I walked out, sat my sled down, and exhaled deeply. I'd made it to Austria and the first run was about to start.
The week came as a bit of a relief compared to the rough, aggressive style of sliding required in Latvia. Igls was the first European track I had ever slid on way back in 2009. I've had tons of runs over the years so I am well-versed and confident here. The start handles are set with a picturesque view of the Tyrolean Alps- it's one of my favourite views in the entire world. The track has enormous wide-open corners with long transitions which makes for only a few difficult sections. There isn't much pressure in the curves and at times it can be tricky to determine where you need to give the sled direction.
The frist few runs were clean. No walls, just a few skids here and there. "Great" I thought, this will be a much welcomed changed from my struggle in Sigulda last week. After the first session I was surprised to learn that I'd already beaten my previous start PB. After 6 more solid runs I felt that things were shaping up to a heck of a weekend.
By the time Friday rolled around, I was feeling rock-solid for the Nations Cup qualifier. Only the top 17 of 41 sleds get to advance to the World Cup the next day so I knew that I would have to lay down a fast time. I got the 12th bib, which meant the warm weather wouldn't strongly impact my time. I pulled straight out of the handles and settled into my sled. As I made my way down the track, I knew that I had made no big mistakes and that this run was going to be a good one. I flew past the finish and didn't get a good look at the time. I ended up pulling the second fastest start that day and finished 5th overall.
With a solid showing in the qualifier, I had high hopes for Sunday's race. The day began as any World Cup does. Crowds started showing up and it was time to race. My first run was rough. I knew my start wasn't as strong and I hit the wall out of the 4th corner. I was still sitting in 17th with a bunch of people right around me. I had nothing to loose so I felt fired up for my second run. I could tell off the bat that this start wasn't any better and my visor fogged into the second curve. It was rough top to bottom and I ended up dropping back 4 places. Feeling frustrated, I gathered my composure and smiled at the camera.
The biggest lesson that I took away from that weekend was that nothing is a sure bet, to always triple check your equipment, and to not let yourself get into your head. My worst runs all week were during the race and I have myself to blame. I had easy sliding conditions and no pressure other than what I put on myself. All were lessons worth learning and now it's for my first North American challenge lake Placid.