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Our journey from Austria to France for World Cup 3 was a day that will live in US Biathlon infamy. Thanks to a blizzard, our 8.5-hour drive turned into almost 16 hours and concluded with the whole team pushing the van up the driveway to our rental house at midnight. Worst of all, we were under a time constraint to get to the Mont Blanc tunnel before a scheduled closure, so we only stopped twice the whole day for quick snacks and a bathroom break. Getting enough food is one of my biggest challenges so this was a major setback. I started coming down with a cold the next evening.
Two days later, fighting the cold, I slogged through the sprint, missing 3 targets and placing 81st. It was my worst result in a few years. My teammate Susan, on the other hand, who had struggled mightily on the shooting range at World Cups 1 and 2, accomplished a heroic biathlon turnaround by shooting clean to place 10th. We were all ecstatic for her.
Joining me in the disappointing-race club was my other teammate Emily, who also missed 3 and finished in the 80’s. Neither of us would be moving on to the pursuit race. Time to pack our bags and head home for Christmas.
It was in this moment that I technically clinched my Olympic Team spot. My 35th place from the sprint in Hochfilzen at World Cup 2 stood as the top result between Emily and me. Susan is pre-qualified for the Olympics. Emily would have to return to the 2nd-tier IBU Cup after Christmas to battle it out with other top women for the remaining three spots.
I felt anything but triumphant. I had just finished my worst race in years, I was leaving the first trimester of racing with fewer World Cup points than I’ve had in any other year, and I took zero pleasure in Emily’s bad race. I was sick and tired.
“If no one meets the automatic standard [30th place] before Christmas, then the team will be filled to a maximum of 2 people, [including pre-qualified athlete, Susan Dunklee]” based on best World Cup result. I had the Olympic Team qualification criteria memorized. And as I ran it through my head, I thought that, in fact, filling the team to “a maximum of two” does include the possibility of filling it to just one. Susan tried to give me a high five. I told her I wasn’t celebrating yet; I wanted to wait until I saw my name on an official press release. Our coaches and staff were focussed on the upcoming pursuit races and said nothing to me. If only I had hit my last shot in that sprint in Hochfilzen…
I had some special people watching on course that day: my parents and my unofficial host family from my semester abroad in Switzerland. I wish they all could have a seen a more beautiful race but I was glad to have them there nonetheless. After the race we all drank hot chocolate and spoke Frenglish together.
My parents came all the way to France only to watch me do one bad race. But their attendance soon served a greater purpose when they put me up in their hotel so I wouldn’t give my cold to my teammates. We watched the pursuit races together from the stands. It was an unfamiliar vantage point for me and a reminder that, in spite of all the frustration, I still prefer to be on the athlete’s side of the fence. Then we drove down to Geneva for the night, where my parents treated me to steak tartar, Glühwein, and a choir concert. It felt good to escape from the biathlon circus and plant my feet firmly in the real world.
The next morning, I woke up to messages and emails congratulating me on making the team. I read my name in the press release: “Clare Egan achieves Olympic Dream.” I still felt like I was in a biathlon nightmare. I knocked on my parents’ hotel room door and told them the news. Then I got on a plane and flew back to the U.S. early, a day before them.
There was no crossing the finish line in a blaze of glory, fists in the air, running into my coach’s arms, reaching to hug my mom in the stands. I think in a way I’m mourning the loss of that moment. I am trying to let go of the romantic vision I had about how anything pertaining to the Olympics is supposed to go or feel.
Three days, four phone interviews, and hundreds of congratulatory messages later, I am still struggling to reconcile acute near-term disappointment with totally overwhelming long-term achievement. It’s the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat all at once.
I finally let Susan congratulate me today. This will be her second Olympics; she narrowly missed making the team in 2010 and then pre-qualified in 2014 as the top American woman biathlete in history. “It’s a big emotional load, no matter how it falls,” she said. In 2014, when I asked Susan how she felt about qualifying for her first Olympics, she said “ready.” My emotions may be all over the place, but I can say with complete certainty that I am ready, too.
In the News:
Official USBA Press Release: Burke, Doherty and Egan qualify for Olympic Team
Portland Press Herald: Cape Elizabeth native on making 2018 Olympics: ‘It hasn’t set in yet’
Team USA.com: After Going From Collegiate Track And Field To Biathlon, Clare Egan Achieves Olympic Dream
My season got off to a %#$ brutal start! In the very first race, the Mixed Relay, I had two %$# penalty laps in standing despite using all three !@# extra rounds, and ruined the whole @#$ race for my team for the 2nd consecutive year. Lovely! My next two races I placed in the 70’s. @#$%&&#$.
I felt unprepared, jet-lagged, sluggish, and consequently stressed. For better or for worse, our team always starts off slow and excels in February at the championship races. I’m confident that I’ll be in peak shape when it counts the most, but it’s still hard to overcome the early-season blow to my confidence. On the bright side, my shooting in training was excellent, and I felt better and better each race.
After almost two weeks in Sweden, we traveled to Hochfilzen, Austria. I was happy to return to one of my favorite hotels and the site of the magical 2017 World Championships. We traveled on a charter flight, which I always enjoy because it is one of the rare times when all the athletes come together in a non-competition atmosphere. I sat with Quentin Fillon-Maillet (FRA) on the plane and he was even chattier than me.
During the first few days in Hochfilzen we enjoyed a much-needed dose of sunshine. We also got out new uniforms!!! And I spent several hours rotating between the sauna, cold pond, steam room, and relaxing bed. I felt enormous gratitude for my lifestyle. My training continued to go really well, and with the help of our sports psychologist I worked hard to rebuild my confidence. Just in time for the Sprint race, it started dumping snow.
It was the crazy kind of weather that made me laugh during my warm-up, as I wondered, “how am I gonna see the #$% targets?!” The wind was gusting and I couldn’t see anything though my snow-caked glasses. But I’ve always done well in inclement weather and this was no exception. I shot 8/10 (missed 1 prone and 1 standing) and finished 35th, less than 10 seconds outside of my team’s top-30 automatic qualification standard for the Olympic Team. I had missed my last #$@ shot. Still, I was thrilled to have a good race under my belt, to have scored some World Cup points (top 40), and to have qualified for the pursuit race (top 60). Starting in 35th position in the next day’s pursuit would also put that top-30 standard well within my reach. To celebrate, I went to the main square to celebrate St. Nicholas Day with the locals.
The first lap of the pursuit I was right where I want to be. I felt relaxed skiing in a pack of super strong women. Then I didn’t adjust my sights correctly for the wind when I came into the first shooting and missed two. I didn’t lose hope. Then I missed two again on my second shooting. Still didn’t lose hope. Then I missed two more on my third shooting and lost hope. On my last shooting, I hit the first four and then missed my last #$% shot again. I did pass one person in a glorious charge up the final hill.
I slid back from 35th to 53rd place in the pursuit. But I left Austria relieved and satisfied, knowing 35th would likely be enough to earn me a spot on the Olympic Team. We were also given a case of mini-champagnes by a devoted fan, which didn’t hurt.
The race season is upon us! My favorite time of year!
Coming back to Östersund, Sweden for World Cup 1 each November has this “back-to-school” feel. You get to see all your friends you haven’t seen since last year. You return to the same old place and familiar routine. You have new clothes, fresh supplies, and a blank slate. It’s my third year now. I can only imagine how Ole Einar Bjørndalen feels as he begins his 25th.
Our first race is on Sunday. I will do the mixed relay with Susan Dunklee and two of our men, to be determined. During training this week, a lot of people will ask, “How is your shape”? This must translate well from some language, but I haven’t yet figured out which one. Maybe everyone thinks it comes from English so we continue to repeat it to each other, each assuming it sounds legit in the other’s language. But really, does anyone know the answer? I won’t be able to say for sure “how my shape is” until I test it out on Sunday. I think I’m in good shape. I mean, nothing crazy happened this summer. I was healthy; my training seemed fine. But our sport is all about ranking ourselves relative to everyone else. Unlike a runner, I don’t know any of my race times. All I know is that I got 1st or 15th or 80th or whatever. So Sunday is when I’ll find out how the last seven months of hard work have affected “my shape.” I can say for sure that I’m well-prepared and ready to race!
Thanks for cheering, wherever you are!!!
Since June, I’ve been enjoying my new favorite hobby: Korean lessons!!! After spending last winter learning the basics on my own with a textbook and audio CD’s, I realized I needed help from a teacher in order to improve my speaking and listening abilities.
I was delighted when Seok Bae Jang, a professor at my alma-mater, Wellesley College, agreed to “meet” with me twice per week on-line. Neither of us had ever done a one-on-one digital class before but it has worked out great. Using Google Hangouts video/audio chat, we can have a conversation just as if we were sitting in the same room together. To help me learn new words, he writes on a mini whiteboard and holds it up to the camera for me to see.
I am learning so much! But it is so much more difficult than any of the European languages I have previously studied that my progress feels slow. As of very recently I am able to piece together sentences on my own. Our lessons will end in mid-November when I head to Sweden for our first races but I will continue to practice on my own. My goal is to be able to communicate with Korean fans and volunteers in Pyeong-Chang, IF I am selected to represent Team USA at the Olympics.
Last February when I raced in Korea, the local people were so excited when I could say even just a few words. Learning another’s language is one of the greatest signs of respect, and in a time when the US is perhaps not viewed in the kindest light by our global neighbors I hope that my small voice can make a big impression.
Last night it was 70 degrees at about 8pm in Lake Placid. I stood in awe of the warm, almost tropical breeze that would have been uncharacteristic even in July.
Then today it snowed… Training season is almost over! I haven’t blogged for a few months because my day-to-day biathlon training seems very monotonous. But since I know I have a few die-hard fans who are interested in the summertime work that breeds wintertime success, I offer this summary.
- April: Rest. Some athletes emphasize “maintaining fitness” more than others.
- May: Gradual reintegration into full-time training. On-snow camp in Bend, Oregon.
- June: Increase the training volume and add high intensity. …It gets real!
- July: Repeat the routine. “Just keep swimming!” (In sweat? In the lake? Both.)
- August: Roller-ski races, recovery week, then ratchet back up the training.
- September: Push through 3 weeks of t/draining camp.
- October: Put one foot in front of the other.
- November: On-snow camp in Canmore, AB, Canada!
- December-March: Sleep in, eat delicious European hotel cuisine, ski on powdery white snow in gorgeous, sun-drenched Alpine hamlets, relax in the sauna… oh and compete on the world’s biggest biathlon stage in front of thousands of fans 3x/week!
You can see which part of the year I enjoy most, and which months are a struggle! During the training season, I do a mix of roller-skiing, hiking, biking, running, swimming, weightlifting and shooting. While going hiking with friends on a sunny day is an unquestionably cushy “job”, I also endure more than my fair share of cold, rainy roller-ski workouts, uphill running intervals, and Saturday afternoons inside the weight room. I think the hardest part is that I am often too tired at the end of the day to do normal-person things like go to trivia or see a movie.
Every year, June is the hardest month physically, and October is the hardest month mentally. All the training catches up with me in the Fall and by October I’m totally out of gas. That is by design. The hard part is almost over! With our Fall roller-ski races behind us (I won Sunday’s race!), I now have a week to recover before heading to Canmore, AB, Canada for our final 3-week training camp. I leave for Europe five weeks from today. By then I will be rested and ready to go.
Once our competition season is underway we really don’t train that much. It’s all relative, but for us, “not much” means a daily 20-minute morning jog followed by stretching and dry-firing (indoor shooting practice without bullets), a 1-2hr ski, and maybe another jog and/or core strength. The total training time rarely exceeds 2 hours per day. That’s compared to an average of around 4 hours per day in the summer.
Still, I did have time to do some fun things this summer, including: attend two weddings in Maine, surprise my parents for father’s day with both of my brothers, watch a NASCAR race in New Hampshire and go camping afterwards, go to my Egan family reunion in Wisconsin, spend a week at the Jersey shore with my boyfriend and his family, watch the Travers Day Stakes horse race in Saratoga Springs, NY, host friends from high school and college in Lake Placid, travel to Colorado to visit friends and attend my cousin’s wedding, sail on Mirror Lake (in my back yard), go apple-picking, and work in the Lake Placid community garden. This weekend my boyfriend and I are going to Montreal for two nights before I fly out on Monday morning for our camp in Canmore, Alberta.
I am pre-qualified for the three pre-Christmas World Cups in Sweden, Austria and France. At those events, my goal is to to meet our team’s minimum Olympic qualification standard of 30th place. If I meet that benchmark, and no more than 1 of my teammates has a better result following the end of World Cup 3 in France, then I will officially be named to the team. I am sure I can do it!
I was home over the weekend and met with Portland Press Herald reporter Glenn Jordan. He’s been covering my athletic pursuits since I was competing for Cape Elizabeth High School. Sometimes talking to reporters is scary, because you never know how they might portray you in the article. But Glenn always seems to parse apart my many words to reveal the essence of a portrait in time. This article is no exception! Click the title in the post below to link to the full article.
Check out this article, “Clare Egan: a biathlete who speaks six languages,” on the IBU’S official website! They interviewed me for a series of articles featuring biathletes and their hobbies.
New Year’s Day for biathletes is May 1st. It’s when the winter season and subsequent vacation are officially over and training for the next year begins anew. In my case, it’s when I face the athletic consequences of not working out for 4 weeks. I’m very active during our month off, but my April activities of choice are walking (read: shopping), tennis, snorkeling, dancing, and wind-surfing. (You’ll notice roller-skiing, running, weightlifting, and strenuous uphill mountain bounding with ski poles are absent from that list.) I am serious about my devotion to rest and relaxation. Most of my readers probably laugh at the idea of me being “out of shape”, and in the conventional sense of the phrase, they’re justified. The fitness base I’ve established over the past six years certainly doesn’t disappear over the course of one month. But May first does not bring conventional workouts and the goal is not conventional fitness! Everything is to the extreme! And for that, yes, even I am out of shape.
I spent my April break traveling with my boyfriend to Colombia and then visiting family and friends in Florida, Rochester, NY, New York City and Philadelphia. (No strenuous uphill running). Even after all that time off from biathlon, I was anxious about starting to train again. The first few weeks are indeed physically arduous, but the bigger challenge for me is the psychological stress that comes with renouncing a balanced life. During the coming 11 months, I will spend about 230 days on the road, train 6 days/week, and commit 24 hours/day to optimal health and recovery.
We are already at our first training camp, in Bend, Oregon. On a typical day here, we ski (on snow) in the morning for about 3 hours, then eat and rest, then run or bike for about two more hours in the afternoon, then eat and sleep. Some athletes thrive on the literal train-eat-sleep rotation, but I resent the zombie-robot I become. There are days when this lifestyle feels freeing, like when I can sit on my porch in the afternoon sun and work on some hobby project, knowing most people are stuck indoors behind a desk. But when I don’t even have the energy to stay awake for the hobby project, it feels like a prison.
I’m working on reclaiming some semblance of balance in my life this year, and I’ll keep you informed as to ways you might be part of that. But for now I have to rest because soon I have to go running for two hours.
My next blogpost will focus on the excitement of the Olympic Year, and I will try to find a time to write it when I am not exhausted.
I regret my lack of diligence with regards to keeping this year’s photographic journal of hotel beds. You can still get a taste for my life on the road, and I’ve included a thorough list of all those beds left unseen.
Other beds, not photographed, in chronological order 5/1/2016-5/1/2017:
(same location listed twice only if I stayed in a different bed)
Olympic Training Center, Lake Placid, NY
My apartment in Lake Placid, NY
Colorado Springs, CO
Park City, UT
Cape Elizabeth, ME
Hosmer Point Camp, Craftsbury, VT
Underhill, VT (camping)
Burlington, VT (hotel)
Burlington, VT (camping)
Canmore, Alberta, Canada
Zdar nad Sazavou, Czech Republic
Craftsbury Outdoor Center, Craftsbury, VT
Cartagena, Colombia (hostel)
Parque Nacional Tayrona, Colombia (hammock)
Cartagena, Colombia (hotel)
New York City, NY
…and now I’m back in Bend, OR, and the cycle begins again!