Winter in Winterberg is Fake News

Winter in Winterberg is fake news. 

Coming from an explosion in Austria, I set out to redeem myself in Winterberg. I raced in Winterberg once before as a senior in the 2013-14 season right before the Sochi Olympics. I struggled to find the speed, but I remember having clean runs. I went into this week with the intention of stepping back from going for speed to shifting my focus to have clean runs. I needed to build my confidence more than anything. 

I had three days of training before the race. We battled through the rain and the frost. The ice conditions changed so much, and so rapidly, that it became difficult to predict how you should adjust your sled. One session, our track slowed down over a second per run. This affects our steering and makes it difficult to anticipate how the sled will behave. 

The positive note was that I felt like I was finally back in my sled. I approached last week’s Austrian race backward. I was looking for the result without refining the process. At least here in Winterberg, I could push myself into the sled and let the track do the work. 

The weather the morning of the World Cup Qualifier was absolutely miserable. It was so foggy/ rainy/wet snowing that you couldn’t see into the first corner. I knew that the ice would slow down significantly in throughout the race. I had the 23rd starting bib and an uphill battle.

 Nevertheless, I started the day confident and relaxed. With the exception of a few corners lower in the track, I enjoyed training and I was able to relax. I walked up the track to prep my mind. I like to do imagery before each session to get into the right mindset. I noticed that the trackcrew added marks on the ice for the TV cameras to follow sed through the corner. I made a mental note and planned to make a steer at the third mark in the corner. Huge mistake. 

I started my race run with an average start. While it was going on, I remember feeling my shoulders press back into the sled. I was moving well in the top section and I had clean entrances/exits.  Eventually, I came into the curve where I planned to use the ice marks as a guide. I made my first steer, miscounted the marks, and totally missed where I was actually supposed to steer. The sled dropped out of the corner and picked straight back up on the end. I nearly crashed. After that, I was “off line” and had to take a few curves to regain control. I knew my race was over before I even came up to the finish. This was so frustrating because this wasn’t a mistake I had made earlier in the week.

The biggest lesson that I pulled from this week of training was that you cannot change your gameplay on race day. Your race should be a product of your training. Pressure can make an athlete perform 15% better or 15% worse. I need to land between those two extremes.  Consistency is key. 

I felt super frustrated that I wasted another race. But I learned the importance of being present while competing. There is no way to force my body to perform a skill. I have to be in the moment and not allow my thinking to get ahead of where I actually am. I’ve done this sport for so long that all my skills are intrinsic. It is more important for me to be present with the sled than to make new plans on race day. 

Take away: I can be with my sled, but I actually need to do that. 

I have more races to achieve results I want. But, I would be lying if I said I am happy with this season. There’s always something to learn about the struggle but things aren’t going well. It’s important to acknowledge that. This was not the way I expected to start my Olympic qualifying season. I feel like I worked harder than this. I didn’t plan to round out the back of the men’s field. That being said, this is not what I am capable of delivering either. In all my races so far, I have made huge errors. I’ve been too tense. I allowed small mistakes to snowball into catastrophes. 

Keeping my head up and using sheer force of will to continue fighting- I am on the next. 

PS: T-shirt fundraiser went/ still is going super well! Thanks to generous and supportive folks like you I reached my fundraising goal! I can’t thank everyone enough. I successfully paid for my pre-Christmas training/ racing costs. Thank you x 1000 - really couldn’t have done it without you. 

Up next Altenberg and the road back to North America!

Cheers, #johncan18