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Posts Tagged ‘Ostersund’

Stau in the Penalty Loop

17.Dec.2013 by Susan Dunklee

Now that I am home with solid internet and don’t have to focus on racing for a couple weeks, I am hoping to catch up on some stories from the World Cup. Here’s one from early December:

We have spent endless hours on the Autobahn during our travels. Our most dreaded road sign, spotted all too frequently, is a “Stau” warning: traffic is about to slow to a crawl. Somewhere miles ahead, an accident has happened or vacation traffic is bottlenecked as it returns to Munich. All we can do is settle in and wait out the traffic jam or “Stau.”

I recently found myself in a different sort of Stau during our pursuit race in Östersund. Following the first shooting, a windy struggle in which I missed all 5 targets, I made straight for the penalty loop. As I started my third circuit around, I took a quick glance over my shoulder. “Well, this is something new,” I thought. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied a continuous parade of color; about 30 athletes were circling the loop at once. With no room to maneuver in the penalty loop, we were stuck going the same speed as the person ahead of us. It was like driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Despite my disastrous start to the race, I realized that everyone was struggling and I could still be competitive.

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Unusually high traffic in the penalty loop. Photo: USBA/NordicFocus

As the race progressed, conditions didn’t improve. Windblown snow had piled up across the race track. On downhills that I usually tuck at high speed, my skis sunk deep into the drifts and I slowed to a stop. I drafted behind other athletes to avoid wasting unnecessary energy against the headwind. The little red wind flags hanging in the shooting range ripped horizontally, unlike their gentle fluttering during our zeroing (sighting-in) period 45 minutes earlier. The wind whipped up clouds of snow that would obscure the targets and blind anyone in their path. Flatland, one of the Norwegian women, lost her sunglasses when they flew off her head in a particularly strong gust.

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Stormy conditions on the shooting range. Photo: USBA/NordicFocus

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One week earlier, a similar windstorm tore down the wall next to the shooting range.

Unbeknownst to the athletes, the competition jury was meeting and they decided to stop the race midway through, citing unfair and unsafe conditions. A strong windstorm earlier in the week had already toppled big pine trees onto the course. Athletes who normally hit over 90% of their targets were “dirtying” (missing all 5.) Other athletes, shooting during breaks in the wind or on the higher points protected by a wall, could hit more targets, avoid the penalty loop, and pass 25-30 people at once!

I was finishing up my third shooting stage, when I heard a race official speaking behind me. “The race is done. You must stop now.” I put my rifle on my back and turned around. Everyone was packing up. Per, one of our coaches was standing nearby behind a spotting scope so I went over to check in.

“That was wild!” I exclaimed, pumped up on adrenaline. “I missed 8 out of 10 prone targets and I was in still the hunt for a top 40 and points.”

“Yeah, it was crazy,” he agreed. Per nodded towards the lower numbered shooting points. “You should go rescue your friend,” he chuckled. Sure enough, I looked over and there was my teammate Annelies, all by herself and still cemented to her mat. Apparently she was the most focused athlete out there that day. She was completely oblivious that the rest of the competitors were already streaming towards the stadium exit. Normally we take 30 seconds to shoot five shots, but she’d been standing on that mat for minutes, waiting for gaps in the wind.

I skied over. “Hey Cookie,” I said softly, not wanting to startle her with a loaded rifle in her hands.

She lifted her head off the rifle’s cheekpiece, bewildered. “Huh?”

“They stopped the race. We are done.”

“Oh.”

As we joined the other athletes at the exit I asked, “Couldn’t you hear that nobody else was shooting?”

“No. I thought it was quiet because everybody was just waiting for the wind too.” We had a good laugh.

According to our Swedish friends, Östersund’s wacky weather continued in the weeks after we left. Strong windstorms ripped down trees, damaged houses and left the region without power.

Barnyard Noises

18.Nov.2013 by Susan Dunklee

Evening activities in our cabin at Östersund: cozy reading on the couch, a sewing project spread across the floor, online research for a school assignment. We are all absorbed by our individual projects.
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Suddenly a squealing noise sounds from out in the parking lot. We look up at each other confused. What in the world?!?

Then realization dawns and there is a rush to the door. We pull on our boots as fast as we can, grab our coats and head outside, giddy with delight. The wax techs have arrived!

Sure enough, there is the Boxer cargo van and the VW right behind it. Out of the Boxer climb Gara and Hansi, two of our wax technicians. The source of the pig-like squealing was Gara’s special barnyard animal horn. It can make a variety of animal noises: moos, whineys, and clucks. Blaring it upon arrival and departure is one of Gara’s trademarks.

The first order of business is hugs all around. Gara takes three of us in a bear hug at once. The wax techs are a cherished part of our winter-time family and we haven’t seen them in months. They are a crazy bunch, hailing from Czech, Germany and Sweden. Every day they collaborate with us over ski care and entertain us around the dinner table with their relentless banter. They work incredibly hard but also help keep the team atmosphere light.
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The techs had driven all the way up from the team’s base in Bavaria carrying skis, waxing eqiupment, new Adidas uniforms, and personal gear that we had left in Germany. They had intended to arrive a day earlier, but missed the ferry by 10 minutes and got stuck in Hamburg for an extra 24 hours.

“How was ‘Hamburger’?” we ask. “We heard you missed the ferry to Sweden. Did you hit traffic?”
“Ah, it’s Gara’s fault. Four or five times we stopped for him to pee,” Hansi explained.
“Nay! It’s because Hansi stopped for food,” Gara countered.

Within a few minutes, the rest of the team and staff has emerged from their cabins to greet the new arrivals. We chit chat and catch up as we start unloading numerous boxes and heavy duffels. Many hands make light work, and in a short order all the luggage has been sorted and carted away.
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Much of our biathlon family is back together now and we are ready for the routines of the racing season.

One Done. 8 Still to Come

5.Dec.2012 by Susan Dunklee

The first World Cup week of 2012/13 is in the books.

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Team pic last week in Östersund, Sweden (photo: USBA/Nordic Focus)

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(photo credit: tweet by sports_biathlon)

The Östersund races went alright. I was happy with my ski speed and look forward to hitting more targets in the future. I scored my first World Cup points of the season in the pursuit. My favorite part of those first races was hopping in behind race winner, Norwegian Tora Berger, during the sprint and matching her pace for a lap.

While racing in Europe, it is always exciting to see familiar faces from back home. Many thanks to Danika Frisbee and her father, Mike, for coming to visit and cheer! It was also great to have Chelsea Little from Fasterskier onsite to cover the North Americans.

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Most of the Östersund races happened after sunset. Much of the course was illuminated by white lights, making the stadium seem as bright as day. However, a few parts of the course, out of sight of spectators and TV cameras, had only spotty yellow lights. By comparison, those sections felt like the middle of nowhere.

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Our Östersund home, Camp Södergren, at night. The sky looks very bright because of the nearby stadium lights.

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The week before the World Cup opener the Canadian cross country team was training at the same place as us. One night we had a guitar jam with the Canadian gals. (L to R: Lowell Bailey, Annelies Cook, Chandra Crawford)

A couple days ago, we traveled to Hochfilzen, Austria, site of World Cup 2, in a heavy snow storm. After Sweden, I am excited for longer daylight, natural snow and mountains. Race schedule: Friday- sprint, Saturday- pursuit, and Sunday- relay.

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During the first half of training today, it was snowing so hard that the range workers had continuously sweep off the shooting mats. 25 minutes later, it cleared off enough to see a little sun. What a welcome sight!

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Strength training in Austria with Canadian biathlete Megan Heinicke (photo: Rosanna Crawford).
Finding weight room facilities to maintain strength during the race season is very difficult, so sometimes we must improvise.

In my last blog post, I shared a little bit about the American holiday of Thanksgiving. Lately I have learned a bit about holidays in other places:

In France, November 25th is the feast of St. Catherine. Unmarried 25 year old women are labeled “Catherinettes” and their friends traditionally dress them up bachelorette style to wish them a fast end to singleness. Here are a couple of Catherinettes from the French team, dressed up by their teammates:
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During the first nights of December, the Krampus comes out in the Alps. He is the devilish counterpart to St. Nicholas and comes out to terrorize naughty children. Watch out for the Krampus tonight!
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Thanksgiving in Sweden

22.Nov.2012 by Susan Dunklee

One reality of being a ski racer is that you are almost never home for Thanksgiving. You have either already begun the racing season or you are chasing after snow in far off places. This year, like last year, I am spending my Thanksgiving holiday in Östersund, Sweden.

To Americans, Thanksgiving is one of the most important holidays of the year. It is a time to spend with family and dear friends, eat lots of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie, and reflect on everything you have to be thankful for. I also like it because it is one of the least commercialized holidays in America.

I am thankful for my supportive family back home. They all raced in the Turkey Trot 5 km run in my hometown of Barton this morning; it is a family tradition. Then my parents, my brothers, my grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends and sometimes cousins get together for a giant dinner. When I am on the road I try to call them on Thanksgiving around dinner time and they pass the phone around the table to I can say hi to everybody.

I am also thankful for my other family- my teammates, coaches, and our staff. I got to celebrate with some of them this year. The wonderful staff at Camp Södergren where we are staying heard about the holiday and cooked us a Thanksgiving feast.

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There was turkey, squash, brussel sprouts, green beans, and lingonberry sauce (Sweden’s version of cranberry sauce)

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There wasn’t pumpkin pie but there was apple crisp and carrot cake for dessert

I don’t think the other teams staying here (the Japanese and the French) quite understood our excitement about dinner tonight.

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Sara and I bought some wine to celebrate…

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…And share with our team

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Happy Thanksgiving!