We arrived on Sunday, January 30th in Zhangjiakou Olympic village after about 30 hours of travel from Italy. Everything went as smoothly as expected for a large group with firearms traveling to China during a pandemic for a mega-event in a closed-loop.
When we boarded our Air China charter flight (after paying 3400 Euros in surprise baggage fees), we got our first glimpse of the Olympics volunteers who wear haz-mat gear: full-body disposable textile suits paired with rubber gloves, textile shoe covers, N95 mask, safety goggles and face shield. I wonder if we, in our street clothes and “just” a KN95 mask, look as weird to them as they look to us.
When we landed, all the biathletes on the plane were separated from the other passengers and held in a special waiting area. Then we moved collectively through a security process that involved the normal COVID screening (including a PCR test which went up the nostril and then back down around into the throat) plus rifle importation. After about three hours at the airport, we finally boarded buses to Zhangjiakou.
We drove for about an hour and then stopped for 30-40 minutes for a “bathroom break” and then repeated this process twice more. While we drove, a volunteer in haz-mat gear walked up and down the aisle of the bus checking our Olympics credentials and passport information over and over. When we asked her why she was doing it, she said, “I don’t know; they told me to do this.” She was out of sorts when my teammates started tossing a football in the rest-stop parking lot. For the Italians, Canadians, and Americans on the bus it was a funny welcome! After the long day of travel, I felt more than ever like we are all in this adventure together.
On Monday the 31st we skied for the first time at the venue. The course has a nice flow to it and offers a more gradual and rolling terrain than some of our other World Cup courses. It is still really difficult though! We are at over 5,000ft of elevation here and the climbs are long, if not terribly steep. So far the weather has been as expected: sunny and very cold with heavy wind. All of the snow is artificial.
Most athletes use face tape to protect exposed skin from wind and frost bite in these conditions. For the mixed relay it was -16 Celcius (3 degrees F) with wind speed 5m/s (11mph).
Although it was very cold I was comfortable in my layers! I had two long-underwear pants under my race suit bottoms, and on top I had a merino wool sports bra, merino wool t-shirt, thick long underwear turtleneck, and a wind-stopper tank top under my race top. I wore glove liners under my race gloves, with a hand warmer pouch sandwiched in between the two glove layers. On my head I wore a headband under my hat and then the pink buff. My toes froze but I’m so used to it I don’t notice it anymore.
During zero (when we can practice shooting before the race and adjust our sights for the wind) the wind was so strong that I wondered if the race would be cancelled or postponed.
Shooting in the standing position in heavy wind requires a stable position and taking up as much trigger as possible (pulling on the trigger) without firing the shot, so that if you catch a glimpse of the target you are ready and you only have to pull one more micro-millimeter. The standing target is about the size of a CD (the 4 ring on a 10-ring scoring target), and we don’t adjust sights for standing shooting. The prone target is only the size of an Oreo (the 8 ring on a 10-ring scoring target) so setting your sights for the wind during zero, and then making the necessary adjustments for any change in wind during the race is extremely important.
Luckily, during the race, the wind calmed down, but it was still challenging, as you can tell by the number of penalty loops on the final results. But I had a great day on the shooting range with just one spare needed in prone and a clean standing bout!
I moved our team up from 11th to 4th. I think it was one of my best relay legs!
Our skis were really fast. Our wax technicians made two trips to China in advance of the Games to do research on the snow, and it has paid off. In the mixed relay, we raced on a grind (micro-structure pattern on the base of the skis) which they engineered fresh on the morning of the race. With solid performances all around, our team finished 7th, tying the best US mixed-relay Olympic finish.
After a day off, I competed again in the 15km Individual. Our skis were fast again and I am finally feeling good (i.e. normal) when I race so I was excited to get on the starting line for this race.
Things started off well enough, with just 1 miss in my first stage and 0 in the next. But then I missed 3 on my second prone stage. It was the first time I have done that in years and we will probably never know what happened. I had two center hits and then three misses in the same spot at 10 o’clock. That’s 3 minutes of time penalty which ended my chances for a good result. With 1 more miss in my last standing bout I had a total of 5 minutes of time penalty. Meanwhile, my teammate Deedra hit 19/20 and took 7th, improving her previous personal-best by almost 30 places and setting the top result for an American at the Olympics.
I am really proud of how I continued to give everything on skis until the finish, in spite of all the misses. I was able to squeeze into the “points” (top 40) with 39th place thanks to fast skiing. The Olympics don’t award World Cup points, but these points will be used to decide who qualifies for the mass start. If I have good sprint and pursuit, plus the two points I earned from this 39th, I could still make it.
After two hard races it is time for a day off! We can’t leave the Village so I am just catching up on things like laundry… and this blog. Our sprint is Friday! Thanks for following.