We just wrapped up our first official training week on the new 2014 Olympic track in Sochi, Russia. It was great to be able to scope out the area and get on the track for the first time. My very first impression of the area was somewhat of a shock. As we left the airport I was surprised to see palm trees outside. After 15 years of competing in negative degrees, you certainly don’t think palm trees. But Sochi itself actually has a sub-tropical climate, and in the city it was around 70 degrees during the day. We got to explore the city and the first stop for the team was a swim in the Black Sea. Coming from Maine it was strange to see people enjoying the ocean in mid-November.
The track is situated about an hour and a half away from the airport, up in the mountains. Nearly all of the outdoor sports will take place in this area – Красная Поляна (pronounced Krasnaya Polyana, which means Mountain Cluster) as the weather is more fitting for the Olympic Winter Games. The surprises continued as we ventured up the mountains. I was surprised first by the size of the mountains, and second by the amount of vegetation in the area – there were lots of green, orange and yellow leaves similar to a fall in the northeast U.S.
The area itself is still being constructed. They are literally building a town for the Olympics, and they are wasting no time or money to make it magnificent. The entire area was a giant construction zone with crews working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to get things finished. It was neat to watch from day to day to see how much work had been done. I wish I had taken a picture each day to document the changes.
The track itself was interesting and very different than any other track in the world. The biggest difference is there are three uphill sections of the track and not just straight sections, which are common. In the curves, a curve would start falling downhill, and then flatten out in the middle before climbing on the exit. It was a strange feeling at first and took me longer than I had hoped to figure out the drives. Every run we get on the Olympic track is crucial to finding the best lines to find the most speed. That is going to be the biggest challenge with this track. It is a relatively easy track to slide, but it is difficult to find the speed and to go fast. At the end of the week we had an inner team race and I won by a narrow seven hundredths of a second over my teammates Erin Hamlin and Kate Hansen. Overall I am happy with the way my training went there. Although it was a bit up and down while trying to learn the track, I feel like I left with a great sense of understanding for how the track works, and what is needed to go fast there.
We are now in Konigssee, Germany for a few days of training before heading to Innsbruck, Austria for our first World Cup of the season next weekend. I am very anxious to start competing; I have had one of my best pre-seasons ever. Starting in September winning the USA Luge Start Championship, then heading over to Norway and Latvia to start my sliding season, returning to Lake Placid, N.Y., for our pre-season training and winning my FIRST U.S. National Championship title, training in Sochi and winning our team race there, and heading into the World Cup Season with 142 runs so far this winter. My goal was to have 120 runs so I have gone above and beyond that. I feel prepared mentally and physically and am ready to fight for every thousandth of a second. I think Team USA is going to have a great year!!