Asia is not known for Nordic skiing. Japan is synonymous with powder skiing but apart from that, Asia gets overlooked in general when we think about winter sports. But there we were last Monday morning after the Falun World Cups in Sweden, piling into a World Cup transport van and heading to the airport bound for South Korea.Next stop Beijing, China, then onto Seoul, South Korea!
I was flying with the boys: Callum, Phil and new head coach Valerio Leccardi (more on that later).
On our flight to Beijing we were super lucky and each got a row of four seats to ourselves so we could stretch out and sleep on the eight hour flight. Once in Beijing we negotiated the chaos of the airport and security lines (they are monstrous!) and got onto our flight to Korea.
From Seoul, we jumped on a bus and began the 3 hour journey to Pyeongchang, the site of the 2018 Olympics!
Firstly the bus was amazing, with massive recliner seats and lots of legroom, and even its own wifi connection onboard. Outside the landscape was amazing, the infrastructure and development that the Koreans have done is mind blowing. Bridges, roads and tunnels everywhere. However the most eye-opening aspect was the tower suburbs. Driving along there is just cluster after cluster of 10-20 skyscrapers all bunched together. It was amazing. It wasn’t until we were in the countryside and on our way to the ski trails that we saw individual houses by themselves.
The hotel we were staying in was quite impressive. Yet also quite odd, there was an outdoor “glamping” area, a petting zoo/ feeding section for animals and other random fake areas like segway tours.
The courses at Pyeongchang suited me quite well. The sprint course for classic is really hilly with great gradients to stride up and the distance course is quite rolling with decent climbs but everything is constantly rolling and changing direction.
The amount of infrastructure that that Koreans have built at the venue is amazing as well. Every 20-30 metres there is a massive tower of lights, and the stadium and surrounding structures are very impressive. They have four brand new Pistenbullys for grooming the courses. There was a bit of natural snow around but the courses were mostly manmade snow with quite a lot of grit and dirt mixed in. Testing skis and figuring out what runs fast was quite odd with a random bunch of test results in the end.
Leaving Sweden on Monday and arriving late Tuesday night just gave us Wednesday and Thursday to prepare for the 3 days of races. We kept everything as light as possible, working the body and keeping things moving but never really pushing things much. My pre-race on Thursday before Fridays sprint was pretty light but left me feeling decent with high levels of energy still.
We were racing late in the afternoons in Korea. For the Olympics and for these test World Cups, all the races are in the afternoon so they can have prime-time viewing in Europe. It made it really hard for us to stay awake with jet lag and stay fired up for racing at 5:30pm. We were going to bed late, sleeping in for as long as we could, jogging around lunch time to wake up a little and then just hitting the caffeine hard to make sure we were fired up.
The sprint course was basically two quite long steep hills with a section of double pole in the stadium at the start and finish. All the athletes in the race strode, no one tried to double pole which was pretty nice.
I was quite fired up for the sprint and managed to produce my best sprint for the year and probably my best ever on World Cup. There wasn’t a huge amount of the usual world cup athletes at the races with a lot of nations sending mixed teams of A and B teams. I placed 45th for my first ever top 50 on a World Cup, which I was pretty stoked about!
The next day was a 15km skiathlon: 15km classic before switching to 15km of skate. I was really excited for this race. With the reduced field sizes I knew I had a massive chance to have a big race.
I had a fantastic start to the race. I moved through the pack well and settled in comfortably in the middle. I pushed quite hard for the 15km classic leg and came into the ski exchange in 34th place. Sometimes coming out of classic and into the skate can cause problems for me, different muscles are used all of a sudden and I cramp. For the first lap I was fine and moved up another place, passing a Finnish skier and settling into 33rd. For the whole classic leg I had managed to stay in front of my teammate Callum but in the skate he came raging past skating well. He passed myself and a Canadian that I was bearing down upon. However, putting in a deep effort to pass the Finn and then try and hold onto Cal I had thrown myself over the edge and I was hurting badly and starting to cramp in my legs and arms. On my second last lap up the major climb I was still grinding away and could see I was making a lot of ground on the Canadian and would soon catch him.
However as I approached the last pitch of the hill an official walked out onto the track and prevented me from continuing me race. On World Cup if they think you are going to get caught by the leaders they remove you from the track to prevent any congestion. However the leaders hadn’t even started the climb I was on and I couldn’t seem them. I was furious. I couldn’t believe I was pulled so early in the lap. To go from having one of my best races ever to being pulled out on a stupid FIS rule was heart breaking. It really hurt.
It was so frustrating as well that the loop was only 3.75km and they seem to be making the loops smaller and smaller each year, so the chance of getting “lapped” is higher.
The final day was the team sprint and seeing as we only had three men, I sat the race out. The next morning at 3:40am we got up and took the bus back to Seoul to catch a return flight back to Europe, this time landing in Estonia. We will prepare for the Estonian National Championships and then the World Cup here in Otepää, Estonia.
The races in Korea were really promising and I’m really looking forward to racing again soon and charging again for another big result.
I also found that the Korean people are some of the hardest working I have ever met and they really just got everything done and did a very impressive job of running the show.
Train hard, rest easy, live for the moment.