Sunday, March 20, 2005 - Perspective
Gord's Ski Newsletter Vol.5, No.4: Finally Racing

- By: Gord Jewett

The enthusiasm that I conveyed in my past two newsletters has not diminished an ounce in the past week since we arrived in Pontresina, Switzerland. I have never trained so many hours without becoming at least somewhat bored with the trail network, but here that would be impossible. I am convinced that I could live here for years and still be constantly discovering new trails.

We had our first race of this trip on Wednesday night on the main street of Pontresina. The race organizers put on an incredible show. Actually, what struck me most about the event is that the emphasis was on the show, rather than on the race. While we train for races, promoting our sport is just as important and this was the first race that I have ever done where this was a priority. The sport of cross country skiing is much bigger in Europe than in North America, but it is still in a fragile state even over here, where it is losing viewers and spectators to sports like ski jumping and biathlon. If events like the one on Wednesday night were more common in both North America and in Europe it would certainly breath new life into our sport.

The whole main street was transformed into a ski trail for the evening, a huge task that was accomplished with incredible efficiency. In the afternoon on Wednesday we walked up to the main street to check out the course. To our surprise only the one hairpin corner had been constructed with only a few hours to go to the start. Our worries were pointless though, we arrived at the race course shortly after 6pm and it was in perfect condition. The course was about 700m long, starting with a gradual downhill down the main street, then a fast and tight 180 degree corner that shot us up over a small bridge before we climbed back up the main street to the finish. The qualifying round was one lap, and the elimination rounds were two laps, which was a very challenging course compared to what we are used to seeing in Canada. The course was also lined by about 1500 cheering fans. I was definitely struck by the fact that our sprints in Canada are too short and too easy to properly prepare us for what we meet here.

Before the start of the qualifying race each racer was called to the start at 5 second intervals to do an introduction lap of the course. Not something I have ever experienced in the past! After the introductions the qualifying started immediately. It would have been great to have a strong day, but I was feeling the effects of a few days of hard training and the speed and snap was a missing from my legs. The race was fun, but unfortunately my night ended after just one minute and 16 seconds. I think I ended up 21st, and only the top 16 qualify for the elimination rounds. Fortunately we had 5 women and 3 men that qualified so I quickly became a course side spectator with the rest of the Swiss fans. The men's field was definitely stacked and it was easily the deepest sprint I have ever done. Christian Zorzi of Italy, one of the worlds best sprinters was here. The field made it tough on the guys and George Grey and Drew Goldsack were eliminated in the first round, along with the lone American racer Carl Swenson. Vincent Renard, who is headed to the under 23 championships next week, made it through to the second round after a pile up in his quarter final allowed him to easily finish second. He then became a huge crowd favourite as he caught air of both of the courses downhill bumps during the semi-final and the B-final. He ended up finishing an impressive 8th place ahead of some very accomplished sprinters. We faired even better in the women's race, where Beckie Scott took the win with Sara Renner 3rd. Sarah Daitch and Tara Whitten also made it through to the semi-finals and eventually finished 6th and 7th.

It is always nice to break the ice when we arrive in Europe and get the first race under our belt. Now we look forward to the world cup race next weekend in Asiago, Italy. Our large group will split in two on Sunday as the Under 23 team leaves for their championships in Bormio, Italy. We will leave here on Monday for Val di Fiemme, Italy were we will start to get settled in for the World Championships. Asiago is only about an hour from Val di Fiemme so we will just pop over for two days to race the world cup. Dan Roycroft and I will race the 2 man sprint relay and Chris Jeffries and George Grey will race the 10km classic the next day.

I will definitely be sad to leave Pontresina but I am itching to race and can't wait for the Asiago sprint relay. Today was an easy rest day so I unfortunately didn't get to continue my explorations of the area. I took advantage of the spare time to do a serious load of laundry in my bathroom sink. My room is now very humid as most of my clothes hang off every hook, string and coat hanger I could find. I've already started to calculate whether or not I can make it home without doing another load of laundry, but I think the answer is no if I want to uphold a respectable and not-too-stinky image for Canada!

I'll keep the updates flowing over the next week leading up to the world cup in Asiago!

Gordon Jewett.
Pontresia, Switzerland, 1750m above sea-level.

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