my journal


  chronology of a dream

  the list

  reader polls

  training data



  a piece of my mind

  about this site

  rollerski series

comments, problems
  or suggestions:

  send me an email

  advanced search
Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion
  January 1

Welcome to the new year. I am now in McCall, ID making my final preparations for US National which start on the 3rd. I have been sick for the last week or so but I am optimistic that I will be healthy enough to accomplish my goals in these races. My goals have been significantly adjusted since the season started. Originally my goal was to finish in the top five at Nationals and be in the running for the World Championship team. But after my extremely slow start this year, I am just trying to make the US team for the Pre-Olympic World Cup to be held in Soldier Hollow, Utah next week. When I first heard last summer that the US would take 19 men to the World Cup I remember thinking, "My season would have to completely fall apart for me not to make it." Well here I am with three qualifying races left and I am sitting in qualifying spot number 19. It is depressing to think that I might not be able to race in the biggest races in this country in 20 years, but for right now I can't think about that. I need to focus all my efforts on skiing as well as I can right now and making that team.

January 3

Today is the first race - the sprints. I figured that this was going to be my best shot at picking up points, since my best points race of the year so far was the sprint in Silver Star back in November. I might not have the strength to win a 30K right now, but I think I can still go fast for 3 minutes. Unfortunately for me, the course was the longest sprint course I have ever done. It was really more of a mini-distance race than a sprint. It took over three minutes to complete, meaning that it was probably about 1.5 K in length. In the morning qualification, I felt tired but I kept fighting. I actually thought I was skiing quite well but I knew that in a short race with so many people, anything could happen. I was hopeful that if I could just qualify for the afternoon, I could use the tactical head-to-head races to my advantage. When I finished, I knew that it would be close. I hadn't blown anyone away, but I probably had a shot at advancing.

The results were posted an hour later. I had finished 20th. I would not advance to the round of 16. This was disappointing for two reasons. First, never in my career had I failed to qualify for the afternoon heats. There are a lot of good skiers who couldn't make that claim and I was proud that I could. But no more. I finished mere seconds back from 16th place and would be watching the afternoon races from trailside. I was also disappointed because I really needed points to ensure my spot in the World Cup. I gained one point for 20th place, but I really needed a lot more. This meant one thing: I really needed to be ready to rumble in the classic race tomorrow. Hopefully the rest I will get by not doing the extra sprints will help me tomorrow.

The heats in the afternoon were exciting, but also excruciating. I could see how excited everyone was for the fast-paced action and I was disappointed not to be part of the show for them. I cheered, but it is hard to cheer knowing that on a better day you could be in on the action. In the end, Carl Swenson walked away with the men's title. He was in control the whole way, expending just enough energy to advance before laying waste to everyone in the final. On the women's side, Nina Kemppel did the same thing.

January 4

The questions people most often ask me when the subject of my poor race results comes up are "Are you still having fun?" "Do you still have the desire to race?" "Is the fire still there?" The answer is that desire has nothing to do with my current slowness. I still enjoy racing as much as I ever have and I still approach each race expecting to have a great day. That is part of what makes it so hard. It would not be nearly as hard to accept losing if I no longer expected to win. But I still go out there every day expecting to snap out of it. So when that doesn't happen, it gets harder and harder to take with every race. Today was a perfect example. I cannot remember the last time I was fired up to race as I was today. I knew that my chances of making the World Cup lay almost solely on this race. Sure I was still in the last spot, but an average race by any of a number of people behind me (Pete Vordenberg, John Bauer, etc.) would knock me out unless I too scored some points. I had goose bumps before the start. I told myself that the 10K Classic is my race and no one was going to take it from me. I had done everything right in terms of diet, training, stretching, and mental preparation for this day. I couldn't wait to get out there and tear it up.

Despite all my pre-race psychological preparation, my body just could not do it. I had barely left the stadium and I knew that I did not have the energy or pop that I should have. I still skied my best - focusing on explosive moments and long strides, but since no one was giving me splits I knew that I was way out. It was very hard to keep pushing, knowing that my shot at the World Cup - my main goal for the year, what I had training all summer and fall for - was gone. I was crushed, but I kept trying to race, hoping I could salvage something out of this day. As it turned out there was no salvaging done. I finished 49th. Forty ninth. Two years ago in this race I finished 6th. I am two years older and stronger and yet I finish 43 places lower. I finished behind kids I usually beat by minutes, not seconds. This is the lowest I have been as a ski racer. How could all that training and hard work result in a disastrous season such as this? What is wrong with me? I did my best to shake it off and not think about the heavy stuff. After all, I still have a 30K skate to do in two days.

January 6

I'll admit that my heart was just not in this race. Barring a miracle, my shot at the World Cup was gone and I was really just looking forward to getting out of town. I decided that I would give it my best from the start, but if I started dropping, I wasn't going to fight as hard as I had the other day. Killing myself so I could finish 35th instead of 53rd just didn't seem worth it. Either way the result would not help me one bit. FOr the first 10K I felt all right and stayed in about 20th-25th place. At the time I had no idea I was that high. I thought I had been about 35th or so. So when I started tiring, I really didn't struggle to hang on. Instead I decided to just enjoy my ski. I analyzed my stride, looked to see where I caught up to people and where I lost time, and even made conversation with some of the skiers around me (I didn't get much response). After it was all over, I was a bit bummed to realize that I had been doing relatively well when I gave up. I was upset that I had let my own lack of mental focus beat me today. But on he other hand, I had enjoyed the race and I was not nearly as disappointed as I would have been if I had given it my all.

So now Nationals are over. My worst Nationals in history, including when I was a junior. Since I am not going to be racing in the World Cup, my focus now switches. I plan to spend the next couple weeks resting, relaxing and trying to figure out what is wrong with my body. I plan on seeing a doctor and consulting with other coaches and friends who know me best. The season is only half over and I still have time to make the most of the rest of it.

January 8

It looks like there is going to be a delay in those couple weeks of rest. After finally resigning myself to be head cheerleader at the World Cup and starting to line up people for the tailgate party, I received a call from Luke Bodensteiner today. I was in the World Cup! I had been first alternate on the points list, but John Bauer had decided not to race, meaning that I now had a start in all three races. (As it turned out later, the US did not fill all its start positions in any of the races due to illness, etc. so a number of people below me on the points also got to race.) I went from being happy to start my comeback plan to being thrilled that I was not going to miss out on the event of the year. Sure I was in no condition to compete against the best in the world, but there is no way I would turn down the opportunity to try anyway! So I quickly need to regroup and refocus and give it all I have this week.

Click here to go to my Soldier Hollow World Cup Section.

January 10

Today was the first race of the World Cup - the 30K Skate mass start. I had considered for a while the idea of not starting this race to save myself for the sprints and the 15K Classic, like a number of Americans chose to do. But the more I thought about it - could I really turn down a precious World Cup start? No way. Just a few days ago I would have killed to get this opportunity. I owe it to myself to give it a shot. My only goal for this week is simple: Don't come in last. Anything better than that and I will be relatively happy. Even though I had taken the pressure off myself by setting such low standards, that doesn't mean that I was loose and relaxed. It is kind of hard to be relaxed when you are lining up for the biggest race of your life and they start announcing names like Muehlegg, Hoffman, and Botwinov. Right before the start, I threw up a couple of times. Not that that was a bad sign. I have thrown up either before or during two other races in my life and both ended up being excellent races. I was nervous, yes, but I was also very excited. When the gun when off we all sprinted out of the stadium. All I remember from that initial mad dash was "Wow, here I am in a World Cup race. Woah, I'm in last - better pick it up. " For the first 5K I was in a group of about 5-6 people at the back of the pack. I was struggling but I didn't think I was skiing all that fast. It wasn't a real killer pace and I knew that I should be able to hang with the pack. But yet I couldn't. I was laboring up every hill, trying futily to catch my breath on the downs. At about 6K I began to realize that I couldn't keep this up. I don't mean the pace - I mean skiing at all. At that point I was in next to last place. I managed to ski for another kilometer before I had to stop, I just couldn't ski another stride. I was completely out of energy. When I stopped, Chris Klein, who had been behind me, went by. I thought to myself, "No way am I dropping out of this race. I have never dropped out of a race before and I am not going to do it now." I started skiing again and followed Chris up the last hill before the stadium. As I came through the stadium, I knew I couldn't make it. Something was obviously very wrong and I knew that there was no way I could ski 30K today no matter how slow I chose to go. Just as I got out of the stadium, the thought of doing 3 more laps crushed me and I had to pull over. This time for good. I was mad at myself for quitting, but I also knew that today I had no other choice. The only good thing about quitting was that it allowed me to watch the race and get a good look at some of the best in the world. The move that Muhlegg made on the last hill to put away Hoffman was awe-inspiring. And to see Justin Wadsworth hang tough and finish 8th was a great motivator for all North Americans who were present. (Not to mention Beckie Scott's 4th place showing this morning, which was also incredible.) I left the race feeling frustrated, but strangely optimistic. Sure I got my butt kicked today., but only because I felt awful. Many of my colleagues skied well and beat quite a few Euros. I know that on a good day I can do the same.

January 12

After two days off, it was back to the racing today. 15K Classic. This race was individual start and I promised myself that no matter how the race was going I would ski steady, then try to pick it up at the end. Most importantly, finish, and not finish last. I started smooth, but I was quickly caught by Marc Gilbertson and Pete Vordenberg, who started just ahead of me, was pulling away. No matter, I just tried to keep skiing steady, knowing that it was a hard course and I might pick some people off later. At about 7K I realized that Scott Loomis, who had been closing in on me early, was not getting any closer and Pete Vordenberg was not getting any further ahead. This gave me some positive energy and I kept on chugging. By 12K I realized that I was catching Pete and putting time back on Scott. I had no idea how I was doing against anyone else, but these two guys are both good skiers so I was inspired to give it everything I had left, which at this point, was not all that much. By the finish I managed to catch and pass Pete and put more time on Scott. I was happy, Not only did I finish, but I managed to beat some good skiers. I actually ended up beating a number of good skiers and while I really had no interaction with the World Cup guys, it was still neat to see my name on the same result list, if not the same page.

January 13

Last day - the sprint. Barring a miracle, I knew that it would be a short day for me. Do my qualifying heat in the morning, pray that I somehow sneaked into the top 16, see that I actually didn't, then sit back and watch the elimination heats in the afternoon. And that is pretty much how it went. I skied the qualification round fast and even felt good, but it was not nearly enough. In fact, the only American who did move on was Torin Koos, a University of Utah skier who was just asked to race the night before. That 3 minutes of effort was good enough to put him on the World Championship Team, even though he was eliminated in the first round of heats. The sprints were a lot of fun to watch and they were the perfect event to wrap up the weekend.

It was pretty amazing to witness, and take part in, the whole week of events. Everything from the races to the opening ceremonies was well organized and well thought out. I wish a certain few french Canadians had been there to take notes. Anyway, a huge round of applause and thank you's needs to go out to all the workers and volunteers who put this event on. When I trained at Soldier Hollow this past summer it was very hard to believe that in 16 months it will hold the biggest races in the world. But after witnessing the Pre-Olympic World Cup, the Olympics seem much, much closer and in very good hands.

© 2003 Cory Smith. All Rights Reserved.