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2010 Olympic Cross-Country Ski Course Crew #3 – Stage 2
By:  Peter Czerny   (2010/02/23)

Read all of Peter's - XC Course Crew Updates: Prologue, Stage 1 , Stage 2, Stage 3, Stage 4, Finish Line

Hello all,

I am writing from the warmth of my hosts’ home in Pemberton, the smell of dinner cooking and the Canada-USA hockey game providing ample distraction in the background. The cross-country venue has seen its own fair share of action, from the elimination rounds of the sprints to the mass starts of the pursuits; from the medal performance of the injured Petra Majdic to the first women’s gold medal in forty-two years for (can you guess?) Sweden. The sight of the Canadian skiers mixing it up with the rest of the world’s best is inspiring enough, let alone yesterday’s historic top-15 finish of four Canadian men. All the action has been illuminated by the most brilliant blue skies and incredible alpine views; a wonderfully sunny, warm day out for the spectators, the press, us and the rest of the cast of hundreds that help make the show happen, but widely variable conditions for the groomers, racers and their wax technicians with crusty nighttime lows of -3 to mushy highs of +6.

Now at the halfway point through the Games, our course crew has settled into a kind of routine, with the majority of the dozen showing up two hours ahead of the time that racers and their crews are permitted out for a scheduled training to test their skis and themselves (this means a 6am or 7am start for us). Hauling radios to stay in touch, pairs head out into the frosty morning light to key areas such as ‘Elevator’, the ‘Duck’, ‘lower Blue’ and the ‘Big Red Bridge’ to set up signs and v-boards, to mark feed zones and highlight all points at which the double grooves of the classic tracks start or end. With set up done and any special projects out of the way (fixing fencing is a favourite), lunch beckons in the huge white tent behind the grandstand with soup, sandwiches and live footage from the Olympic broadcast network. However, the real show is outside so we eat fast and get back to watch from the spectator standing area or out on the course – privileged to be there and all too aware of the need to stay out of the way of excited coaches, busy TV camera operators, press photographers, and vigilant course controllers looking for rule infractions. At the close of competitions and training, we regroup to remove our markers and anything else cluttering the trail to give the groomers a clear path to renew the tracks for the next day. Those not on the late shift make a beeline for the bus stop and the 40 minute ride to Whistler to be faced with the options of heading home to sleep or joining the throngs vying to take in the street concerts or medal ceremonies that form the exclamation point at the end of another Olympic day.

Looking back to the top ten benefits of course crew membership, here is how numbers three and four have worked out thus far:

3. Learning the art of ‘v-board’ placement by taking a racer’s perspective in the mind’s eye.

For those who have never seen them, I suppose that you could compare v-boards (a length of tented material) to lines and pylons on the highway; good at showing where to go and how to avoid oncoming traffic or other hazards. Their placement seems simple enough, just line them up along the edge of the groomed trail and away you go … and yet do they give enough room to racers battling each other for position around corners while keeping them far enough away from hazards that are all but invisible to those going at top speed? Skiing the course yesterday morning, I came scooting down an icy-hard track on the outside of a right hand turn that leads up to the ‘Elevator’ only to get shoved to inwards by a line of v-boards that allowed almost no room to step-turn; it is always a surprise to me how much of a difference race speed perspective can make to our marking, and we do our best to make everything as obvious and safe as we can. To that end, the course is repeatedly reviewed by many eyes; our crew colleagues, the course marshals posted all over, the broadcast folks looking for clear camera angles, the chief of course and his assistant, and finally the race jury members appointed by FIS (the Fédération internationale de ski) who zip around on skis examining our initial work. As with any such large endeavor there can be some mixed messages and multiple recommendations, however a bit of patience and radio communication resolves most situations in spirit of providing the best possible ‘field of play’ to the racers and the viewing public.

4. Feeling the anticipation of the start of racing, the count-down to show time!

The approaching start of any competition builds excitement enough, with expectation of drama from skiers pushing their own limits and the unpredictability of the outcome. The match-ups seem fairly even for those at the top of this Nordic game, so within a top-ten group it could be anybody’s race; it is even more emotional for us to see Canadians striding into this group day after day. Added to this is the gathering energy from the noise of announcers and fans from the neighbouring ski jump venue those competitions often happen before ours; their cheers and bells echo weirdly through the woods. The arrival of the broadcast camera crews underlines the fact that this is first and foremost the ‘big show’ for cross-country skiing, and that we must take extra care in lining up our markings. One operator (they all seem to be from Finland) lets me try his camera; his goal is to capture the heads and shoulders of the approaching race leaders starting at 200 meters and closing fast with a manual focus and zoom – he has been doing this work for 30 years and this is his tenth Olympics. Traffic gradually builds up on the trails; racers warming up their muscles and their minds, wax technicians and coaches examining every aspect of the track and methodically testing what seems to be a never-ending combination of skis. I spot Tomas from Stockholm from time to time, Team Sweden’s own meteorologist out to provide his own intelligence to bolter chances of victory. And finally, the fans start to gather along the fence-lines to claim their spots by hanging flags and signs, compatriots flocking together adding their own colour to the warming day.

Cheers from the Callahan Valley,

Peter Czerny

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