Sunday, 18 March 2012

Norwegian Junior Nationals

The relay on the biggest climb, im in about 7th on the left
The chaos as the lead group enters the stadium (im back right)
Holmenkollen, sporting the new minimalistic snow fashion
struggling on deep in the second half on the 20k
Me in 3rd place during the relay

The norwegian junior nationals this year where being held in Holmenkollen in Oslo. The home of cross country skiing. Its like inviting teenagers to play rugby at Murrayfield or twickenham, tennis at Wimbledon, football at Wembley or cricket at Lords. Of course this was set up to be a fantastic championships. Apart from the fact it was several degrees above freezing and there was minimal snow.
In the days before the competition the tracks had been closed and unprepared to try and preserve what little snow was left. On the final day before racing began a small 3 hour window was opened when we could use the track. The conditions where awful... deep deep sugary snow, incredibly lose stuff the slides and slops about as you ski. I tested my skis, and did a lap of the 5k loop to be used over the weekend.
We stayed at the Holmenkollen Park Hotel. Its a pretty fancy hotel right beside the tracks. It cut travel time and was pretty handy to just walk 5min and be at the stadium. I judge hotels on a few basic criteria: internet, food, room size, ability to sleep well in the room and how friendly the staff are. This hotel was pretty much nearly an epic fail. The only hotel that has been worse was for the Otepa world cup last year, where we basically didnt eat for a week.
They had internet here, the food was eatable (just), room size normal, ability to sleep was poor as we were above the service entrance, and the staff where the most horrible people i have ever met.
It all started with us arriving before our rooms were ready. We went up and asked every 15mins if our rooms were ready. They weren't and the reception staff got pretty annoyed with us. Then the first meal. A waiter refused to take our plates away because we hadn't finished all the food on them. Fair enough... if the food was edible. It happened to be fruit salad. Except it was stiff frozen. I explained to the waiter that it was still frozen and thats why we hadnt eaten it, but he was having none of it and told be i was wrong.
The next meal wasn't much better. They had no control over the dining room and installed a retarded queueing system, requiring people to criss cross through the queue in order to collect essential items such as a drink. They also hadn't really realized that there were well over 100 skier staying here and all of us were going to eat at the same time. So after waiting for what seemed like eternity to get any food there wasn't actually anywhere for you to sit. They blocked of half the dining area for other groups and got angry with people for trying to go there. It led to many funny situations. Firstly someone sat on the floor, other went and sat out in reception and then there was the awkwardness as a single 50 something year old wax tech was ushered to sit at a spare seat with 15 or 16 year old girls, and the vice versa. This was all because of one idiotic waiter who refused to let us sit in another half of the dining room.
For skiers in Norway it is tradition to eat 4 meals a day, breakfast, lunch, early dinner and the "kveldsmat" (evening food) which is pretty much the same stuff as breakfast. So one evening i came down to eat my Kveldsmat. I tried to sit at the table next to all the others. It had reserved on it, just like the one the others had. The waiter rushed over and said i couldnt sit here. I explained i was with the group. He said they had booked the table and so could sit here but i couldnt. All the other tables had reserved on them or had people sitting at them. I tried another table and he came rushing over again and turned me away. So i tried a third table... again i was told to go away. Eventually after standing in a half empty dining room for 5min with a bowl of cereal in one had and a glass of juice in the other, some people stood up and i got on their table along with some of the others who had also been waiting for while now.
So enough with how bad Holmenkollen Park hotels staff are and onto the racing....
20k classic, individual start. I had been looking forward to this race all season, i like the course, and i had done a good 15k test race on it earlier this month. The conditions where dreadful. The morning fog had just lifted as i started my race, and the course now baked in warm sunshine with the temp way above 0 degrees. My first 10k went well and i sat in 4th place according to my splits i was getting on the track. My last 10k was awful. There wasnt any classic track in any of the uphills, just thick slop. The skis were slowing as they picked up dirt and i was struggling. The main problem was that i have pretty much never trained herringbone run, the technique used when a hill gets too steep or there aren't any classic tracks up hill. With back to back hill of herringbone and wadding through thick slop my legs, race plan and power all went down the drain. I had a pretty good first 10k so i held on for a 7th place. Anything inside the top 10 is good in norway. So i was happy i held on for a top 10. And had it been any normal norges cup weekend i would have been thrilled. But this was the national championships... i wanted something better, or at least to beat my best result so far this year (6th).
I thought about the next day. Andrew Musgrave had, 2 years previously, been 7th over the 20k classic distance and then went on to win the 10k skate the following day. So statistically for british skiers at Junior NM i was guaranteed a win?? right?
I thought the 20k was hard, but the skate race was even harder. We were the last age group out, and the tracks were insanely soft. I skied ok and felt good, but every up hill i just sank into the soft sludge and ground my was slowly to the top. I finished 14th. This is, so far, my worst distance result this season. It says something to be disappointed when you finish outside the top 10. Many people came up to me and congratulated me... i didnt really understand why... i wanted to be in the top 10, but with a slightly bad day and conditions against me i had no chance. Last year 14th was my best result, i was amazingly happy with that... its weird how things change in a year.
That evening was the prize giving and live entertainment in the Oslo Town hall. With all the big wigs present and the mayor of oslo. It confirmed to me that Norwegians do not understand when and how to use english swear words. Apparently it is ok for for someone to sing something including "f*** you all, motherf***ers" in front of the mayor of Oslo. I cant imagine Boris being too impressed with that.... or on the other hand he might challenge them to a round of whiff whaff, or maybe a madison in the veledrome or bendy bus driving.
After quite possibly the best prize giving evening i have been too i awoke today for the relay. 4 x 5km. As i race in Norway for Geilo IL, which lies in the Buskerud area i would be going for the Buskerud area team. I was doing the first leg for the first team. All legs had been changed to skate instead of 2 classic and 2 skate, as there wasnt really enough snow left for a classic track. I arrived to the stadium to hear the wonderful sound of skis scraping across ice. It had frozen overnight and the tracks where (directly translated) stone hard. Finally my perfect conditions. Hard ice where i could use my power and long leavers. The start was insanely fast and i settled in near the front. The foot never lifted of the gas and everybody fought to stay with the leaders who took it in turn to attack. We quickly completed the first 2.5k and i made a move up to 3rd with a bit of luck and some clear snow. On the last hill i ended up a bit blocked in a back to 10th. In the stadium i made it up to 6th. But with the first 20 teams coming in within 10 seconds position was irrelevant, i was less than a second behind the leaders. I handed over to our second leg guy after i picked him out of the sunlit mist. We skied to our rank and finished 8th. My leg was insanely fast, with a 9min 47 second 5k time. On a hard 5k, that is normally at around 13min this was crazy. It was sprinting all on as hard as i could, just holding the tails of the guy in front. It was fun, and i felt good, so i know the form is at least on the way up, or doing pretty well. So im looking forward to a good end to the season.
Im now back in Geilo, where there is a little bit more snow, but not much.

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