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.
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.
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.”
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.