Before I had even left to start the international training week in Korea, I had a dream about what I thought the track would look like. I pictured a tower on top of a mountain from which they had built a huge track. I laughed to myself when we arrived because there was- to a loose degree, some similarity to what I envisioned.
The team departed November 1st from Lake Placid towards Newark. From there, we started our long trek to Pyeongchang, Korea. Thankfully, we had an overnight layover in San Francisco to break up the travel. San Fran to Seoul, Seoul to Pyeongchang.
~45 hours later, the team arrived at the Kensington Flora Hotel late at night. This was my first time in Asia and I felt totally turned around from the jet lag. The hotel we stayed in was easily the nicest I'd ever stayed in for luge. It had a massive front hall with ornate chandeliers over a grand staircase. The Olympic spirit was alive and well here, too. The hotel had and entire hall full of Olympic memorabilia on the main level. It had medals, torches, statues, and other displays from the Games as far back as 1952. I was impressed. The next morning, I could see our surroundings. The landscaping around the hotel was also impressive: french gardens, ponds, and well-kept fields. The hotel was inexplicably massive. It had 17 floors and it was surrounded by nothing other than what appeared to be farmland.
That same morning, we made our way to the track. We split up into disciplines- men’s, women’s, and doubles to inspect the ice for the first time. My first impression of the track left me with mixed feelings. Ostensibly, the track doesn’t seem too difficult. The coaches warned us about a few tricky sections and gave us some general points of knowledge. With the exception of Curve 2-- a 10ft-tall wall of ice slanted at an angle, I felt like I understood what was going on on this track. The corners seemed innocuous and the top speeds didn’t seem too high either. Game on.
Since this was my first time here, I started from youth start. I wanted to feel the ice before I committed to full speed. The first day was 14 Celsius, which meant the ice was soft and grippy. I oversteered the sled. With the slow speed, the pressures were hard to feel and it was even harder to predict how the sled would react. The first run was easy so I moved up to the women’s start for more speed. Women’s start goes into a sharp start curve before meeting the rest of the track. As the session went on, the weather slowed the track more and more. With the first three runs in the book, I was excited to get to the top and feel what this track is meant to be like with speed.
My first run from the top took the wind right out of my sails. I hit so hard out of the second corner that it took me another five corners to recover. Nonetheless, I started the learning process. Over the next few days, I started to feel frustrated. My sliding ability fell apart. When I would get "off line", my problems would escalate to the point of nearly crashing. On Day 4, we had an internal race amongst the US men for national team ranking. I could've just worn training gear and not prepped my sled because I was so far back. The whole first week was a mental battle. This reminded me of the struggles I felt while I was on the Canadian team. When things started to go wrong, everything fell apart.
In the middle of the trip, the team organized a trip down the coast to check out the pre-Olympic buzz and to see a little bit more of Korea. We drove about 45 minutes to Gangeuong. We stopped in a a local crossfit gym to get in a solid workout. It's hard to find good gyms while traveling. We toured the coast and saw some features of the Olympic park. We ended the night at a traditional Korean steakhouse. It was nice to get out of the hotel and finally have a change of scenery.
As the time in Korea went on, things finally started to piece themselves together. By Day 6, I had resolved most of my problems on the track. I felt like I was getting a grip finally. By no means was I sliding to my potential , but I can say that I was finally sliding. On day 8, I posted my two fastest runs and my two cleanest runs. This little victory came as a huge confidence boost. The final training session had potential to be excellent. We arrived at the hill just before the sun was rising and the ice was looking pristine. Unfortunately, the two runs I took that day were the worst two runs I took had on this trip. Despite ending the training week on a low point, I felt happy that I had a few clean trips down the track.
This trip was about learning. The benefit of facing some challenges here is that now I'll be better equipped to handle these challenges when they come up over the next few weeks. We are heading into the World Cup season, which happens to be the races that qualify us for the Olympics. These will be some of the most stressful and challenging weeks I will experience as an athlete, but I am looking forward to the challenge. Open heart and open mind, I’m feeling ready.
Next up, World Cup 1 in Austria.
The T-shirt fundraiser has been going super well. I've been able to fund my almost all of my pre-christmas travel. I can't thank everyone who helped me out enough. If you'd still like one, you can check out the fundraiser section of my website. Cheers, folks!