Name: Simi Hamilton
Sport: XC Skiing
Recent results: 17th World Cup skate sprint Sochi, Russia; 7th World Cup classic team sprint Sochi, Russia
As I write this, I'm on a charter flight from Sochi, Russia - the sight of next year's winter Olympic Games - back to Zurich, Switzerland, the heart of Central Europe.
It's been a pretty amazing week at the cross-country test events for the 2014 Olympics. To even begin to describe the amount of work that the Russians are putting in to making next year's events a Games to remember would be impossible. You truly have to see it to believe it.
Before coming to this fairly unknown corner of the world ("unknown" at least by Western standards; according to Wikipedia, Sochi is the official summer capital of Russia), my experience with the city and region along the western shore of the Black Sea was entirely limited to searching for it on Google Earth. I've spent quite a few late nights in the past couple of years exploring the deep valleys and alpine ridges of the Caucasus Mountains all from the comfort of my laptop, zooming in on gnarly spines and pencil-thin couloirs that, in all likelihood, have never seen any type of descent (most likely due to the fact that armed patrolmen are stationed along treeline and they will apparently escort you back down to the valley if you are spotted.) Envision the Canadian Selkirks rising from the coast of Florida, palm trees and all to greet you as your plane touches down at the foot of the mountainous kingdom.
As much as I like to daydream about all the backcountry possibilities of the Sochi area, I should stick to the task at hand: race recap. It was a fairly good weekend on the World Cup XC trails. The results may not directly show it, but I'm exactly where I want to be at this point in the season heading in to a brief two week training period before World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy.
I started the Sochi weekend out with an 11th place in the skate sprint qualifier, the exact same event that will be held during next year's games. Although I did not ski my quarterfinal as I had planned and paid the consequences of some tactically poor decisions, I walked away from my marque event with valuable knowledge of how the course skis and the work that I need to put in to earn a spot on the Olympic podium.
Sunday's classic team sprint at the Olympic venue was an even bigger confidence booster. In the past, I've struggled a bit with this event as it is primarily a show of endurance during the multi-lap format. During this weekend's team sprint semifinals and finals, however, I found myself matching the top racers' strides and ultimately pulled away from some of the top-ranked sprinters in our semi- final.
Andy Newell and I finished seventh overall after an unlucky crash on a sketchy downhill 200 meters before the finish line. We had been just a few seconds off of a podium position prior to the crash, but hey, that's ski racing! We are using the race as "fuel for the fire" and can't wait to get back on the team sprint start line in Val di Fiemme in a few short weeks. Signing off from Russia ... or at least 30,000 feet over the Black Sea.