When I was bracing to leave the starting gate in Aforni Voltri, Italy a couple of weeks ago the last the thing the announcer said, in broken English, was “Here starts Russell Currier from Presque Isle. He is good skier, but not very good shooter.” He was wrong about the Presque part and it always annoys me when people claim that I'm from anywhere else but Stockholm. In his defense though I can't say that the shooting has been my strong point over the years. So you can imagine how I felt a week later when I cleaned a world cup on an exceptionally windy day.
I wasn't even sure if I was going to race the sprint or not. We only have four start spots at the moment and five guys to choose from. The individual competition on Thursday was a decent day. 64th was nothing to right home about, but it was my best finish in a WC individual yet. I was feeling confident in my season thus far and thought a top 40 seemed perfectly plausible for a sprint race. I watched the womens field take miss after miss on TV the day before and heard that it wasn't going to be any less windy for our race the.
The rumors were true. The wind was strong but somewhat consistent. It would occasionally snow and no one had seen the sun in days. The snow skied the way I would imagine skiing on a sponge might feel like. In other words it was slow conditions. The race officially started at 14:30. Representing bib 103, my race didn't start until about 3:30 in the afternoon. I glanced at the top 10 on the result board and saw at least one miss per name.
The legs felt good despite the 20km two days prior. Given the slow conditions I upped the tempo a little bit to adapt. The wind died down enough to take three clicks left and one up. I dodged the penalty loop in prone and headed back out on course. The bulk of the difficulty other athletes were having was in standing. I was excited to have cleaned prone but the real test was going to be standing.
If every dog has it's day, that was mine. For some reason I didn't notice to heavy wind pushing my barrel around and took five fluid shots. I double checked the target number just to make sure I hadn't cross fired or missed a target after all. There was no mistake. I hit all five. I could hear Armin clapping over the sound of my name in between a bunch of Czech I didn't understand over the loud speaker. The full scope of what just happened didn't fully settle in until I got my first split. I believe it was Jonne who said “Seven seconds from the podium!” The surge of adrenalin from hearing those monumental words of encouragement over rid any amount of fatigue going up that climb. There was no privacy on the last loop. When I made it to last gradual climb before the stadium I was safely in the top six and that's exactly where I finished.
Aside from having to go through drug testing for the second time that day (the first time was for blood control) it was one long glamor trip for the remaining day. The congratulatory comments were flooding in from people I've known for years and other never known before. Later on in the evening my escort to the award ceremonies showed up. It was the BMW car that you see parked at every WC venue. After some hang out time with the other top six men and women we all got called up on stage. The whole experience was overwhelming and if it were not for some extra melatonin I don't think I would have fallen asleep that night.
The pursuit wasn't my best race. In fact in fact it was the worst performance of the new year and even then it was still my second best WC result yet. I had a solid prone and very fast skis. I made a few tactical mistakes for pacing and really took a dive with four penalties on my last standing. I handled the wind like a champ in the sprint and an amateur in the pursuit. One or two extra hits could have done wonders judging from how large the pack was just in front of me on the last loop. I guess that's what next time is for.
I don't know when next time will be to be exact. I may race this week in Antholze Italy or may not. On Monday Leif and I head for Slovakia. Where we will compete at the U26 world champs. From there the plans are even less clear. The coaches and I are going to play it by ear from here on out. After Nove Mesto the presence of snow and sunlight on Antholz feels exponentially great right now.