End of IBU Cup Season
by Scott Lacy
On March 5th we checked out of the hotel in Canmore, Alberta, a place we had called home for over 2 weeks. Canmore was the location for the two final IBU Cups of the season of the international Biathlon season. Looking back on it now, I see it as a pretty crazy trip with all the unique elements that ski racing can bring into our lives.
Being in Bozeman, Montana the few days before my arrival in Canmore, I decided to drive to Canada. Of course, as with all winter road trips, it snowed the day of leaving making the drive truly gripping and much longer. At one point I pulled over to stretch my legs and had to shoulder butt my door open because the entire outside of my truck was plated in nearly inch thick ice. I could hear the grinding of the front wheels when turning the steering wheel and had to pour hot water over the gas cap to refuel. This was the beginning of a cold front moving in.
And a cold front it was!! Within two days of checking in, the morning temps in Canmore were -25F upon waking up. One day we attempted to ski and shoot only to give up the next day and head to the local rec center to spin bike and lay around on yoga mats. The races that week were all postponed to see what happened with the weather. The photographer snagged a photo of me skiing in full warm-ups, puffy pants and jacket, shells over the puffy and no skin showing what-so-ever.
Finally the cold snap broke and we were allowed to race in legal temps: it must be above -20C (-4F), which actually led to a second postponement. At this point we were looking at racing all 6 races in the remaining 8 days of the events. A full on ski tour of biathlon with a good variety of race formats! I personally loved the challenge since I typically hold up well to a lot of intensity, and it felt bonding with everyone in a way having the cold, followed by lots of racing, and the general novelty of it all. Especially having all the Euros in North America for a change.
The racing kicked off fast and furious with some of my best results of the season and much better performances in difficult formats than I had last season. But of course the fatigue builds as does the cabin fever of the same hotel and same food over and over again. This is where I found other teams becoming increasingly open to mixing and talking. Meeting as many athletes from other nations as I could became a project and soon became the most rewarding experience I have had from international racing. Sitting at dinner with an Estonian or cooling down from a race with an Austrian. Trading a uniform piece with a Swede or asking a German what his training is like. Naturally we became good friends with Great Britain due to speaking the same language.
However, the most impactful conversation I had, maybe ever, was with a young Ukrainian skier. He told me of how his love of the mountains and biathlon had brought him to tears at multiple points in Canmore, thinking of his good fortune to be racing there at all. He was deeply aware he was going back home expecting the call to fight at any moment; knowing his biathlon season had been the only thing keeping him from fighting this year and the season is now over. He told me he did not want people to feel sorry for him, he viewed the war as a unifying force for his nation and how he has never felt more proud to wear his country's race suit. How this race series renewed his will to fight so he could one day come back and look at the mountains in Canmore again, maybe even live there. I can’t put into words how this conversation felt but I do know I will never forget it for the rest of my life. His peace with the situation, overwhelming gratitude to be racing and traveling, and his complete
openness to share is truly inspiring.
I wish I had a picture with him, Vlad of Ukraine, 25 years old, but we hugged goodbye on the last day and I must settle for that. Though the photographer did capture a moment of the international comraderari felt when between racers and how at the end of the day, we are all out there rooting for the success of everyone. This picture is a finish line fist bump after a tough last lap with Jakub, of Lithuania.
Lastly, I must talk about the last race of both this season and last season, which are both mixed relays. Relays truly bring teams together because it is the only event in an individual sport where we compete as a team. In this format, it is two women and two men, each racer races a complete sprint and tags off to the next person. This race is on a 2km lap and has a total of 12 laps for a complete relay. If you are lapped, your team's race is over and you cannot continue.
One year ago, we ended the race season with our mixed relay in Ridnoun, Italy. We were lapped by the 4th or 5th lap and half our relay team did not even race. The USA is growing stronger and stronger as a nation, but we were not ready last year, or even the mixed relay in January this year. But, less than 2 weeks ago, I toed the start line knowing I had to do everything I could to get our second man in a good spot so he could get our first woman out in time for our final woman to finish, something the US has never done on the IBU Cup before. I raced my 6th race in 8 days with everything I had, hit all of my targets and came the closest I have ever come to collapsing at the end when I tagged off. After sitting to catch my breath, I headed out to cheer. It soon became evident all of our team was truly giving it everything they had as well and we would not be lapped! Something we all hoped and dreamed about.
Amazingly, we then saw the final leg of the race unfold and our team was not only staying in the race, but beating other teams still in the race. For the final 100 meters of the relay, I came running around the course to see all of our team, all of our wax techs and our range coach yelling and screaming! I couldn’t help but smile and join in as we witnessed the best mixed relay team finish the USA has ever had on the IBU Cup. Not only that, it was also good enough to punt our nations cup ranking into the top 10 for the first time any of us has ever seen!! The feeling of being a part of something bigger than yourself is potent and intoxicating. When I came out of retirement 4 years ago, I never knew I would get to be a part of pushing our nation up in the world standings and I am beside myself with all of the feelings these two weeks in Canmore brought on.
Here is our relay team, bonded in the shared experience of group success. L-R, Jackie Garso, Mandy Kautzer, Myself, Tim Cunningham, Coach Mike Gibson. With just a few races left, this season has proven to be one for the books!
Happy trails fellow skinny skiers.
(Credit goes to @Skipost and @enjoywinter)