were brave enough to weather the cold windy weather that was a much better option.
The race course was in a park next to the Luzhniki Stadium infamous for the Luzhniki Disaster where 66 people were trampled at the end of a soccer match.
Like the previous two city sprints which I've raced, this one was also very flat. There were two short steep bumps constructed but otherwise the course lacked undulation. It was almost 1500 meters for women and men and with the cold slow snow, it was shaping up to be a longer sprint course than normal. I had fun skiing around it with the team though on Wednesday's course preview and did a few faster laps to get an idea of the pacing.
Later this winter there is going to be an alpine World Cup slalom in this park and they are in the process of constructing a mountain out of scaffolding for the event.
I was wishing that we could climb part of this mountain to add some uphill into the course.
Looking down at the stadium from the scaffolding mountain
The temperatures were below the legal limit of -4F on the training day so we did a lot of bundling but luckily they were forecasted to be a few degrees warmer on race day.
The crowds of spectators were smaller than normal at city sprints, likely due to the bitter cold but the stadium was still busy and exciting on race morning with all the athletes, techs, and coaches warming up.
I had struggled in city sprints this year so I didn't have a lot of confidence going into the qualifier but I was still hoping to crack the top 30 on a good day. I focused on pacing the long course well and skiing smoothly and was excited to finish 26th, my best qualifying result yet. Jessie Diggins surprised us all by winning the qualifier and with Kikkan in 7th we were really excited to have 3 American women in the heats.
I was in the third quarterfinal. Jessie and Kikkan were in the first and second heats and both advanced to the semifinals. It was exciting to watch them ski so well and so I was fired up while waiting to start my heat. Justyna Kowalczyk was in my heat so I guessed it was going to be fast. My plan was to ski controlled and toward the front and go for it in the finishing lanes.
I skied in 4th for most of the race but was able to move up at the end and crossed the line in 3rd very close behind 2nd place. I was really pleased with this result and even more excited when one of the coaches told me I was likely going to be a lucky loser and advance to the semis. With only two heats to go, mine was the fastest by far. I ran around nervously for a few minutes until I heard the confirmation that I had made the semifinals!
Jessie, Kikkan, and I were all in the first semifinal. I was in the outside lane so I jumped in behind Jessie while Kikkan skied up the outside. I would have loved to get a picture of us as the Americans led the heat and skied in first, second, and third! It was awesome! A Russian tried to cut in on one corner but I gave her an elbow and held my position. I was in the draft and it felt very relaxed. Climbing over the final bridge, I got a little tangled and lost momentum. I tried to get going again. My legs were feeling much less snappy and as the pace quickened I faded to the back of our heat. Jessie won the heat and advanced to the finals so the excitement continued.
I finished 12th for the day which I was a personal best result for me so I was incredibly happy. Sharing the day with very fast teammates made it even better. Jessie finished 6th and Kikkan was 7th. Three US women was a huge day for the team! A big thanks to the coaches and techs! Even the freezing cold was feeling borderline pleasant as we cooled down and packed to leave Moscow.