We are well into January now, can't quite believe it because I feel like just yesterday I was taking a few days off for the holidays. But those days have come and gone and now it is back to work. This past weekend (Jan. 8-9) I was in Zauchensee, Austria for a downhill and super G and the Austrian fans were out in fine form.
I had a great weekend, coming away with a top 15 finish in the downhill and a top 10 finish in the super G. I've raced the hill in Zauchensee before (Zauchensee is just up the valley from Altenmarkt) but I've never really connected with the hill in the past. This year, from day one, I was excited to race the track.
We had two training runs before the race and since I am ranked just outside the top 15 right now my bib number is drawn between numbers one to 30. The top 15 get to pick their number for the training runs. On day one I drew bib two, on day two I drew bib one and then on race day I drew bib three! I couldn't believe it!
Starting early in a downhill isn't always easy, especially on the training runs. Usually they are still sorting some kinks out with the track. Luckily there were eight strong forerunners from the Austrian Europa Cup team to test the track before they sent the racers.
On the first training run there was a hold at the start because there was too much speed in a section, so they adjusted a gate. On day two the first forerunner went into the nets, followed by the third forerunner, so there was a fairly long delay at the start. Then came race day, and the TV trailer at the finish blew a fuse and lost power so we were delayed about 20 minutes while waiting for power to come back.
So, what does one do when there are delays in the start? Well, the most important thing is to stay focused, but you also have to also allow yourself to be distracted, if that makes any sense - focus at that level is hard to sustain for long periods of time when you're standing around.
I just try to stay relaxed, maybe we tell some jokes. You chat with other people around the start, or it can also be a good opportunity to sneak off and take a pee, because with nerves that is often necessary. What I try to stay away from is just sitting there going over the course because then I just end up over-thinking things. When I get into that start gate I want to be in a place where my body is relaxed but energized, and if my mind is thinking too much then I can't get my body to that place where I am ready for anything once I get onto the track.
When you have an early start number it is also challenging to get a good course report, especially on that first training run when all you've had is an inspection but you really haven't seen anyone go down at full speed. Sometimes the jumps will carry further, or the line coming into a turn will need to be adjusted because there is too much speed coming into it.
When you are starting early you really do rely on what the forerunners do in order to get a good report up from the coaches. Again, it is important to stay relaxed - this is what I always tell myself, because otherwise I tend to stress or worry that I won't get the report in time, that I won't get in my skis in time, that I won't have enough time to get to the gate! The truth is, I always have enough time.
This past week was actually great for training because I don't usually get an early start number in downhill and what I've learned is that I am quite good at staying calm when the schedule gets thrown a bit. Maybe it is the veteran in me coming through!
In the past weeks I have definitely been feeling my confidence come back again. The races in Zauchensee were great because I just took what I had been doing in training to the hill. I stayed focused on the same cues and in my race run those cues were there for me.
I am excited for the next races this month, because, really, the year has just begun. To be excited to race is a great place to be, that's usually when you rise to the challenge.
Next up for me was supposed to be a giant slalom World Cup in Maribor this weekend, but temperatures are very warm in Europe right now and that event was cancelled. The men are in Wengen, Switzerland for a downhill and a slalom race, and my brother Michael just missed the podium in fourth place. So close!
Keep an eye on the results because there are fast things coming.