Sunday, February 24, 2013

From Russia with Love

Russia…. Definitely an experience.

We arrived in Sochi for the eighth Ski Cross World Cup of the season. Along with almost ever other winter discipline, this race was a test event for next year’s Winter Olympic Games. 

After two days exploring the rapidly developing city of Sochi located on the Black Sea, we drove to Rosa Khutor, the mountain where the Ski Cross event will be held next year. Basically built from scratch for the Olympics, the town is brand new, still unfinished, and has an almost artificial feel to it; somewhere between a movie set and Disney Land. Cranes fill the skyline all the way down to Krasna Polyana, a town 10km down the road. There’s a lot of work to be done for next year, but given the investment and resources they are pumping into this project, hopefully it will be finished in time.

On our first day free skiing, the mountain instantly exceeded my expectations. The top gondola gives access to some of the most incredible skiable terrain. With spectacular views of nearby Georgia, the mountain’s peak is steep, rugged, full of chutes and couloirs, and almost entirely off-piste. If you’re coming to watch the Olympics next year, I recommend bringing some big mountain skis to make the most of this resort.

After watching the Border Cross World Cup on the same course a few days earlier, I was extremely excited to ski the track. In terms of size, speed and length, the track was by far the biggest and most difficult this season. It is definitely on par with the 2010 Winter Olympic Games course in Vancouver, and the Winter X Games course in Aspen; two of the best courses I’ve ever skied. 

Like the majority of our World Cup season this year, the weather dictated our race schedule. The first two training days were cancelled due to rain. We were hopeful to get qualifications off on day 3 but that was also postponed due to heavy snowfalls and fog. Once again, we were forced to do training, qualifications and finals all in the one day.

Luckily the weather cleared just enough on day 4 to get the race off completely. I qualified in 14th place out of 42 which I was happy with. In the first round of finals, I pulled out of the start in third place, but managed to make a pass into second, and again into first on the upper part of the course. I led for the rest of the way and crossed the line in first. Through round one and into the quarterfinals! In the next heat, I was in third place again but couldn’t manage the same manoeuvre to pass into second or first. I finished the heat in third and was therefore knocked out of the semi finals. Overall I placed 11th. Given that this is the location for next year’s Olympics, I was very happy with my result and know that there is definitely room for improvement for next year. 

For a view of the course from my perspective, take a look at the head-cam footage I took during one of my training runs. 

After a solid two days of travel from Russia and a short stay in Prague, we are now in Czech Republic for the next World Cup. 

Marielle and I pumped to get through to the quarter finals after an exciting heat.

A close third place in quarter finals behind Marielle Thomson (CAN) and Karolina Reimen (POL).

The course builders sketch of the track.

The Olympic countdown clock in Sochi (courtesy of SSA).

Almost like a home ground advantage? Fog wipes out the view in Rosa Khutor.

Rosa Khutor (Courtesy of SSA)

Marcos at work at the top on finals day.

Great viewing spot of the track in Sochi.

Brand new. Rosa Khutor.

Disney Land??

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Welcome to Russia

After my less than average performance at the World Cup in Germany last week, we traveled to Switzerland for the Europa Cup Ski Cross event in Davos. It was a good opportunity to get my confidence back before coming to Russia for the next World Cup. The training day as well as the first of the two Europa Cups was cancelled due to weather. The sun finally came out on day three, making for a great race. In a deep field including numerous World Cup girls, I qualified in 4th and ended up finishing in 5th, just missing out of the big final but winning the small finals heat. Great to get some more head-to-head action and brush off Germany's misfortune.

On Sunday morning we flew to Sochi with a short but sweet stop over in Istanbul, Turkey. We made the most of the 8 hour layover by visiting the Blue Mosque, as well as Istanbul's hot spot Taksim Square. A bit of an adventure and definitely a place I would like to visit again sometime in the future.

Now to the part of the season that I have been looking forward to for some time now! Sochi, Russia. The location of the 2014 Winter Olympics. We are here this year for an Olympic test event; basically a trial to make sure things run smoothly next year. It seems that the entire city is under construction; new apartments, hotels, roads, footpaths... plenty of work to be completed in the next 12 months, but none-the-less an exciting and vibrant city. A world away from home and other parts of the world that I am familiar with.

Tomorrow we will leave the city and drive a couple of hours to Rosa Khutor, the mountain where the Freestyle Olympic events will be held. I'm looking forward to checking out the course, and seeing what's in store for the big event next year!

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul.

Local cuisine in Istanbul. How a real kebab is done.

Mama making the flat bread.

Turkish delight heaven. Couldn't resist....

Spice market in the Bazaar.

Anton Grimus making a musical appearance at a local bar in Istanbul.

Sochi under construction.

One of many new hotels under construction in the city.

If you're looking for a good coffee in Sochi, make your way to Jet Bar. These two lived in Sydney for 8 years, and have brought their barista skills back to Russia.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Tough day in Germany

Yesterday was a tough day on the slopes here in Grasgehren, Germany.

After a rejuvenating 8-day break in Australia, I was ready to get back into competition.

We arrived in Grasgehren five days ago, hopeful for a great World Cup event. Two years ago the race here was amazing; perfect conditions, great organisation and a long technical course. 

This year the weather gods turned it all around. 130km winds and torrential rain for two days meant that the training and qualification days were both cancelled. On Saturday the pouring rain turned to heavy snowfalls (over 40cm) and the course was almost completely buried. All the hard work put in by the course workers and race organisers was evaporated in a number of hours. Saturday's race, the first of two events, was cancelled, and instead the athletes did an inspection of the course.

On Sunday the weather cleared just enough to get the race off. We had one training run on the course and then it was go-time. I definitely didn't have the run of my life in qualifications. With all the fresh snow, strong winds and poor visibility, one small mistake put you way back in the field. I finished in 26th place, my worst result by far all season. Unfortunately none of the five Australian's qualified for finals, so a downer of a day for the whole team.

We will stay here in Grasgehren to train for the next two days (or mostly likely powder ski given that it has snowed over 30cm overnight). We then travel to Davos, Switzerland, for two Europa Cups in preparation for the Olympic Games test event in Sochi, Russia, in a few weeks. 

The Australians take to the stage in the public athletes presentation in Germany.

Disappointed with my performance in qualifications.