1879 – part III
Driving into the Austrian mountains was a huge breath of fresh air. Another long stint of driving, and this time I was the only driver for my car but it wasn’t so bad – for one thing my hire car was a BMW X1! How do we while away six hours of driving? We play walkie talkie carpool karaoke of course! My pick was the riff off from the Pitch Perfect soundtrack which I think Craig rather enjoyed.
As I said ICC had finished but there was one remaining Europa Cup race to go and GB had space for me to race to get some more sliding in (always a bonus, especially as we don’t have a track of our own). The track is in a small town called Igls and a very different character from Altenberg. I raced in Igls the year before and really struggled to piece together a decent run; almost ending myself out of Kriesel on the last run before the race. This was unexpected because it has a reputation of being a very kind track albeit tricky to get down fast. So, I was looking forwards to making friends with the track this time and tuning into my inner glider (a way of sliding doing minimal work to build speed on tracks with low pressures).
The weather disrupted training but overall I made good progress over the three official training days. I’d worked out the way I wanted to operate that week (different from Altenberg) and I was enjoying less rushing and the serenity of the track. We always stay with the same people in Oberperfuss (near Innsbruck) and it’s one of the best hotels on tour with GREAT food! I was pretty content; eating, sleeping and sliding well. It’s all pretty straightforward when things are going well.
Race day arrived as per usual and I was feeling optimistic. We had an hour delay because of snow which didn’t bother me; you get used to that in our sport. But it wasn’t to be for me that day. I didn’t slide well, plus an early start draw combined with a snowy track and warm ice meant that I was in 13th after my first run. Not somewhere I expected to be if I am honest. Although annoyed I focused on redeeming myself in my second run; only for it to be cancelled because of weather (snow). Whilst I praise the Jury for making a call (having potentially learned from the problems in St. Moritz) it was totally uncalled for seeing as minutes later blue sky appeared as forecast.
So that put an end to my race season. Hardly the end I was hoping for. I was angry at myself and at the organisers; I so wanted that second run. But at the end of the day these are the things we have to deal with in the sport so I need to get used to it and I now have a ton more experience sliding in poor conditions compared to last year which will no doubt come in useful in the future. Shout out to teammates Brogan and Ellie for placing 1st and 3rd in the overall EC standings!! They’ve both had fantastic seasons, with Bro winning even before the final race and Ellie holding 3rd with just 6/8 results due to a concussion, #goals.
I am currently back in Bath; I was so ready to come home on Saturday but I am already missing sliding and looking forward to going back out on ice next week. There are four more weeks of sliding (training) and I plan to make the very most of it using what I have learned this season so that I can go in to 2018-19 in the best possible way. Oh, and there’s a little something called the WINTER OLYMPICS to look forwards to watching! I am not selected (as expected, no disappointments there) but I cannot wait to watch Laura, Lizzy, Dom and Jerry go and represent in PyeongChang along with the rest of Team GB!
If you’d like to watch the skeleton it’ll on the BBC from the 15-17th February. Check out the trailer ‘The Fearless are Here’.
1879 – part II
So, bye beautiful Moritz and hello gloomy Altenberg. Well after a 10-hour travel day that is. We drove from morning to night and eventually made it to a place where the highlight is the kebab shop (they are pretty damn good). The track itself is an olden goldie; built in secret for the Germans to train on back in the day and now a frequent on all race circuits, known for its challenging omega and kriesel corners. It’s a track I respect and like so although I was dreading the food, I was looking forward to sliding.
Unfortunately, Altenberg didn’t live up to expectations or my rose-tinted memories from the previous year. That’s just the way with skeleton; despite the concrete structure remaining the same year in year out the way the ice is shaped changes even within one season as the ice grows and the track workers work on it. I sort of lost myself over this week. Not doing what I know works best when sliding to work it all out; instead getting caught up on one corner rather than what way maybe going on beforehand.
Race day came around super quickly just like in St. Moritz; not helped by me missing OT2 due to some illness/lack of energy (the struggle to eat the food was real). My first race run went really well; my best of the week and I was happy sitting in 6th. However, my second may have been the worst of the week I almost flipped on the exit of four which is super common except it hadn’t happened to me all week. This then compounded down the track and combined with extremely poor visibility (and a tinted visor!!) meant that I dropped down to 9th place. BOO!! The conditions got so bad that the men’s second run got cancelled whilst our result stood (sound familiar?!).
As is with ICC we had a double race so I was hopeful to replicate run one twice on day two (following me?) and build on 9th. Race 8 (the last one of the ICC circuit) was hands down my worst performance of the year in my opinion. Unlike Whistler where I was trying my best and sliding despite every part of me not wanting to in Altenberg I just slid really badly! I finished 13th, and was pretty frustrated with myself as you can imagine. Obviously, it was not the way I wanted to finish my last ICC race but if I have learned anything in this sport so far it is that the bad days teach you so much more than the good. I took a lot away from Altenburg; and I’ll be a better slider for it in the future. A small consolation was that I finished 9th and top Brit in the overall ICC standings despite have two less race results than the rest of the field (Whistler DNF and DNS). All things considered I am quite proud of this result and it’s well within the target set for me.
1879 – part I
1879. The number of kilometres I’ve driven across Europe since the 31st December. Munich to St. Moritz (via Innsbruck), St. Moritz to Altenberg and Altenberg to Innsbruck. I left home on New Year’s Eve; no parties or kisses at midnight for me (sorry James). The aim was to be in St. Moritz for midnight albeit potentially building our sleds for the early morning (8am) New Year’s Day sliding session.
I mean, I can think of worse ways to spend new year’s than St. Moritz, watching a spectacular firework display over the frozen lake! But the weather had other ideas! Our flight from Heathrow was cancelled; so instead of flying to Innsbruck and having a two-hour drive to St. Moritz, we flew to Munich (on a delayed flight) and subsequently had a MUCH longer drive on the other side. Midnight approached as we neared the border to Switzerland and one of my teammates, Donna lead us to a gathering in a place called Pfunz (I think), where the locals had a bonfire and we were surrounded by firework displays. So, not quite St. Moritz, but a celebration of the new year nonetheless. The Germans don’t seem to be in to Auld Lang Syne so we used our car radio to do the dance and then went on our way. 90’s club classics the soundtrack to the final leg of the drive in a bid to stay awake! We eventually arrived at 2am, had a quick team meeting where we found out training was 10am and proceeded to try to sleep through the party downstairs with alarms set for 6am. Needless to say, we didn’t get up at 6am and build sleds for training; we were exhausted and went and watched training instead.
The week in St. Moritz was a blur. Instead of the normal three days and six runs of official training (OT), we had two days and four runs. Of these two were disrupted by snow. St. Moritz is a natural track and absolutely gorgeous part of the skeleton tour. However, the sun rarely made an appearance so it felt distinctly un-Moritz like for the most part – I didn’t even take a walk on the frozen lake! Race day came and with it SNOW! A skeleton athlete’s worst nightmare as the track fills up with snow and it makes racing very unfair. Despite protests and calls to cancel the race it went ahead and the coaches were designated to sweep between athletes; an unusual occurrence as your coach is usually at the block with you.
I was fourth off and unfortunately there was still a lot of snow in the track as the coaches hadn’t had much time to sweep a mornings worth of snow. It was still my best run of the week but unfortunately, not very fast. As more athletes came down (acting as snow ploughs) times decreased and I was sitting in 11th after run 1; a position that I did not feel I deserved. The men were off next and unfortunately during their heat an accident occurred in the track where a coach got hit by a slider because he stayed in the track too long*. This put an end to the day’s racing; demonstrating the huge health and safety risk of sweeping between sliders. My race became a one-run race and the men’s was cancelled and rescheduled for the next day. *coach and athlete are both okay.
The following day went with somewhat less drama. But with two men’s and one women’s’ race to run only one-run races were to take place. This time I finished 7th; falling out of the podium places during the last run of the race – gutting. A better result but I was still dissatisfied. St. Moritz was over for another year; six runs down the most unique track in the world is not enough!
Am I crazy?
After the standard ‘what actually is skeleton?’ the next question is usually ‘what made you want to do that?’. It is a question I (and I am sure most of us skeleton athletes) get asked all the time; and for good reason!
Skeleton, in case you’re a newbie (hey!) is a winter sliding sport. Imagine a huge waterslide filled with ice, you slide down it headfirst on a sled (think an oversized baking tray) with some steel runners wearing just a helmet for protection. Athletes go one at a time, racing the clock to see who can get from top to bottom in the quickest time, hitting speeds of up to 140 kph with their chin centimetres from the ice. The winner is the athlete whose cumulative time over two go’s is the quickest.
So, it’s understandable that the next question after you’ve explained that is ‘what on earth made you want to do that?’.
What you need to know is that when I applied to get on to the British Skeleton talent programme (the grassroots for the sport in the UK) I really didn’t anticipate having to actually do the sport because I thought the competition would be too tough. There were over 1000 applicants for #power2podium which I the talent ID search I was part of. Saying that, I did think I might be suitable, coming from a long jump background I had the physical qualities needed.
I was encouraged by a friend, intrigued by the sport and captivated by the opportunity it presented if I was to go all the way. And by all the way I mean Olympic gold. As a long jumper, it had been my dream to represent GB at the Olympics; I remember calculating how old I’d be for London 2012 when it was announced we got the games. I’d be 23, a good age and I was super optimistic and elated. Between then and 2012 it became apparent I wasn’t progressing at the rate necessary so I made new dreams; to support athletes at an Olympics in my role as an exercise physiologist. But in 2014 #power2podium dangled that original dream right in front of my face; and I couldn’t resist.
Of course, I wasn’t naive enough to think that it would be easy or that it (the Olympics) was guaranteed. I did believe it was possible though and that sealed the deal. I applied and the rest is history. However, it hasn’t been a smooth journey. Skeleton presented challenges I’d rarely (if ever) had to deal with on a regular basis. I’d be lying if I said I loved the sport straight away; I didn’t. Hitting walls at high speed with little protection and no control (oh the early days!) was not my idea of fun; but I had the bigger picture in mind and I am persistent.
I have been sliding for almost three years now (my first time on a sled was November 2014) and can say that I do now love the sport; even if I am still learning to embrace the challenges it presents (Whistler… cough cough). This sport now represents more than an opportunity to compete at the Olympics; it is a part of my person. I have learned SO much from doing skeleton and achieved things I didn’t know I was capable of. Yes, I look forward to going back to work when it’s all over and being at home for my birthday (1st November; pop it in your diary!) but for now this is a significant part of my life.
I consider it a complete privilege to be able to train and compete in skeleton for a living. I always identified as an athlete and I was struggling to come to terms with not being the calibre of long jumper I felt I could have been. So yes, it does seem crazy to throw yourself off a mountain a few times a day, five days a week between October and March but it is just like any other sport. The mastery of it removes (some of) the enormity of the bigger picture; everyday just trying to get better. It really isn’t as bad as it looks (except on the first day of pre-season/a new track!).
Let’s catch up
It’s the 27th December, and I’m on my way back to Bath for training after Christmas at home on the Isle of Wight. Most people pity me, ‘only’ having four days off for Christmas, having to travel back the day after Boxing Day when most are still nursing their well-earned food coma. I’m actually not fussed. I had a lovely Christmas; four jam-packed days of family, food friends and presents! And I’m ready to get back into a routine and back on ice for the remainder of the 2017-18 season (Olympics anyone!??).
This time last year was a slightly different story, I wasn’t really looking forward to getting back out on ice. My results had been less than inspiring and at times I questioned whether the sport was for me. Fast forward to this season and although I had a super tough time in Whistler (there is an unpublished blog on this) I’ve also finished top 3 in the GB selection, moved onto a new race circuit and had four podium finishes in Calgary and La Plagne. I am heading back to St. Moritz and Altenberg for the remaining races of the season, the tracks that I had my first tastes of success on in the sport. I feel optimistic and am looking forward to getting back on my sled and seeing everyone again.
It is the time of year for reflection and goal setting. I’ve spent most of the train journey doing this (as well as being kicked in the shins by a 5-year-old sitting opposite me!). I really love setting goals for myself; it keeps me focussed and stops any stagnation. Whilst in some ways my life has gone backwards since going full-time in skeleton e.g. quitting work as an exercise physiologist, being a nomad for six months of the year, it has also given me so many opportunities e.g. travel, self-development and business experience. I always like to think that athlete is only part of my person and identity. I probably take having ‘other’ things going on too far at times but to be honest I like to challenge myself on and off the track, and I want this experience to bring me more than just medals athletic success.
I am in Europe for the remainder of this skeleton season, racing in Switzerland, Germany and Austria. I’ve then got my best friends hen do at the end of January before spending February training on ice in Europe. Over the summer, I was selected onto the Olympic long list; a list of athletes eligible for selection for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in February 2018. This was one hell of an achievement in its own right in my opinion having completed just one season of racing. Because of this, the question I have been fielding all Christmas is the BIG one “will you be racing in the Olympics?”. It’s a question that as soon as you do any sport to a high level you get asked on the regular. Many people (at no fault of their own) do not realise how bloody difficult qualifying for an Olympics is (in any sport).
Anyway, the answer to that question is ‘probably not’. And that’s okay. As it stands GB have got two spaces for women’s skeleton at Pyeongchang. I am not ranked GB first or second so it stands to logic that I won’t get selected; and rightfully so. Of course, you never know what will happen but realistically I’ll be watching and cheering on GB along with everyone else! I’ll just be that little bit more invested as I cheer on my teammates to (hopefully) gold!