By Tracy Barnes
Week 3: Conclusion… Ridnaun, Italy/ Hochfilzen Austria
After a week off from racing and some good training under my belt I was ready to race again. The weekend would host two races; an individual and a sprint race. The individual is our longest race and is 15 kilometers. This race is known as a shooters race because 1 minute is added for each miss as opposed to the normal 150 meter penalty loop we ski in all of the other races. It has been years since I’ve raced in Ridnaun, Italy and I have made a promise to myself that I’ll improve on my results from the last time I was here. That being said, I had quite a lot of work to achieve that. 10 years ago my sister and I competed here and became the first women to medal at a World Junior championship. We received a silver medal in the relay and in the individual race all those years ago, Lanny placed 3rd with one penalty and I placed 8th with 2 penalties. I vowed this time around I’d hit more targets and place higher up. The stakes were higher and the field was tougher, but I’d give it my best shot.
The individual race would consist of five- 3 kilometer loops with 4 shooting stages. Twice we would shoot laying down and twice we would shoot standing. The race course was tough and wound up and down the fields that made up this beautiful valley. The climbs were long, but more gradual. The most interesting part of this course was the fact that you could see everything that was going on. You could see the competitors in front of you and you could see the ones behind you. It really gave you a good idea of how you were doing during the race.
I started the race in bib number 29 out of 96 competitors. Each racer started 30 seconds apart. I started the race and I was relaxed, a huge change from the frantic race I had in Sweden a few weeks ago. I easily found a rhythm skiing on the long 3 kilometer loop. Today, I knew I was going to clean the race. At least I had that feeling. I don’t know how to describe it, but you just know. So, when I came into the range for the first time, I laid down and settled into a shooting point. The five shots went off smoothly, but when I looked back at the target, one of the five was left standing. I’d missed one! Damn. I thought. Well, cleaning the race was out of the question at this point, but the good thing about biathlon is, if you are patient and you don’t get all worked up, you can come back from a bad stage. So, that’s what I did, I hunkered down, focused on skiing my loops well and every time I came in to shoot I was patient and just let the targets fall. After I left the shooting range for the fourth and final time I was in a good spot. I pushed hard on the last loop and finished in fourth. But there were still over 60 women still to finish the race, so I waited and waited and waited.
When all was said and done I was bumped to 8th place. 1 target, that fateful target I missed, out of 2nd place. I had tied my finish from 10 years ago, but with one target better. I was happy. A top ten on the European Cup was hard to achieve.
An hour after my race I found out that I would be starting the World Cup relay the next day in Hochfilzen, Austria. So, I packed up my bags and hitched a ride with the Canadian team over to Austria. It was a busy day and even busier the next day. In the morning I got randomly drawn for the doping control, my second day in a row, having been chosen in Italy as well. So I made my way early to the venue, gave my blood and was off to the races. Lanny, who was sick, accompanied me on my warm up. It was nice to have someone to ski with. The race came and went in a flash and we ended up in a disappointing 14th place. It wasn’t my best performance either and I left with quite a disappointed feeling. The relay is my favorite race and no one takes it harder than I do when I feel I’ve let my teammates down. But there will be plenty of more relays this year and we’ll have our revenge!
Week 4: Obertilliach, Austria
This week we’d be back in Obertilliach, Austria. The place I spent a week training at just two weeks ago and the place I’d be spending Christmas. We would have two races this weekend; a sprint and a pursuit race. The sprint is three loops of 2.5 kilometers with 2 shooting stages. The results from the sprint determine your start in the pursuit. So, the person who wins the sprint, starts the pursuit. The person who is in 2nd place starts 2nd and starts in the time that they finished behind the person if first. Only 60 people qualify for the pursuit. After the sprint was done, I finished in 59th place. You don’t cut it any closer than that. Lanny, had a pretty good race after being sick and placed 33rd. The next day in the pursuit, Lanny would start 33rd and start at about 2 minutes behind the winner. I would start in 59th over 3 minutes back. Basically in the pursuit, everyone is trying to catch the person, or people in front of them. The first person across the line wins, so clearly the people who’ve had a better sprint, have more of an advantage in the pursuit. But that’s the crazy thing about biathlon. With so much pressure in the shooting, the person in first can drop 10 places with a missed shot in the first stage, the same goes for someone in the back, with good shooting you can really move up in the placings. That was my goal today, move up as far as I can.
The race started and I was feeling good. I skied behind a pack and came in to the shooting range and cleaned my first stage. My next three stages I missed one shot in each and still moved up. Until the last loop I skied pretty conservatively, too conservatively and so during the last loop I turned up the juice and started to pass people. It felt good to finally ski like I knew how. I was flying and had the 9th fastest last loop time of the day. I was psyched. I ended up moving up 22 paces to 37th place from 59th.
Week 5: Munich, Germany/ Obertilliach, Austria
The races last weekend were the end of the December World Cups and European Cups. Now all the athletes have a two week break before the racing picks up again after the new year. Two weeks seems like a lot of time, but if you add on travel to and from the U.S. and all the jet lag, there isn’t much time for training. Which is why Lanny and I choose to stay in Europe. It’s one of the hardest sacrifices we have to make. It’s not easy and not always enjoyable being so far away from your family on Christmas. And even though we’ve done this for many years now, it doesn’t get any easier, in fact, I think it only gets harder. But that’s the sacrifice you make to reach your goals.
So, after the races we traveled to Munich, Germany to watch some of our teammates travel home to the states. After they were on their way we turned the van south once again to head back to Obertilliach, Austria where we’ll spend Christmas. On our drive down, in honor of tradition, Lanny and I stopped in the town of Sterzing, Italy. A beautiful mountain town with picturesque buildings and quint shops. They always have a spectacular Christmas market, where you can buy hand made ornaments and knick-knacks as well as gluwine. Gluwine, is a favorite of Europeans this time of year, it’s a spiced wine that is served warm. It is good! So, the tradition that Lanny and I have is to take 20 euro and split up and buy each other a gift or gifts with a 20 euro limit. Mostly we buy little stocking stuffers and gifts that will help fill the time. The best part about it is you have to be pretty creative because 20 euro won’t get you very far. It’s always fun to see what the other came up with on Christmas day. Lanny’s worried this year that I out-did her. Must be her competitive nature, only a professional athlete would be worried about being out done in the gift giving arena. Of course I’m hoping I did out do her. 🙂
Later that day we arrived back in Obertilliach, Austria and this time we were staying at a different hotel. After we settled into our rooms we made our way down to dinner. When we turned the corner into the dinning room we heard a collective “Ohhhhh!” I looked up to see the Japanese team sitting in front of us. They were so excited to see us. We’ve spent many a Christmas’ with the Japanese team in Europe. They aren’t afforded the opportunity to go home for Christmas because of the long travel, so it’s often we find ourselves together in some mountain biathlon town.
We have been friends with the Japanese team for a really long time…well… let me clarify….we’ve enjoyed each other’s company for a really long time. I think of them as friends and I want to think that they feel the same way, but our friendship involves a lot of smiling, waving, and bowing. It was only a few years ago that some of the team members started to learn English and Lanny and I are desperately trying to learn some Japanese. So, I guess you could say that we have a very non-verbal relationship. Mostly we just exchange gifts. And we get really excited when we see them, and they get really excited when they see us. Yep, that about sums it up.
Well, this year, we wanted to do something special for them, so we had a cake made at a local bakery and then we added our own decorations. Lanny drew a card and we were all set for the delivery. That night we arrived early at dinner and set the cake, which was in a box, down on their table with a note. As the Japanese team trickled in only a few of them noticed the cake and those few hadn’t yet figured out why this box was sitting on their table. Being the shy people that we are, we got too excited and embarrassed to sit and wait, so we finished our dinner and went to our room.
About an hour later we hear some commotion out in the hall. I turn my head to listen and all I can here is “Hello… Hello….” Clearly someone is walking down the hall saying “Hello” at every door. Then I hear my name “Barnes”. I almost burst out laughing. I open my door and peer down the dark hall. Then I see three of the guys on the Japanese team. They are walking from door to door trying to find us. They didn’t know what room we were in so they decided to just yell outside each door. It was such a funny sight. They came over to the door and the three of them awkwardly shook our hands and said “Thank you” and “Arigoto” and bowed and handed us two very large pieces of the cake we had given to them. They also handed us two Japanese fans and 2 packs of candies. The excitement on their face was priceless. Through some very broken English we communicated how long we were going to be in Obertilliach and where we were going next. What happened next was the most entertaining. From my encounters with the Japanese team, I’ve come to the realize that in Japanese culture it’s not very nice to turn your back on someone when you are walking away, especially when you’ve just given them a gift. So, the three guys on the Japanese team bow and say thank you one more time and then start to back down the hall, then they bow and smile again, and again, and this continues until they disappear down the hall. I leave the door open to my room and back in just to make sure I didn’t disrespectfully turn my back. A few minutes later, when I suspect they’re long gone, I go and close my door. I sit back down on the couch and open up the book I had been reading before. No sooner did I do this, do I hear a knock on the door. This time there’s a different member of the team. He bows and hands us 2 very large bottles of Coca Cola zero. He thanks us for the cake, rubs his belly and says “very good.” And then smiles and waves and bows and backs down the hall, doing the same routine as the other guys. Finally I turn, close the door and walk into the room, grab my book and there’s another knock at the door. This time it’s two of the women on the team. They say thank you for the cake and hand us a bag full of goodies from Japan. They tell us that the goodies are for making soup. There are some rice noodles, some sauces, and some really strange looking biscuits. This time, instead of doing the routine of backing down the hall they just slowly close the door while smiling, waving and bowing. It’s such a funny sight and I love every bit of it. They are such wonderful people. They’re my favorite team on the World Cup.
In two day’s it’s Christmas. Training will continue through the holidays, which is good because it keeps your mind off the fact that you are so far away from your family. We are very thankful for having the opportunity to compete for our country, but we also promise ourselves that when we are done competing we won’t take for granted a Christmas at home with family. Happy Holidays to everyone. Merry Christmas.