Friday, January 29, 2010

Celebrating Olympic Qualification in New York City!

I thought yesterday was the best day of my life, but today is even better because it is actually sinking in!

A few hours ago I was officially announced a member of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Team. I have been dreaming about this my entire life, and now that it is actually happening it is almost surreal.

There are too many people to thank in one e-mail who have helped me along this long road. I have had amazing support from so many people (friends, family, coaches, medical team, trainers etc...the list goes on...), and without them this would not have been possible.

Currently I am in New York City for a 5 day break. What a better place to celebrate? I am enjoying being a tourist in a place that is not surrounded by snow and mountains!

My plans up until the Games are up in the air at the moment, but I do know that I will be spending 4 days in Aspen with the family prior to heading to Vancouver. I feel like I have hardly seen them in the past year, given that I've been away for almost 8 of the 12 months! So I think they deserve a few days with me at least; given what they've been through too for the past year. It will be a well earned little vacation; and some time to rest up before what will be the biggest, most amazing and exciting 2 weeks of my life.

I am so proud to be representing Australia in Ski Cross. This is the debuting event at these Olympics, so I will be apart of history to be competing in the world's first ever Ski Cross Olympic event!

Below are some snaps from the Big Apple....

(Enjoying lunch at a classic US diner in the heart of New York)

(Incredible view of the New York City skyline from the top of the Empire State Building)

(A visit to the Guggenheim Museum... One of Frank Lloyd Wright's most famous creations)

(Manhatten cityscape)

(The Statue of Liberty)

(Up close and personal to the Statue of Liberty)

(Times Square)

Monday, January 25, 2010

10th in final World Cup before the Games

Here in Lake Placid, I had the race of my life and finished 10th in the final World Cup before the Olympic Games. Leaving it down to the very last possible race, I now have the 100 FIS points to meet Olympic Games criteria. Now it’s just a waiting game to see whether nations take full quotas. The team will be announced tomorrow!

Talk about leaving my qualification to the last minute! The past few weeks, months even, have been extremely stressful and nerve-wracking. As you can imagine, qualifying for the Games has basically been the only thing on my mind since I became an ‘Olympic Hopeful.’ So now whether I go or not is completely out of my hands, and I know that I have done absolutely everything in my power to get myself there.

So, the race! The course here in Lake Placid, US, is unlike any other I’ve skied. This season, it seems as though we’ve been going from one extreme course to another. Where St. Johann is now known as the ‘ice skating rink’, this course will be forever remembered as the ‘roller course’. Out of 33 features, 30 of them were rollers. It was probably the most aggressive course on the body, and resulting were a few bad injuries. A couple of girls, including Meryl Boulanger of France and Andrea Limbacher of Austria, tore major ligaments in their knees (ACL, MCL) which is really unfortunate right before the Games. One of the French men also had a severe back injury in finals and had to be hospitalised immediately because he couldn’t feel his legs. A bit scary! I wish everyone all the best, and hope for a speedy recovery!

(Just a small portion of the 30 rollers in the Lake Placid course)

In qualifications, the pressure I was under was intense. After finishing 25th in Blue Mountain, Canada, last week, this was my very last chance to qualify for the Games. Years of hard work have gone into this, and to see it slip away so easily would have been a huge disappointment. Once I got into the start gate however, I felt relaxed, confident and ready to take some risks. I managed to put everything aside… the Olympics, qualifications, the points etc… and just bring it back to basics: Focus on skiing well and enjoying it! Because after all, that’s why I do this sport, because I love the adrenaline, the risks and the huge rewards when they pay off! I had a great run and qualified in 11th. I now had a little bit of breathing room, but it was not over yet!

(Stoked after coming down in 11th with bib 29 in Lake Placid World Cup)

Yesterday was finals. To secure my top 20 finish (which I needed for the FIS points), I basically had to get through the first heat and into quarter finals. In my heat was Ophelie David of France (World Cup champion and SX legend), Noriko Fukushima of Japan (coincidentally my training buddy on the World Cup) and Emily Sarsfield of Great Britain. I managed to have an incredible start, and within a matter of seconds I was out in front. This took me by a huge surprise, given Ophelie’s reputation for having easily the best start on the circuit, hence all the World Cup titles. For over half the course, I lead the pack of 4 down the crazy, bumpy, wild course. I think I was so surprised about being out in front that I forgot how to ski! About half way down, Ophelie managed to draft behind me and make a pass. I stuck on her tail all the way to the finish line and finished 2nd. Through to the next heat! I can’t even explain the feeling. Adrenaline, relief, excitement, nerves, joy…

In the quarter finals with Ophelie David, Karen Huttary (Austria) and Roccio (Spain), I played it safe and finished in 3rd, therefore not making it through to semis. It wasn’t worth the risk of being injured of disqualified, especially when my job for the day was essentially done: finish top 16 and get the points I need. Anything else would be a bonus. Because of my fast qualifying time, I ended up in 10th, my best ever world cup result (and my first ever prize money on world cup!)

I am very pumped about this past race. Whether I make the Olympics or not (will know tomorrow!), I have a fantastic result under my belt and something to be very proud of. I am in peak form at the moment and skiing at my best, so if I am given the opportunity to race in the Olympics, I know I will go into that race with a lot of confidence and a newfound hunger to do well.

Will update you once the team is announced tomorrow!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Two top 30 results in France

The past week in France has been an absolute nail biter. The past two world cups were the final qualifying races for the Olympic Games.

The first of the two races was held in Les Contamines, France. This is where I competed in my first ever Ski Cross World Cup 2 years ago. It was great to come back and re live some old memories. Helping us out for the week was French physio Jean-Noel. It was great to get have some massage treatment after weeks of hard training and competition.

Starting with bib number 40, I managed to qualify in 27th spot; my 3rd consecutive finals qualification for the season. The course was lots of fun. Some steep sections with water injected GS turns, and also some big jumps with lots of air time.

(Training in Les Contamines. Photo courtesy of Jean-Noel)

(Les Contamines SX track - view from the bottom)

On Saturday, the weather came in and finals were cancelled after 2 heats of girls. I was ready to go in the gate, waiting for the familiar “Riders ready, Attention….”. With my heart rate through the roof and adrenaline pumping wildly, they made the call. You could hardly see 20m in front of you. Not ideal weather conditions when you’re launching 20+ metres through the air with 3 other skiers by your side.

So finals were postponed until the next day. The sky cleared and it was a cracker of a day. Once again I had fourth pick (which means no pick) of the gate because of my qualifying time. Coming into the first turn I was pinched out by Emilie of Switzerland. I stuck right on the tails of her skis until she went off a jump unbalanced and crashed into the nets. I managed to swerve and dodge her, and continued on to finish 3rd in my heat. Emilie was taken away in a helicopter and I later found out that she blew her ACL; the same injury I sustained just under 2 years ago. Other injuries that day included a torn MCL and 2 concussions. Injuries seem to be a little worse this year because everyone is really pushing it in order to make Olympic qualification. The level of intensity and competition has really taken a big step up; which definitely makes things more interesting! I finished the race in 29th, so another top 30 result to add to the list this season.

After the race we drove to Alpes D’Huez, about a 3 hour drive. We drove up the famous road of the Tour de France stage. The Alpes D’Huez course was long and had lots of jumps. I qualified in 23rd spot, which I was very happy with. Every race keeps getting better and better, which is a good sign.

(The top of Alpe D'Huez - the famous 'Tour de France' hill climb on the right)

(Start gate at Alpes D'Huez)

(Training in Alpes D'Huez. Courtesy of Jean-Noel)

(High up in the sky in Alpes D'Huez. Courtesy of Jean-Noel)

(Training head-to-head with Noriko Fukushima of Japan. Courtesy of Jean-Noel)

Unfortunately finals were cancelled the following day due to en extreme snow blizzard that came in the night before. It snowed over 50cm over night and during the day! So I ended up finishing in 23rd spot; a great result!

At the moment, in terms of Olympic qualification, I sit in 37th spot in an Olympic adjusted field (only 4 per nation). However I am likely to jump up a few spots because of injuries; and some teams may not take a full quota of 4. All I need to do now is get my 100 FIS points to secure my place. Fingers and toes crossed! I have two more World Cups, one in Blue Mountain in Canada, and the other in Lake Placid in USA. I am skiing really well at the moment, and I know I can get the results I need to qualify.

Tomorrow we fly to Toronto, Canada and then head to Blue Mountain (after a quick visit to Niagra Falls!)

Will keep you posted with how everything goes in North America. The next week will be the hardest, toughest, nerve-racking, most mentally challenging week of my life. I've worked so hard for this over the past 2 years. I have put absolutely everything I have in it...blood, sweat and tears; quite literally! Let's hope I can pull it all together and make my dreams become a reality!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

28th in crazy Austrian night World Cup - St. Johann

Last night we had our third World Cup ski cross event of the season.

Training on the first day went off to an interesting start. The course is unlike any other SX course I’ve skied. The snow has been machine injected (injected with water so that it freezes basically into pure blue ice), so inspecting the course was challenging enough! It was almost impossible to hold an edge (the coaches with un-tuned skis had no hope in getting down), and by the time we got to the bottom, my freshly tuned skis were blunt.

(Final jump into the finish area)

Training went reasonably well despite the two large course holds following crashes. Luckily they had a well set-up medical team / emergency service because two helicopters were used that day to cart off racers to hospital. I finally got over my nerves with some pump up music and self-talk (it’s required in this sport to convince yourself that everything will be fine, and that the course is not THAT bad, despite the fact that two people are already lying in hospital after the first 15 minutes of training). My training runs weren’t amazing, but I did make it down the course in one piece! I think that in itself was an effort to be congratulated.

Qualifications the next day were held late in the afternoon. The stadium lights went on, and the course looked spectacular. I started with bib 44 out of 53 girls, and came down in 28th position. I was very happy with my performance, after having beaten half the field. It was extremely tough competition. Everyone has really stepped it up this year. The Swedish girl who won the previous 2 World Cups in Italy last week didn't even qualify for finals, finishing in 33rd. A number of other girls who have finished top 10 also didn’t qualify. Just goes to show how tough the competition is this year in the lead up to the Games. My result meant that I had safely made it into finals for the following night, so I couldn’t help but smile!

(Qualifications - Courtesy of Grega Stupor)


Last night was finals. With over 5,000 spectators and fans lining the course and surrounding the finish area, the atmosphere was nothing like I’ve ever experienced. It was how every World Cup should be! It was crazy and exciting to think that ALL these people had come out to watch myself and the other 63 competitors in the race finals. Before the race started, groups of Austrian school kids were excited to get athlete autographs; in particular from the ‘novelty’ teams such as Japan and Australia (yes, I still do get the question ‘Is there snow in Australia?’). A number of Aussie / New Zealand ski team athletes also came to support which was fantastic. It’s definitely nice to know that you’ve got someone cheering for you in a crowd of 5,000 Europeans.

(The finish area)

Right before finals during training, another athlete was choppered away. Yet this time it wasn’t just ‘another’ racer. It was Scott Kneller, my teammate. This definitely freaked me out. In his last training run he had a big crash off one of the jumps and knocked himself out for a couple of minutes. He was taken straight to hospital in Innsbruck. The thing with this sport is this kind of stuff happens all the time, and you have to have the mental strength to overcome it. There is no point in dwelling over every injury. You have to accept it, move on, and focus on the race ahead. Because if you don’t pull out of that start gate with 100% commitment, you’ve got no chance.

(Head-to-head training with Jenny before finals. Courtesy of Grega Stupor)

 (Excited with bib 28. Ready for finals)

 In my heat was Meryl Boulangeat (France), Fanny Smith (Switzerland) and Heidi Zacher (Germany). One lone Aussie amongst a group of Euro’s! I was in a tough heat. All these girls have had multiple top 10 WC finishes. My start wasn’t great as I was in the far right gate and had the furthest distance to travel to the first turn. Coming into the second turn however, I managed to take a higher line and make a pass on third. I passed her on the inside and she ended up clipping the gate and crashing. I came close to getting caught up, but made it out unscathed. I was right behind second the whole way down, and came very close towards the end however didn’t manage to make a pass. I’m definitely disappointed that I didn’t get through to the next round, however there were some improvements and positives I took away from the race. Must stay positive! Next time!

(Myself, JJ, Brian and Bud after the race)

 It’s 7am and I’m now on the road to our next destination: Les Contamines, France, an 8 hour drive through Austria, Switzerland and through to France. Training starts tomorrow for the next World Cup on the 9th.

Given that my results are improving every race, hopefully the trend continues and I have a great two races in France. Will keep you updated!