Today marks the beginning of the 31st Empire State Games.
This event has been taking place for...well, 31 years, and has been sponsored by the state of New York until this year. However, the local cities have all pitched in to help, and the Games continued this year.
The Opening Ceremonies took place tonight at the 1980 Olympic Rink, where the Miracle on Ice took place 31 years ago. As the parade of athletes marched in (trying not to slip on the ice), the audience was snapping pictures and cheering. Think Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies, but about 100x smaller, fewer athletes, and no fireworks. It was still fun, and a great way to see what the athlete life is like on the other side of the wall (in the athlete parade instead of watching it).
In a strange twist of scheduling, our Empire State Games skeleton race was actually this morning, so we competed before the Games actually opened. Yeah, we were scratching our heads about that too.
The race went off at 11am, and the sleds had to be up at the start at 10:30. Unfortunately, Mother Nature decided to spring a snowstorm on us, so the roads to the top of the track were too slick for the athletes to drive up. A majority of the athletes stayed down by the cars and waited for a van to come, which took forever. Getting anxious as I normally do when I am rushed before competition, I set my rock at the bottom of the hill, blowing snow out of my face and occasionally pausing to empty the inch of snow accumulating in my helmet.
The snow was falling so fast that even 15 minutes of exposure at the top, our sleds were blanketed in at least a quarter-inch of snow. The race was our first "officially run" race, with runners sanded and wiped by a jury, the temperature of our sleds checked, and such the like.
As far as the actual race goes, my first run was not good by my standards. It was very squirrely (a word, by the way, that we had a discussion about the other day: why squirrely? Do squirrels move like that?) and not smooth. I finished the first heat in 6th place, which isn't bad, but it didn't set me up for an easy top-three finish.
At that point, I wasn't thinking about medals or finishing in the top. All I wanted was a cleaner run. I would be running sixth from the end in the second heat, since they run slowest down time to fastest in the second heat. I calmed myself down, warmed up again, tried to loosen my hamstring, and hit the start hard. I tied my start PR (again) and slid a much cleaner run.
With that slide, I had the fastest downtime of the heat, putting me in first place, but there were still five sliders to go, including the three fastest from the first heat. I've always wondered how it feels to be in the leader box that far from the final sled, or final performance, waiting to hear if your time was good enough to medal. Now I know. It's nerve wracking as all get-out. After I threw down a better second run, I was able to actually realize I could medal.
With each slider, our announcer, Kim, would commentate on their turns, their lines, and their performance as they go down the track. I heard my name a lot, as she compared the slider's splits to mine ("A tenth of a second off the pace set by Lauren," etc) which almost made it worse. Finally, Savannah, the third to the last slider, went which was probably the most nerve wracking, as she and I usually have similar down times. Lately, she's been sliding faster than I am, so I was anxious. I held on, barely, and knew I had a medal, just didn't know what color.
Morgan and Lauri slid again, and a tight race brought Morgan the gold and Lauri the silver, with me in 3rd.
Of course, I'm very happy that I was able to earn the bronze medal. However, I'm not very happy with my lack of consistency. I fluctuate during training, sometimes getting two or three very consistent runs, sometimes begin a half second or even a second apart between runs. In skeleton, a consistent run is of utmost importance, as a hundredth of a second can cost the race.
It is consistency that I will be working the most on this coming week. National Championships are next weekend, and it is (as you can imagine) a very big deal. All but a couple of the United States skeleton athletes will be competing, including the Olympians, World Cup athletes and sliders with years of experience. It's a race that will likely have an impact on what circuit I could be competing on next year, and it's a race where we will be seen by national team coaches. Yeah, it's a big race.
Lauri and I test our medals for authenticity
National Championships is a four-heat race over the course of two days. That means, I need to have four consistent runs in a row, over two days after five straight days of training. Insane but completely exciting! It's a great opportunity, and I'm incredibly excited and nervous for it. Wish me luck!
For now, I'm going to sleep! My legs are in need of massive amounts of rest and recovery. Thanks for reading!