BY TIM BURKE
My first 10 days in Sochi have flown by despite being holed up in the Endurance Village for the entire duration. With biathlon competitions being held nearly every other day, we have been left with little time to take in other events or venture far from the village. We are basically on a reoccurring race and recover cycle that leaves little time or energy for much else. Normally this routine would get a little monotonous but the non-stop Olympic action on TV has kept everyone entertained.
My first few competitions in Sochi were quite mediocre, but luckily I still have a few more chances. I feel lucky to be competing in a sport like biathlon where we have more than one competition. I can't imagine competing in a sport where you only get one chance at a medal after four years of training.
One interesting difference between our normal racing routine and the Olympic schedule is that all of our races here in Sochi are at night. Our earliest start time here is 6 p.m., while some of our races don't get underway until 7 p.m. Because of this, most biathletes have kept a late schedule and have basically stayed on central European time. This allows us to sleep in more so that we don't have so much time to wait around before our races.
One positive benefit of the late races is that we don't have to race in the extreme heat. This is not something that you would normally think about for the Olympic Winter Games, but it has been unseasonably warm here for the past week. One of the cross-country races a few days ago was contested in temperatures reaching 55 degrees! While these temperatures make for perfect spectating weather, they obviously are less than ideal for snow conditions. With our races being held at night, the organizers have been able to keep the track in surprisingly good condition. One of the ways they have accomplished this is by spreading massive amounts of salt on the track to draw moisture out of the snow. Without this procedure and the cooler night temps, the track would surely turn into deep slush.
Although my first few races here were not great, I was thrilled to be one of the 30 qualifiers for the mass start competition on Sunday. The mass start competition is comprised of the medal winners from the previous races, the top 15 athletes from the overall world cup score and the rest are filled in based on points. I squeaked in as the 30th qualifier so I hope to make the most out of this great opportunity! The mass start is typically the most exciting race for the athletes and spectators alike because of the head-to-head nature of the competition. I expect this race to be even more dramatic than normal because of the tricky downhill sections on this course. One of these sections if very difficult to get through when you are skiing solo, so I can't imagine what is going to happen when 30 guys head into this section at the same time.
While I have yet to have the race that I had hoped for in Sochi, I am hopeful that a top result is still possible. If we have learned anything about biathlon during these Games, it is that biathlon is a completely unpredictable sport and anything is possible. I will continue to go out and try to make the most out of every race!
For my next blog, I hope to have finally made it off the mountain so that I will have better pictures to share!