Two days ago I crossed the finish line of the men’s 15km classic race in Sochi and concluded my Olympic journey!
Some beautiful pictures and a video of me after the race are available on the site of the Olympic Council of Ireland. Additional video of me and Sean Greenwood (Irish Skeleton) can be found at the bottom of this page.
The day before my race I watched the women’s 10km classic race in person. The course was warm and slushy and the womens’ faces as they crested the final hill bore expressions of extreme pain. All the racers looked so beaten up that I had no idea who had finished in the fastest time. As the men’s course was running on the same trails (with a repeat of the first loop to make 15km) I knew I would be in for a tough race.
Going into the race Petr and I discussed and skied every part of the course many times – I don’t think I know any other course as well. I received help from Irish team physio Aidan Woods who has been working with me over the last two weeks to keep my muscles in top shape for racing. In the days leading up to the race Petr had been testing kick and glide waxes and on the day of the race we had our friends Radim Duda and Katerina Smutna from team Austria help us with testing and selection of kick waxes. Additionally we had help from the Czech team to add structure to my skis to help them glide faster on the wet snow. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes many villages in several countries to get someone to race in the Olympics.
I was incredibly excited to ski my race, usually ski racers can be a nervous bunch before competition, and a little nervous energy helps us ski fast. I still had that small and healthy bit of nervousness going into the race, but it was far overshadowed by the excitement of being able to participate in the Olympic games.
The morning of my race I ran up to the stadium and walked through the start area to know exactly what it would feel like. I took a moment to look down the start lane and felt at peace in the enormous, silent stadium. I knew I was ready.
As the race was an interval start competition, I was starting 87th of 92 racers based on FIS points. It was fairly clear that I was not a medal contender – but I was never under that illusion. My plan for the race was to ski the first two laps conservatively – meaning still racing hard but not getting carried away by the roar of the crowds and leaving something for the final lap and climb into the stadium. Due to the warm weather (+10C) Petr arranged to give me a drink bottle twice along the course, which took him a lot of effort running in the soft snow and negociation with overzealous officials to gain access to the track.
During my first lap I was passed by Czech skier Lukas Bauer who was finishing his third lap. Thanks to his presence my friends were able to see me on television for a good while. The snow was soft, slow and sometimes tricky to get kick for forward propulsion from – but everyone raced in the same conditions. These conditions benefited technicially profficient skiers. My congratulations go especially to the top 5 who finished within 1 minute of each other.
1- Dario Cologna, 2 – Johan Olsson, 3 – Daniel Richardsson, 4 – Iivo Niskanen, and 5 – Lukas Bauer.
From the skiers that I’ve gotten to know here I was especially impressed with the performance of skiers from Iceland and Iran. Canada’s skis had too much kick from what I’ve read and were running slow. So slowly that Alex Harvey was unfortunately one of four skiers who decided to abandon the race. Full results are here.
My race plan paid off and I was able to power up the last climb gaining at least three positions in less than 1km. My time ranked 82nd of 91 starters which meant that I moved up 5 spots from my initial ranking – I am very happy with this finish. Additionally my performance was the best by an Irish skier in the 15km race at the Olympics. We’ve still got a long way to go as a skiing nation, but I was glad to play a role in our progression.
I had friends and family in several countries waking up at ungodly hours, watching my race during breaks at work, and sending me messages of support. Thank you to all of you!
So what’s next for me? In the short term I’ll be supporting my teammates (I think you can see me on TV during run 3 of men’s skeleton). Today I plan to explore the coastal Olympic venues. I’ve got my resume with me on my computer and I’ll be sending those out in the coming week or two to find a job – even Olympians need to make ends meet! I’m also going to spend 10 days visiting family and traveling in Ireland. Then I hope to keep training and racing through the month of March, and also hope to complete a backcountry ski tour in northern Quebec before the winter is over.
I’ll try to post a few more times about the Olympics on this blog and then my posts will become less frequent – I’ll try to post some photos and stories from outdoor adventures as they come along.
Thank you all so much for reading, your messages of support, and your help in getting me and Petr to Sochi!