|Gord's Ski Newsletter Vol. 7, No.6: Tracing Backwards Through Mixed Emotions|
By: Gord Jewett
The last time I wrote a newsletter was nearly 6 weeks ago, and lulls in my newsletters seem to be a bad sign! Of course when I have great form and am racing well itís very exciting to report the news from Europe, but penning optimism and excitement to paper when things arenít going well is difficult. And who wants to read a pessimistic newsletter full of bellyaching?
Since I last wrote, I have come full circle and I once again sit in the Minneapolis airport, only this time Iím through the bulk of my travels and will be home in 5 hours, rather than having the long slog of a flight to Europe to look forward to.
The last 6 weeks have been an emotional roller coaster, and unfortunately the past week of racing at the World Championships included some career lows for me personally. On the other hand, there were also some huge highs over the past week, which I vicariously experienced as being a part of the most successful Canadian World Championship team ever. I was not in the kind of shape where personal bests are expected, but I was carried along by my teammates proving almost daily that Canadian skiers are amongst the best in the world. this is very encouraging as a whole for all Canadian skiers. I know that I can ski at the same level as my teammates, so when they succeed it fuels my confidence in my ability to stand atop the international podium, as it does for many Canadian skiers.
When I left for Europe in mid-January I had just had about three weeks off in an attempt to get healthy from a mystery ailment, and I knew it was going to be an uphill battle to be well prepared for the World Championships. I headed straight to Oberstdorf after arriving in Germany and raced at a European continental cup race 5 days after arriving. I wasnít expecting great things after a long break from training and a 5-week break from any racing or intensity training. I surprised myself by qualifying for the rounds in the classic sprint that first weekend and finishing 12th (not one of my better events), but I didnít really feel like I was in good shape. The mass-start skate race the following day (one of my best events) proved as much, and I finished a dismal 45th.
From Oberstdorf I met up with the World Cup team in Livigno, Italy for a week and half of high altitude training in preparation for the World Championships. I still wasnít really feeling like myself, but I was looking forward to getting in a good block of training to build on the skiing I was able to do the week before. Unfortunately, just 2 days after arriving in Livigno, and with my form on the upswing, I was struck with a bad cold that knocked me off my feet for a further 6 days. It was hardy an encouraging thing to have happen at that point, and I was starting to loose confidence in my preparations.
From there we moved to Davos, Swizterland, at a slightly lower elevation, to fine-tune our form for the World Championships, and I was starting to feel a lot better by that point. I decided that the best approach was to get as much intense training in as possible before the big races, so I was doing hard training almost every other day as my energy allowed. We also had the chance to hop over to Gibswil to race a Swiss Cup race, which I was happy about given my racing drought through the winter. The 15km skate race was a tough slog for me. On one hand I was just happy to have some form, but it was disheartening to finish 13th and remember that I had won the last Swiss Cup race I did less than a year ago. I knew I was capable of so much more.
In the days leading into the World Championships I never really had good sensations in training, and I knew it was going to make for some very difficult days of racing. At that level, with the difficulty of the courses in Oberstdorf, it is impossible to fake it. The opening race, the 15km skate, which I had been looking forward to and preparing for over a year made it clear that I just wasnít healthy. When I am healthy, I am capable of skiing well against the best in the world, and my 65th place result was not nearly what I am capable of.
Despite my bad experience in the first race I decided to start the 30km pursuit race, partly for experience and partly in the hope that I would have a turn in form after the first race. In retrospect that was a bad decision. I would have to say that the 30km pursuit was one of the lowest moments of my ski-racing career, and it was humiliating to be pulled from the race after 20km because I was at risk of being lapped and impeding the race leaders. My classic skiing has been the first thing to suffer from my poor health this year, and in the first 15km of the pursuit race I struggled just to ski the challenging World Championship course, let alone race it.
The last race I did of the championships was the classic sprint race last Tuesday, and I finally felt satisfied after that race. I placed 37th, which is the best result I have ever turned in at this level of competition, and despite classic sprinting being one of my worst events, I skied a competitive time that was far better than the performance I put in 2 years ago in the World Championship skate sprint. I know that if that race had been skating, I would have been in the top 30.
But enough of my belly aching! Overall the World Championships has been a huge success for the Canadian team, and even more success is likely to be on the way this weekend in the final two races. There are many high points from the passed week, that although mixed with my personal disappointment, I will always remember.
The first highlight of the week came in the womenís 15km pursuit, where Beckie skied stride for stride with the best skiers in the world to finish in 4th place, just off the podium. It was a sign of great things to come. The next day George Grey turned in a 32nd place result in the menís pursuit, and although I know he was hoping for a top 30, it was clear that he had arrived at the international level, finishing just seconds behind and beating many skiers that have won World Cups. The sprint day was without a doubt the most exciting day of racing I have ever witnessed. After crossing the line in the qualifying round I stood with my teammates and watched as skier after skier, the best in the world, failed to beat Devon Kershawís mark. He qualified in 13th position and became the first Canadian man ever to qualify for a World Cup, World Championship or Olympic sprint race. Not only that, but we had 3 men and 3 women in the top 22. things only got better from there as Sara Renner used a lightening fast finish kick to easily move through the rounds and take a much deserved World Championship bronze medal, the first ever medal for a Canadian at the Worldís. Although leaving the event a few days early to rush back to Prince George for the Canadian Championships next week, I did get to watch my teammates in action in the early rounds of the team sprint today, from the airport in Zurich. I could tell right away that the menís team of George Grey and Devon Kershaw were going to do something special, and they didnít disappoint. The guys finished in 6th place, ahead of many of the best sprinters the world has ever seen. Not only did they turn in the best menís relay result ever, but they are also the first Canadian men EVER to be in the World Championship awards ceremony (top 6 teams are considerer ďpodiumĒ). One can only guess what will happen in the final two races on Saturday and Sunday. I believe in my teammates.
Although itís now clear that my health is not good, Iíll hope to turn in some decent performances at the Canadian Championships in Prince George next week. Iím keen to race, but my body just isnít there with me. Iíll head straight to Prince George after a quick pit stop (of about 8 hours) at home tonight. I am looking forward to putting this season, which has been a bit of a nightmare, to bed in just over a week. More than anything, I am looking forward to taking a break and getting healthy, because racing with a disadvantage like poor health just isnít a lot of fun. I will also start to thinking about next year, because the thing that makes sport fun is looking forward to all the hard work and rewards that are inevitably down the road. Iím keeping my chin up, because things can only get better from here, and Canada is on a role.
Minneapolis St.Paul International Airport (and newsletter writing centre for Gordon Jewett), still 256.3m above sea-level
Beckie Scott, Sara Renner and Milaine Theriault celebrate Sara's Bronze Medal
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