We had two individual competitions in Sapporo, plus the usual pre-comp day of official training, a provisional jump (PCR) and cross country training. Each day we loaded onto coach buses early in the morning and wound our way out of the city up to the jump venue. After jumping, we had about an hour bus ride to the cross country venue – past all sorts of city shops, restaurants, a few casinos and finally out into the countryside. Everyday, dump trucks were out in full force hauling snow out of the city. This was a nice contrast to the truckloads of snow that we’ve so far this year – which have been bringing snow in to make a course on green grass fields. The ski trails in Sapporo seemed to be a bit higher in elevation than the city, and there was even more snow out here. Incidentally, this was no more than 150m above sea-level.
If you haven’t watched the first video from my Part 1 blog, check it out for a look at our fun on the buses. Fast Big Dog, aka Jon Schaefer, made both of the videos. He’s a good friend and supporter of ours who usually tries to come to at least one of our World Cup weekend. When Taylor told him that we decided to go to Sapporo, he said that he’d always wanted to race in the Sapporo Loppet – which is this weekend – so the timing couldn’t have been any more perfect. We only brought our wax-techs as staff and worked with the Swiss jump coach, so FBD was our "coach" and – perhaps more importantly – motivational figure for the week.
In that role – he might just have to come along more often. I didn’t have quite the weekend I was hoping for, but the Fletchers brothers lit it up. Bryan had his best jump result of the year so far on Friday, and was top-ten both days (9th and 8th).
The real success came on Saturday though, when Taylor tore through the field from 28th place and almost 2 minutes back, then proceeded to attack the lead group on the last lap and skied onto the podium. I could hardly believe it when I finished the race and saw his name in 3rd on the leader board. Then again, if there’s anyone who can make up that much time, it’s Taylor. He was over 20 seconds faster than Bryan, who was the next fastest skier.
This was Taylor’s 2nd individual World Cup podium, ending a dry spell for our team since their World Championship team bronze in 2013. It definitely was deserved and made the long trip to Japan even more worthwhile.
I was able to come away with a few more points. I finished in 28th the first day after solid jumping in tough conditions and a good, but not great race. On Saturday I didn’t fly away from the hill in strong headwind after a pretty good takeoff, and left myself too far behind the majority of the field to ski into points. I did however, set a PR cross-country race, with the 9th time rank. After a disappointing jump, it can be tough to refocus, but having the chance for a redemption race is one of the great things about Nordic Combined. Clearly, we’re doing something right in the cross-country side, and the jumping aspect is coming along steadily.
Although our weekend wrapped up on Saturday, we didn’t fly out until Monday morning. I was happy to get the chance to explore the city before we left. We spent most of Sunday in the city, wandering through massive shopping malls with an electronic district that could have been Amazon.com’s warehouse, and perused shops and markets on the walking-street mall.
The trip back to Munich was of course, a long haul. We were all feeling a little under-the-weather, which isn't surprising considering all the travel and racing, so we did our best to sleep through the 13 hours from Tokyo to Paris. If it was a competition, Taylor won that as usual. Now we're in Predazzo, Italy for another busy World Cup weekend. Italian food is a bit of shock to the system after Japanese but I think we'll manage just fine.
Here's a few more pictures from the week in Japan. Check back for next week's update.
Sapporo, Part 1
As expected, we had quite the adventure simply getting to Sapporo. We flew from Munich early Monday morning to Paris, then on to Tokyo/Narita. Bryan started the trip started off well by charming the nice Air France attendant into waiving all our bag fees. At the beginning, she said each bag over our allowances would be 200 euros and every kilo over 23kg was an extra 12 euros. Between Bryan, Taylor, our two wax techs, Tim Hug, the Swiss coach and serviceman, we had 19 bags – including one ski bag that was an astonishing 44kg. All in all – we were saved form paying roughly 2000 euros.
When we arrived in Tokyo/Narita we had to recheck onto our flight to Sapporo on Jetstar air. First we were told that all bags longer than 1.9 meters (all our ski bags) wouldn’t fit on board and we would have to find a cargo plane to take them. As they worked on figuring this mess out Jetstar and Japan Air decided to cancel all flights to Sapporo due to heavy snow. Once again we loaded our bags onto carts and headed for an airport hotel.
It was a drag to extend the trip another day and essentially lose a third day of training, but we tried to make the best of it. After crashing for a quick nap (or three hours if you’re pro sleeper Taylor) we took the train into the Narita city center. We could have taken an express train into Tokyo but no one was too interested in the hour-plus train ride each way and the likelihood of getting lost in Tokyo.
Narita turned out to have a real cool walking street with local shops and restaurants. We found an awesome sushi spot and treated ourselves to a nice dinner – at half the cost of most sushi restaurants in the US.
Many of the other teams arrived into Narita on Wednesday and were on our same flight to Sapporo. This time, the race organizers in Sapporo arranged to have our skis on a cargo flight and brought them directly to the hotel early the next morning. We spent most of the day traveling to Sapporo, but were able to get in a light strength session in the morning and an evening jog after we arrived at the hotel.
We stayed in the heart of the sprawling city of 2 million at the Prince Hotel. It was quite the place. 28 stories, lightning fast elevators, and a very friendly staff. All the other teams were there as well, so they had a buffet for us with a full spread of Japanese food and a few "western options." Fortunately I like seafood and will try just about anything.
The weekend of competitions went by quick, and now we're already on our way back to Europe. I'll have more on the competitions later, but for now I'll leave you with a few pictures and two must watch videos from "coach for the week" Fast Big Dog. More to come later.
The Seefeld Triple
I competed in the Seefeld Triple last weekend. FIS brought out this new format for the first time last year in Summer Grand Prix, and the two years of the event in Seefeld have been a big success. We do a lot of the same events over and over, so it's cool to do something different, without totally changing around the way our sport works.
The Triple kicked off Friday with one jump and a 5km "prologue." All athletes were able to jump and race, and then the top-50 from the finish of the 5km moved onto Saturday. I didn't have as good of a competition jump as my provisional and training the day before, and I found myself starting in 56th. The rest of the team, Bill, Taylor and Bill were starting safely in the top-50, but no one jumped to a position that they were particularly satisfied with. I managed to ski up to finish right at 50th place - not exactly what I hoped for - but at least I was in for the next day.
The interesting thing about the Triple is that each day counts towards the next. This meant that for the jumping on Saturday I was starting first, with 28.5 points (or 115 seconds) subtracted from my jump score. Every athlete had some points taken away based on the last day except for the winner of the 5km, Eric Frenzel. These points plus our jump points determined the start order of the 10km race.
I knew I would need a really good jump to put myself back in a fighting position. Unfortunately, trying to make something extra happen on the jump hill usually back fires, and I wasn't able to move up much for the start of the 10km. I started in 48th, but at least I had a good group to start with in a "wave" start and was able to move up to 38th place.
Only the top-30 moved on to Sunday - so I was out, along with Taylor, who finished just outside of the top 30. Bryan and Bill, however, had great races, and were 11th and 21st going into the final day.
Sunday was a two-jump, 15km event - back to the old school format from a while back. While we cheered them on, Bryan and Bill both jumped pretty well and put themselves in 14th and 17th to start the race. Usually, this would be within striking distance of the podium or at least top-5, but after 2.5 days of competition, the race was fairly spread out. Haavard Klemetson (Norway) blew the field apart with two massive jumps and had a 1:30 lead over second place.
As much as I wanted to be in the competition, it was still a pretty exciting race to watch. Bryan and Bill did their best to make up time gaps and Klemetson was slowly reeled in at the front of the race. Eric Frenzel caught Haavard on the 5th lap and skied away for a clear win. It wasn't exactly a surprise win - Frenzel has been the most dominant athlete on the NC circuit for the past couple years. He won the Triple last year as well. He's one of the strongest jumpers, and when he needs to be, he can be one of the fastest guys on the track - so I have to say, the win went to the best guy, who's a complete picture. (Klemetson, on the other hand, often leads the jumping, but usually only hangs on for the podium when he's got a pretty good lead starting the race).
I made a quick video of the day with shots I took of Bryan and Bill. Check it out if you haven't already.
Next year the Triple will probably be bigger than ever, as we won't have a championship event in 2016. Expect to see more than two US athletes in the final day! I definitely went in with the goal of making their and was a bit disappointed with my results. But it was still a fun event, a great experience, and surely a better effort than I would have put forward a year ago. Plus, Seefeld is a gorgeous place, and we always stay at an awesome hotel, Zum Gourmet. Here's a few pictures for you.
Yes, Taylor, Bill and Bryan all bought traditional lederhosen. They look good, but I'll save that purchase for another trip...
Finally, after Seefeld we got right back on the road (and plane) again. I'm writing now from Sapporo, Japan - a new place for me! It was quite the journey getting over here, but at least we're much more used to the jet-lag than the Europeans. We compete here tomorrow and Saturday. For once, lack of snow isn't the least bit of an issue. I saw 10 dump-trucks in a row today hauling snow out of the city. It should be great weekend, stay posted!
A Good Weekend in Chaux Neuve
First - I didn't get an update up from the first World Cup after New Year's in Schonach, Germany. For a report from my teammate Ben Berend, who was with us for his first World Cup races, go here: http://skijumpingusa.com/index_htm_files/20150108-Blog.pdf
On Saturday I scored my first World Cup points with a 21st place finish. My 93m jump in competition turned to better than many others in rainy and windy conditions. I found myself starting the race in 27th - far ahead of where I've started previous World Cup races. I knew I had an awesome chance to grab my first points, but I also had a lot of fast skiers starting right behind me - another thing I'm not as used to.
We raced five laps on one of the narrowest courses I've skied on at this level - and by far the muddiest snow I've raced on anywhere. Thousands of fans came out of the small neighboring villages to line the race course and pack the stadium. It was near impossible to hear splits or placing from my coaches. On the last lap I heard Bill yell 20 and 21st to Bryan and I. I was relieved to know that we were safely into the points, and I tried to make a charge to get away from some of the guys tailing us. In the last 500m, this might have cost me, and I didn't quite have the energy to hold onto a top-20. But either way 10 World Cup points is a great start to get onto the World Ranking List.
Bill made a great clip of the race on Saturday. If you haven't seen it, take the 45 seconds to watch it here and get a good feel for the atmosphere.
Or you can watch the entire race on youtube here.
The kids go crazy for all the skiers and love autographs as much as any fan. I was happy to sign some - especially when I was in a good mood after jumping!
On Sunday we were planning on having a two-man team sprint. Unfortunately, the hill crew wasn't able to overcome the warm temps from the day before and the fresh snow that morning. Apparently there was a puddle in the curve of the landing, and the jury decided to cancel the jumping. This wasn't an all bad thing for our team - it meant we'd all get to race off Friday's Provisional jump.
Bryan and Taylor were both in striking distance after the PCR - in 25th and 37th respectively. Bill and I were further back, but in a position to ski into points if we had strong races.
We raced on what was supposed to be the team sprint course - 7 x 1.5km loops, which was all the snow they had left, besides the couple inches that fell that morning. On the second lap, one of the French skiers crashed right in front of me and took out Armin Bauer of Italy. I was lucky to avoid it and get back on Bill's tail. Then on the third lap, in the same spot - a seemingly simple straight downhill, Bill's skis lept away from him and he went down right in front of me. Again, I was lucky to stay out of it, but now I was out a skiing partner and Bill was left in the dust.
Bill was eventually able to catch back to me and had a stronger finish, but we were both just out of the points group. He finished in 32nd and I was 34th, just 11 seconds out of points. I was a little bummed not to get back into the points, but happy to show that on an average jump and a so-so race I could still be darn close.
Unbeknownst to Bill and I, Taylor and Bryan were ripping up the course ahead of us. Taylor skied the fastest time of the day by a good margin and charged up to a 5th place finish - one of his best finishes since he was on the podium in Seefeld 20133. Bryan skied great as well and finished in 8th - his third top 10 of the year. It was awesome to have two of our guys in the top-ten, and a great way to cap off the weekend.
After racing on Sunday, we packed up and hit the road for Austria. This weekend is the big Seefeld Triple - three days of competition that each count towards the next. Friday starts with the 1 jump and 5km, Saturday is a traditional 10km, but based on Friday's results and another jump comp, and then on Sunday the top 30 will compete in a 2 jump, 15km. On the final day double World Cup points are awarded, so if we can all be in good position by the end, it'll be a great chance for the team.
On a final, more somber note, I want to touch briefly on the tragedies that US skiers faced last week. On Monday, January 5, two US Ski Team alpine racers, Ronnie Berlack, age 20 and Bryce Astle, 19 died in an avalanche while free-skiing near Solden, Austria. That same day, Nicholas Fairall crashed as he landed an otherwise stable jump in Bischofschofen, AU during the Four Hills Tournee. Nick suffered a severe spine injury and is not going to compete this winter.
I don’t usually think of what I do as exceptionally dangerous, and these events haven’t necessarily changed that. Of course, backcountry skiing is another issue, but there are inherent risks in everything we do. I always say that I’m almost as likely to be in an accident driving down to the airport before a trip as I am to get injured during training or competition. This is to say that when tragedies happen, it shouldn’t be a time of fear, but a time to appreciate what we have. I’ve always been blessed with extremely good health and circumstances, and sometimes forgot that my “bad days” are still pretty good compared to the lives of many.
I didn’t know Bryce, but I knew Ronnie from training in the gym. He was the kind of kid that would always start up a conversation when others might put their headphones in and keep doing their thing. It’s terrible to see these young lives cut short and definitely a wake up call for me. My thoughts are with their teammates and families – who could never anticipated or prepared for this.
Nick Fairall is a continually positive and upbeat guy, and will surely keep his awesome attitude up as he fights his way back to recovery. Send your thoughts to him, and, please consider contributing to his medical expenses. You can support Nick here.
As always, thanks for reading. Stay posted for more news.
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