Well, this will likely be my last blog post of the 2010-2011 skeleton season, unless something unexpected happens in the coming weeks.
It's been an amazing experience for me here in Lake Placid, and it's been just as wonderful to be able to share it with you all!
I took part in my first International skeleton race on Thursday, March 31. America's Cup is the first tier of competition for the FIBT skeleton world (in case you don't remember, an athlete typically starts in America's Cup or Europa Cup, moves up to the Intercontinental Cup, or ICC, and ends on the World Cup circut). It's quite an honor to be invited to race America's Cup during one's first season, and I certainly was fortunate to get the opportunity!
Having slid with International sliders the past two weeks, I am starting to see even more how great of a sport this is, and how great it is to compete Internationally. There is so much to learn, not just about the sport, but about other cultures and nations, and this gives one a perfect chance to do so. In the last week alone I've been able to get to know athletes from Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Canada, Britain, Greece and even Lichtenstein. One of my newest friends is a two-time Olympian former bobsledder from Switzerland, who, while converting to skeleton, has promised to teach me German. Sweet! It's really cool to see so many people from so many different backgrounds interested in one common thing: skeleton.
The start house previous to Wednesday's training session
Now, to talk about the actual competition. I had some very rough training runs leading up to the race. As you know from last week's post, I did very well in the FIBT school, so I came into this week confident that it would carry over. Well, I honestly have rarely felt as frustrated as I was most of the week. I was running very slow downtimes and my top speeds were not nearly as quick as they had been the previous week. Funny thing was, I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. I was at the same rock, on the same runners, doing the same thing and I was running almost two seconds slower than the previous week. I left training every day almost in tears because it was embarrassing to drop that much in just a couple days.
Slowing through the week, I was able to talk things out with my coaches. I watched a LOT of video, took a lot of track walks and a lot of notes, and basically just went back and flushed all the negative feelings out. I tried enjoying sliding, keeping my form and holding my head down...basic things, but it wasn't until Wednesday, the day before the race, during the second run that I was starting to improve.
I was still frustrated, but Don and a couple teammates reminded me that I have a tendency to "bring it" on race day and usually throw down some good times during competition. That notion helped me get re-focused. As I sanded my runners and got my sled taped up aerodynamically and prepped, I found myself thinking not of the coming results, but of the runs themselves, the track nuances and what I would or could do to get my times back down. Prepping for a race works wonders for me mentally, and this was one of the most important times to get mentally ready.
I arrived at the track on Thursday morning early enough to get my seat in the corner of the start house (where I can't see the TV screen) and set my rock on my sled before the parc ferme closed. I double checked my sled, double checked my equipment, then...sat and waited. I had arrived so early that I waited almost 45 minutes before even warming up.
Representing the United States!
Finally, I was able to warm up. It was warmer in the morning than it had been, so I definitely got sweaty and warm, which actually felt great. So much better than wearing three layers to keep warm! I had my earbuds in, so I drowned out all my thoughts and the noises around me. I knew I would be sliding 11th out of 15 sleds, so I just wanted to keep myself focused instead of listening to the down times of the girls before me.
When it was my turn, I remember feeling completly calm and relaxed. From the starting block, I looked down the starting ramp and knew that I would just enjoy this ride. As soon as I hit my sled, I knew it would be a good start and a good run. I heard a lot of cowbells from the spectators on the side of the track, but only vaughly. My load was fast and strong, and then everything seemed to slow down in the first curve. I was completely aware of where I was, what I had to do, and what my sled was doing. It was a pretty cool feeing, actually. I didn't hit at all except a little brush through the Chicane and a little hit off the exit of 19, and when I looked up at the clock at the out run, I saw 56.85. I PRed by almost a half-second and got a sub-57 second for the first time! Talk about bringing it on race day!
I finsihed the heat in 5th place, and was pretty confident going into the second heat. My start time had been a 5.51, and I was hoping to break into the 5.4s that day. During a race for beginning sliders, the trend seems to be either you perform "eh" on your first run and kill the second, or you kill the first run and "eh" the second. Mine was definitely the latter of the two.
I was a little too pumped going to the second heat, where I should have been more relaxed. I certainly hit my start nice and hard, and really felt fast sprintig down, but as soon as I loaded on my sled, my mind was doing too much. Actually, the run was really clean until Curve 12. I didn't feel like I was goig in wrong, but as soon as I hit the curve, I thought, "Uh oh". I didn't downsteer strong enough, and as a result, I got carried up to the very end of the curve and then...trouble. Curve 12 is one of the primary curves for crashes in both skeleton and bobseld, and if a slider doesn't hit it right, they tend to loose time, or flip all together. All I remeber of 12 this time was being airborne, with my legs AND body in the air. I wasn't paniking or scared. All I was thinking was, "Ok, hold on or you'll get disqualified for not finishing the run." So I hung on for dear life, landed on one runner, pulled myself on the sled, and continued down the hill.
For your viewing pleasure, the video from Curve 12, in slow-motion. Looking back on that run, I wonder how I even survived.
Unfortunately for me, that little hiccup cost me all my speed, and at least a second of time. I crossed the finish eye in 2nd place with a down time of 57.78, almost a second slower than my first run. I was pretty upset, but still in the running for a podium finish and a medal, though I didn't know what place. I congratulated the Canadian who was ahead of me, and waited. My teammate, Savannah, was in 4th after the first run, but had some trouble on the second and crossed the finish eye in 3rd with four sliders to go.
The board at the finish line. Showing off two PRs for me: downtime (56.85) and push start (5.47)
As it turned out, the US girls placed 5th, 6th and 7th, which isn't too bad for it being our first competition. Our fouth teammate, Morgan, unfortunately had some bad crashes during training and decided to scratch the race. It was really a bummer for her not to be able to race. But we represented our country well (if I do say so myself) and we are all very pumped for the 2011-2012 season.
The medal ceremony was pretty cool too, despite the corney music playing. It was such a proud moment to hear my name and my country, and being able to stand at that podium. It was a memory I'll cherish for all my life. Being able to medal in my first International compeition was amazing, and to do it at my hometrack was doubly so.
The awards ceremony: I'm over to the far right, Savannah is far left
I'm happy with my performance, and despite my messy second run, I performed at the best of my abilities. I'm so thankful to have had this opportunity. For those of you who are wondering, I'm staying with this sport as long as they'll have me. I'm focused and ready to slide even better next season.
One of my goals over the summer is to work on my start technique and hopefully compete in Push Championships. I'd like to get to the level where I am able to compete with the best in the world at the start. I'm hoping to compete in Europa Cup next year, if I can qualify for it, and more importantly, if Ican get the finances for it. I will be happy to slide America's Cup too, but I am always looking to challenge myself, and Europe would be fantstic. But I'm going to need a lot of help to get there. I'll be spending my summer working, looking for sponsors, and training.
Me, Meghan, and Savannah after the AC race with Becca, one of our awesome coaches!
I would like to send out a heart-felt thank you to all of those who have read this blog, and who have supported me, financially, logistically and emotionally to get to where I am today. Without the Robinson family, I wouldn't have been able to rent my sled for the season, and obviously without a sled, you can't do much! Without the help of my Idyllwild neighbors, Bev and Linda, I wouldn't have been able to attend FIBT school, which put me in the position to compete in AC. Without the help of my family and friends, I wouldn't be in Lake Placid, perusing my dreams. So thank you for your support, your love and your encouragement. Skeleton is an individual sport, but only on the ice. Off the ice, it takes coaches, trainers, sponsors, donars and friends to keep an athlete going. For that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. My 2011 America's Cup 5th place medal is dedicated to all of you!
Thank you for a great season!