Life is truly a time warp during these periods. Disappearing to compete, many friends and teammates not knowing where I am, and then reappearing. I don’t like to tell most people because they say 'good luck' a lot which makes me more nervous.
Or sometimes they misunderstand and say have a nice trip, which is very thoughtful, but to every athlete leaving their homes for a World Cup, it isn’t a trip. It is a small war, where success has so many implications; Olympic qualification, a medal, money, self-esteem, and so on. So many people don’t know I am away until facebook breaks the news. Many don’t notice or care, which I think I appreciate in a dark way when I return after two weeks and we haven’t missed a beat in communication or routine. So, on April 9, I departed Calgary again for a pair of World Cups; Budapest and Rostov.
Competitions have felt like the twilight zone for the last year. I am prepared and ready to go, but it’s a blur. I think a lot of this is related to the combined event which removed one event (the shoot) and re-imagined the day as a less segregated, disjointed effort. The goal with these World Cups was to build off the Guatemala result (two weeks prior), which although not a high placing, had 4 strong events and so a lot to be optimistic about. In Budapest, I struggled in the fence, which is an on again/off again event for me, and a discussion for another blog. So with a poor fence, and my swim that is not a game-winner, I was well back for the final combined event. The sport has changed so much now (why I think competition day is often a blur) because we don’t spend the first event in a shooting range. And for me unfortunately I don’t gain the benefit of a strong shooting score to counter an average swim. I swam well this day though, a season best for short course. Into the final event in 27th place with the top 12 making the final, things looked bleak. Not because I had had a disastrous day, but because it was very average and the fence/swim level elsewhere has risen consistently. Up for the challenge, I entered the first shoot repeating mental cues and reinforcing what positive thoughts possible. And I shot a clean/fast 5 shots, moving me up considerably. One other element I had to/wanted to apply was to be a bit braver in the first stages of the run. Nothing like desperation to aid that goal. So I ran hard and reeled in a few other athletes. Entering the second round, I was in the zone (I think) and shot another fast/clean 5 shots. Again I ran the kilometer aggressively catching one or two more. To this point my best combined was in Brazil where I shot 5/5/7, meaning I missed just 2 shots in the last series. Of course my thoughts went where they shouldn’t – shoot another clean 5 and have a perfect shoot. I believe I missed my first shot. Doh! Then while hitting the five needed, I somehow missed another. That second miss felt like it was good though. Odd, but time to run…. So I leave for the final kilometer as aggressively as possible, and catch more athletes. Leaving the range I am in 18th and I need to be 12, so the prospects weren’t great. I finished 15th (of 34) and had the fastest combined in my group. Sadly though, 15 doesn’t get one into the final. The combined effort was bittersweet given how well it went, but close counts only in horseshoes and hand grenades. Looking at the computer after, it showed an error and I had only missed once. So I went 5/5/6. Take away the positive and work on the negative. Our team trained a few days in Budapest and then those going to Rostov (Denis, coach, Thea and Donna) departed. We fenced in Budapest which is generally super strong. Check out the photo of one club we stopped at, which is built in a synagogue refitted with three levels of fencing. Amazing architecture and I wish my photo portrayed it better – ancient design with modern architecture within.
As was mentioned earlier I had to get a visa to go to Russia (irony not lost on me - what Canadian is hoping to sneak in and stay in Russia?) This process was brutal, but we did manage to get our visa's the day prior to leaving Budapest to Russia. Two trips to an embassy, many frowning faces, and 125$ later, Russia laid out the red carpet for us.
In Rostov, my feelings were much the same as before. Do my best in the early events to set up well in the combined. This time there were just two semi-final groups, and I had to make the top 18. My fence was somewhat improved, but still below expectations and my level. The pool was slower for most athletes and I was off my goal, finding myself in 26th into the combined, needing to move up 8 spots. So slightly stronger position than the week prior. I was surrounded by good combined event athletes though and it seemed like this would be a tougher gig, but whatever, no guts no glory. I went out fast and shot a clean 5, which actually surprised me because I struggled in warmup. It was windy in the shooting area and there was a lot of commotion. The Russians like to put an event on and with loud music, dancing army dudes entertaining a (likely) vodka-saturated crowd, senses pulled my attention away from my sites. So a first clear round was a nice surprise. Again, I ran hard with little regard for the oncoming discomfort. And I moved up substantially, passing athletes that started out well ahead. And surprisingly the only athlete threatening me from behind was a Japanese dude. Entering the range after lap 1, I reminded myself to focus on my sites, and another clean 5 went down. On the second lap, the Japanese athlete actually passed me in the run, surprising and pissing me off. A German passed me too, but I expected him to challenge. All the while, as a group, we reeled in others. Entering the final shoot, I battled opposing thoughts; shoot another clean 5 (like in Budapest) and focus on process. Fortunately the latter came through and I, for the first time, shot a perfect combined event (going :11/:14/:13). The running effort took a toll, but with a fight I was able to move up past a few more athletes, unfortunately the Japanese gapped me by about 10 meters. Ugh. I moved to 20th though in a hard fought battle. Again, though not good enough for a final. I keep finding myself on the very edge of the final which is discouraging as I believenI should be in. And when you make a Final, everything is different even if you just scrape in. Finishing top 15 is very doable. Especially for me because I get to contest my strongest event – the ride.
Flying home from Russia now, I feel conflicting emotions. Discouraged as that was two meets with no final. But, at the same time encouraged because I stepped up my combined event to a new level. In two weeks, World Championships are in Rome and so I will be on a flight back to Europe. Lots of work in the time ahead to sharpen up and show what I am made of. Thanks for taking a read. J.