We drove from Winterberg to Altenberg the day after the race in Winterberg. Along the way we stopped at the Adidas factory and the Puma factory to do a bit of shopping. It made for a very long day, but I think my team mates picked up some things they wanted and I got a great pair of shoes for 25 Euro (normally 125 Euro)! I was excited to be able to stay in Altenberg and train for the week off we had between the last World Cup and the World Championships. I know a lot of my team mates were dreading it a bit because Altenberg is not the most interesting place in the world, but for my preparation for the World Championship race I thought it would be ideal. Altenberg is old East Germany and the track and training centre there was originally built in preparation for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. I hear that for about 10 years after the track and training facility were built that none of the town’s people even knew it existed! I really like the indoor sprint track, gymnasium, and weight room facilities – not only are they well enough appointed, but the sense of ‘history’ is amazing.
So, after a week of rest, recovery, way too much pork (the hotel did go way overboard in the pork non-variety at dinner!), and good training preparation the race it was finally time for official training. The hardest corner on the Altenberg track is curve 4 and for me it is no exception. Carrying speed through the exit of the corner, let alone not crashing and flipping over, is very difficult and the sliders that do it well typically end up in the top 6 guaranteed. So, I knew corner 4 was the area to focus on for me. 6 runs of training and each run I took it got a tiny bit better and by the end of training I felt reasonably confident I would be able to get out of corner 4 well enough to have a chance. In the World Champs we d 4 runs so constancy is very important and very difficult to achieve here in Altenberg. Unfortunately, I had yet again begun to get sick and had been fighting a cold for the last 3 days of training. It looked like I would do another race this season while being sick. Oh well, at least I had a lot of practice at it from the other 7 races I did this year while feeling ill!
The first of 2 race days arrived after the typical day off (which I handled much better than in Winterberg!) and my cold was beginning to recede a tiny bit. I was nervous because I really wanted to prove to myself and the world that I belonged in the race and was a contender. Altenberg is usually a place where we can count on very consistent conditions and ‘fair ice’ for almost all the sliders. It turns out this year it was not to be. Having finished 12th over-all in the World rankings this year I was given the 11th place start number (the 11th place competitor could not race because their country was over-quota) and this put me at a serious disadvantage for not only the first run, but for the next 2 runs as well. The ice was quite fast to begin the ace and unfortunately it slowed very quickly as the air temperature caused a lot of frost to build up on the ice surface. The first 3 – 5 sliders had a definite advantage on the rest of the field. I slide reasonably well for the first 2 runs and found myself ranking 6th and 9th on those two runs for a combined 7th place over-all going into day 2.
Day 2 arrived with me feeling a bit better than the day before and my push reflected that. On day one I was 5.38 / 5.39 (0.1s behind Jon Montgomery, my team mate who I use as a ‘barometer’ for my performance) and on day 2 I managed a 5.35 and a 5.33 (0.05s behind Jon). This is definitely my best push performance ever and likely would have put me on a personal best push in Calgary. Run 3 went quite well, but again with my starting position of 7th I was at a small disadvantage from the top 3-5 guys. I had quite a good run and placed 5th in that heat and ranked 5th over-all. Then came the final run of the competition – I knew I had to slide well to stay ahead of Martin Dukurs, but I was confident I could do it. My push was good and my run was good – or so I thought…… This run time was the most puzzling one of my entire career. When I finished the run I pumped my fist and thought ‘yes, definitely good enough to at least hold my spot, well done Jeffrey”, and then I looked up and saw the time. I had dropped 3 spots. What!!?? “Impossible”, I thought, “That was a good run.” I had absolutely no explanation for that time, until I looked at the bottom of my runners. They were shredded. Huge long rough scrapes extended half way down the front round part of both runners. I must have run over something early on in the run and it was like I was trying to slide down on sandpaper. Yet another runner disappointment for the season – nothing wrong with an 8th place finish at World Championships, but I had wanted more and thought I had performed well enough to achieve it. My nemesis for the season – my equipment – let me down again.
Well, what a year. Very very frustrating, difficult, and without many rewards, but I think when I look back in a year or two I may find that it was the key to my success. All of my equipment problems from the beginning of the season stuck with me for the entire race schedule and by the end of the year I had bent all of my runners except one pair. I was very fortunate to have such a stockpile of runners in the basement, but at the end of the day I did end up ruining 7 pairs of runners and effectively costing myself about $7000 in unrecoverable equipment expenses.
I can’t wait to apply all the learning’s from this season to next season and get the train back on the tracks. In the immortal words of Jack Nicklaus, “my clubs aren’t rusty and I’m not done.”