Italy is the hot spot for ski racing this year, being the home of the World Championships, World U23 Championships and the World University Games. I was lucky enough to be a part of the action by attending the World University Games from January 13th to 26th. They were held in and around a town called Tarvisio, which borders Austria and Slovenia and is nestled in the Alps. The games included many winter sports such as alpine and cross country skiing, hockey, snowboarding, ski jumping, nordic combined, short track speed skating, figure skating and curling, attracting some of the world's best competitors (for instance, many of the cross country competitors will go on to compete in World U23 or World Championships in February!)
My journey started when I met Sarah Peters at the Ottawa airport and we boarded the plane to Toronto, then Frankfurt and finally Venice. We were met there by Italian volunteers who took us 2 hours north to Tarvisio for accreditation and eventually to a place called Sella Nevea , 20 km up the mountain from Tarvisio. This would be our home for the next 2 weeks.
That first day was a struggle just to stay awake. Sarah and I arrived at 1pm and the others didn't get there until 11pm.....we had nowhere to go and no one to talk to! Finally it was 10pm and we slept for 11 hours!
The next day, we checked out the ski trails for the first time. There wasn't a lot of snow, and most of it was man made but it was fast and looked like it would be a fun course. They weren't quite finished making the loop so at one point you came to a part that was just a big pile of snow with dump trucks and bulldozers hard at work. This caused some confusion as people were going both directions on the trail and ended in unfortunate luck for one team member, Jodi Maepea, who was involved in a nasty collision with a Czech girl. The result was a broken hand and ski binding for her and a broken ski and concussion for the other girl. Not exactly the ideal beginning to a week of racing!. Jodi, however, is a real trooper and did a few of the skate races with slightly modified technique and a lightweight cast.
After the opening ceremonies (above), which were conducted almost completely in Italian, and a few more days of skiing, we were ready for the first race. Despite not being able to test our grip on the race course, things went pretty well. The girls were 54th to 60th in a field of 70 and the men were in the 60's and 70's in a field of 80. Things were looking positive for the rest of the week.
The next race was the sprint. We were all excited but not expecting to make it past the qualifying round since they only took top 16. The course was fun and the snow was fast. A surprising and incredible result from Allison Jeffkins was the highlight of the day. She finished 20th only 1.5sec from qualifying for the heats. I was also pleased with my result of 44th again in a field of about 70.
The Finnish girls stole the show that day and took 1,2 and 4. Toni Roponen (my old coach in Thunder Bay) was there running back and forth between watching his Finn girls and talking to Tara and I.
After the sprint we had two days off. The big event was our trip to Venice. It was a long drive to get there and by the time we arrived there were only two hours left for sightseeing and it was the only rainy day of our entire two weeks. It was, nevertheless, well worth the trip. We walked around, got lost, ate pizza and gelato and did a bit of shopping and picture taking (below).
The next day was the men's relay in very slow and wet snow. The Canadian men skied well, finishing ahead of the Koreans. The Russian's were on top from the second leg on. It was impressive to watch them ski.
The girls' relay was the day after. We had two teams (one mixed with Hungary). We all raced hard and were fairly pleased with our performance. Austria was our closest competitor and I managed to at least keep their last skier in sight (I was the anchor for the A team). Italy walked away with it on the last leg and won by a significant margin. Finland was second and Russia third.
That afternoon we took the gondola up from our hotel and went downhill skiing for two hours. My legs were cramping like crazy and I fell a lot but it was a great time! The view was amazing (see picture below). We were also treated to a splendid Italian dinner for about three hours on the same evening!
The remaining days were taken up with a bit of shopping, skiing etc. The weekend marked the last races and the end of our trip. These races were going to be particularly exciting as they were mass start. The men's 30 km was on Saturday. Unfortunately I was sick and stayed in bed but I heard it was a great race. Rob Bewick was the fastest Canadian in 42nd.
The women all did well in the 15km race with our fastest being Sarah Peters finishing 32nd. Unfortunately I was sick, tried to race and quickly discovered that my body was not on my brain's side and I had to sit it out.
With all the racing over, trading of suits, jackets etc was in full swing around the waxing cabins. After cleaning out all our equipment we headed back to the hotel for our final lunch of pasta and with everything all packed up, we headed downtown for the closing ceremonies and celebrations, which were a lot of fun (despite a few problems finding a bus to take us back up the mountain!) Up at 3:30am to begin the trip home, no one was too happy, but nevertheless after only 24 hours of travel we were in fact home!
The experience of the games is a wonderful one. It is a time to race against the best student athletes in the world, go to neat little places you would probably never go otherwise, and meet people from all over the world. This being my second World University Games, I highly recommend participating if you have the opportunity. I just might go one more time in two years when it is held in Innsbruck Austria!