Safety of the skiers
It’s been a while since my last update. There’s been a lot happening but I’ve never got round to writing about it until now. January has been an irritating month for me. Things haven’t quite gone as easily as they should have and its been more of series things nearly coming together. My results sheet from January looks fairly blank with nothing really standing out as a good race.
I started off 2016 well, finishing 2nd in the sprint qualifier on the first stage of the tour de ski on New Years day. However, in the quarterfinal things took an eventful turn. My pole strap came open out of the start of the quarterfinal, I did it up and lost a few meters. I was pressed to the inside of the first corer, in about 3rd place. I knew I was cutting the corner tight but didn’t think much about it. I thought it might give me a good position on the downhill. Suddenly from nowhere my left shoulder was being pulled back behind me. Next thing I knew I was on the ground with my feet jammed under the advertising boards. The crowd on the other side of the boards had to push my feet back through so I could stand up. The race was lost. It turns out that a thin white guide rope holding an advertising arch over the track had been tied too low and angled down over the edge of the track. I had stuck my arm in it. I hadn’t even seen.
The organizers did apologize to me. But they seem to think that a single apology is enough and makes up for ruining someone’s race. I think FIS need to have a look at the health and safety of the racecourses on world cup. I don’t think that the course in Lenzerheide would meet health and safety standards in the UK or the EU and probably not even Switzerland. But a single apology after any incident is enough and they can get round this. Had I been skiing a little bit tighter to the inside of the bend or not caught the rope with my hand, the rope would have been round my neck.
I know of two other incidents in recent years where the course probably wasn’t safe enough. In Kuusamo Noah Hoffman fell and got his leg caught in some “safety” netting causing him to break his ankle. And a few years ago, at Holmenkollen, Astrid Jacobsen fell and knocked her self out by hitting an unprotected lamp post beside the course.
Unfortunately it seems that it takes an incident like this before FIS wake up and make changes and make the courses safer. Indeed at the world cup in Planicia, the week after the tour, the TD came up to use and ensured us there were no ropes hanging over the course. If I’m not mistaken the lamppost that Astrid Jacobsen crashed into is also now well protected each year. Personally I think that saying sorry and making changes after the incident is too little too late.
January would continue in this fashion for me. We messed up the waxing on stage 2 of the tour writing off any chance of a British skier doing well in the overall standings. I spent the entire stage at the back of the field pretty much crying and muttering rude things about Sundby as I tried desperately not to be lapped and finish with in the time limit. Stage 3 was a bit easier, but no result to write home about.
Stage 4 was the second sprint stage and my final stage of the tour. I’ve always been a stronger skate sprinter but I was hoping I could do a good classic sprint and make my first heats in classic. With the top 30 advancing to the heats I finished 31st, hundredths of a second from going through. It is still the best classic sprint I’ve ever done, but it leaves a bitter taste knowing how close I was to making a heat.
After the tour I headed to Planicia to do the skate sprint there. It should have been a pretty good event for me but I messed up my ski testing and chose the wrong skis. I changed from my warm up skis to my race skis and didn’t understand a thing. My race skis felt like sand paper grabbing the snow. We retested after the race and found out my “race” skis were actually my worst skis. How on earth we’d managed to test them as my best skis, I have no idea. But we did. I skied slowly and ended up way down the field.
I rounded off January with Norwegian nationals in Tromsø. I skied the 15km classic, the skate sprint and the last leg of the relay. I had trained quite a bit going into nationals so I wasn’t expecting much. After a really slow start to the 15k I picked things up and finished 32nd. I had a bit of luck in the sprint. I qualified in 11th, at the end of the quarterfinal it came down to a 3 way sprint between Andrew Musgrave, Sindre Skar and myself. Muzzy had been pushing and bullying his way past me. I decided to give him some space so we didn’t take both of us down and out of the race. I then cut back inside him to get a free lane to the finish. Muzzy got a few meters on me and it was looking like I was going out. Then he fell over and I could cruise into second and advance to the semifinal. Of the 12 skiers in the semifinal, 10 had a podium finish in a skate sprint on world cup. That says something about the level of skiing in Norway. I had nothing to give and ended up last in my semifinal and 12th overall.
The relay, on the last day of the month, was to provide a little light, a flicker of hope. Maybe my form was not so bad after all? Maybe things are starting to go back my way? Our first and second leg skiers had done a solid job. They handed over to me in 38th. I set off thinking “if I have a great day, then we can get a top 30”. I quickly caught a group who started almost 30 seconds in front, and then I caught the group in front of them. The first time past the coaches I heard I was in 29th. I was feeling pretty good but it was also quite a frustrating race. I ended up passing 25 people. It was snowing like mad. The snow in the middle of the track was nice and fast, where everybody was skiing. But at the edges it was so soft and loose. I actually saw one guy try to overtake, get his snow caught in the loose snow and have it spin him around 180 degrees. This meant I spent most of my time double poling past people, or wading through the soft snow. I had great skis so tried to overtake some people on a downhill. I got up a long side them but as they were in the middle of the track they quickly got back in front of me. I ended up with the 3rd fastest time for the 3rd leg and 6th fastest out of everybody who skated (2nd and 3rd legs) only 10 seconds behind the fastest time. The team ended in 13th but then got promoted to 7th as several teams got a 3min time penalty for skating on the classic leg. Some teams then appealed and had this over turned, so I’m not sure where we’ve ended up now. Regardless, it was a good day for us.
Although the results have been all that good the last little while I’ve been able to get a lot of solid training done. I’ve never managed to train like this through this part of the season before. So I’m confident my form is back on the way up. I’m looking forward to end of season races in Lahti and Canada. But before then I’m racing in Stockholm and Falun this week.