BY TIM BURKE
After a one-week post-Olympic break, the biathlon world cup picked up again last week in Pokljuka, Slovenia. I headed to Slovenia not sure if I would even be racing since I was just starting to get healthy again. After talking with my coach, we decided to give it a go. I knew going into the races that it was going to be a serious shock to my system because it had been so long since my last intense training session. About one kilometer into the first race, I remembered why cross-country skiing is considered the hardest endurance sport in the world. There is no faking it in this sport: if you miss training, you are going to pay the price! Luckily, my body responded fast to the first race and I ended up feeling much better in the following two races. It felt great to finally be back racing at 100-percent health. Racing is definitely way more fun when you are not simply trying to survive to the finish!
The Slovenia world cup stop is always one of my favorites. I don't often hear people talking about vacationing in Slovenia, but I would highly suggest it to anyone visiting Central Europe. It is definitely one of the most beautiful places we visit and the locals are incredibly friendly and welcoming. One of the best parts about this world cup is that we stay in the town of Bled, which is about a 30-minute drive down the mountain from the biathlon venue. While the biathlon venue had around six feet of snow, Bled had no snow and the temperatures reached 60 degrees some afternoons. These were perfect conditions for afternoon runs around the lake in Bled, which has to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
After our last race on Sunday afternoon we drove to Munich in order to catch a morning flight to Finland the next day. The last few times I competed in Finland were incredibly cold. In fact, our last races here nearly did not start because the temperatures were below the -4 Fahrenheit cutoff. Miraculously, the organizers found a thermometer that read above the cutoff temperature and the races went off as scheduled. I came here expecting more of the same this time but was surprised to find spring in full-swing here in Finland. There is actually almost no natural snow and the temperatures have not dropped below freezing since we arrived. This world cup is especially significant for us because Kontiolahti will host next season’s world championships. I won't spend any time here between now and next year's world champs, so this is a great opportunity to further familiarize myself with the venue. We had also hoped to put a big focus on ski testing for next year but I think it is very unlikely that these are the conditions we will be competing in here next winter. Regardless of the temperatures, we have a lot to learn about the shooting range and the tracks for our preparation next season.
Next week we head to Oslo, Norway, for the last world cup stop of the season. I am definitely still motivated for my remaining races, but I often find myself daydreaming about returning home in less than two weeks. I have been on the road now since November 10th, so I am longing to unpack my bags and spend some time with my family and friends. After spending so much time on the road over the years, I have become very comfortable living in Europe for the winters, but I still consider this one of the toughest aspects of being an American biathlete. If our team results continue to improve, I am hopeful that we can help influence the world cup to make regular stops in North America. This would be a huge benefit to the next generation of American biathletes!