January 24th, 2014
Phase two of the lead up to Sochi was World Cup #6 in Antholz, Italy. It would be our last chance to race at a high level before the 10km Sprint in Sochi.
Following our races in Ruhpolding I felt like I needed to get some rest, I felt good in Ruhpolding but between jet lag and the 1-2 punch that was the 20km Individual and 12.5km Pursuit on back to back days I thought it would be a good idea to take a couple days off. The first day off was just a travel day to Antholz the second was a truer day off with only a light run in the afternoon to stretch the body and get some blood flowing. This is something I felt was important to hold my energy through the weekend which was going to be 3 days back to back and give my body the best chance of staying healthy and just a good sense of well being.
This left just enough time to get a day of intensity/race prep in and a easier day of skiing before the Sprint. On the day of the Sprint I was still feeling a little fatigue but nothing crazy for this time of year. I have had trouble in the past with the shooting range in Antholz, I am not sure what it is but the targets always seem unmanageably low. I started my race off conservatively with this and the altitude in mind. Shooting was slow and tricky again, I was gasping for air and was never able to shake the conservative pace. To add to the difficult day the track was a mess of fresh snow that left me off balance for almost the entire 30 minutes. I ended up shooting 1-2 and skiing a moderate rank which placed me out of the pursuit. Sadly Saturday was going to be a day off.
After a easy Saturday the Men’s 4 * 7.5km relay was next. Our starting order was Jp, Me, Brendan and Nathan. Earlier in the day the women’s event was cancelled due to fog which rolled into the shooting range for the 4th shooting. We feared this might happen in our but if the race can be held the IBU will make sure it goes. The rifle zeroing was chaotic as it had to kept being pushed back further and further was fog had again rolled in and we could not see the targets. Then the zero was postponed and most athletes descended below the range where warm change rooms allow us rest until the fate of the race was decided. After 20minutes we were back on the range for zero, zero was condensed and almost rushed. And that was only our zero.
As the gun went off the 10-15,000 fans that had so patiently wait through it all erupted in cheer. Jp was off and in fine form snaking his way through the field. Jp had a great day on the range and left standing in 1st which got me nice and warm as I had started to cool down with all the changing weather. Jp made it to the tag zone in 4th and off I was trying to chase down the lea pack. Even I was pretty much flat out I could only maintain my distance behind the lead. I arrive in prone in good form and oddly the shooting felt easy, I still needed a spare round as the tried to pick up the speed too much when I realized I felt recovered for shooting. The middle loop was pretty much the same as the first, I was a little closer to the lead pack but not close enough to get a free ride back to the range. Arriving on the range was almost eery, being just behind the lead pack meant the crowd would go quiet as I entered the range, waiting for that first shot. When the crowed erupted with the first shots from the lead pack it felt like a normal race again, I got on my mat as the leaders were finishing up their final shots. Quickly, faster then you can read this sentence I missed my first three shots. This almost brought back up the tiramisu from the night before. I realized I had control and again just got excited at the prospect the shooting felt good, I had just put my shots high. After a quick chat with my brain I began to put down the targets using each of my spares as though my life depended on it. At last I was out of the range and on course, because Germany had a penalty loop I was currently in 3rd. As I raced past a coach on course I had the biggest smile of my life, not because we were in 3rd and not because I thought I did an amazing job but because the exhilaration of hitting that last target and the silliness of it all and keeping my tiramisu down was more than I could handle and smiling was the only reaction my body could give considering I was still racing along at full gas. In my final lap it started to puke snow again and near the end the German caught me and seemed like he would leave me behind but anytime we climbed I could keep pace and knowing it was only polite to tag Brendan within contact of the lead I fought as hard as I could.
Brendan and Nathan were 3rd and 4th, both keeping pace within their races. Unfortunately the week caught up with Nathan in his final standing and he suffered two penalty loops but he wasn’t the only one and we hung on for our first top 6th relay finish ever!
And with that phase two was complete with the completion of the prize ceremony. Now there was only one phase left in the lead up to Sochi a two week training block before flying into the Sochi.