Australian Team Report - What Wax Are You On?
Report by Warren Feakes
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The World Masters Championships 2003 were held in Seefeld, Austria (1,200m) and were organized by the German Ski Club, Monte Kaolino Hirschau. Australian team members were, Janette Hamilton (team captain) Jack Solar, Bill Hamilton, Len Harrison, Andrew McCullough, Stan McDonald, Ken Baxter, Warren and Debbie Feakes and Tom and Karen Crebbin. Janette McDonald was leader of our keen cheer squad. The aim for most of us was three individual races in the week plus a relay.
This is the only set of ski races I've been to where there were more mink coats in the spectator fleet than minks left in Russia. But then again, this is Seefeld we are talking about, and Seefeld is one of the most exclusive all round winter sports resort towns in Europe. There is even a hotel that has a swimming pool on the fourth floor with an underwater window facing the main street. Teenies, doing underwater 'moons' and 'pressed hams' against this window, were a feature of the evening trips to the supermarket.
This WMC2003 was serious stuff. There were tents at the Stadium, really serious tents with carpet and heaters and four thousand power points. And there were lots of people invading your personal space, speaking Cyrillic and little else. The Poms were there - on about Rugby but NOT speaking about cricket. There were Canadians who couldn't speak English. There was even a team from Greenland (skiing for Denmark). There were really old people who could hardly walk, but on skis were able to out-accelerate one of Brett Lee's fast deliveries. There were skiers from countries smaller than my suburb, there were fat skiers, skinny skiers, and bearded skiers - some of them female, and the greatest variety of boots, skis, beanies and race suits on the planet. The race stadium, start and finish area was the landing area for the Olympic Ski Jumps. By its very nature this is on the side of a hill and that of course, means a downhill to start and an uphill for the laps and finish - goody, just my favourite thing, down when you are fresh, up when you are buggered.
The Race Office was the huge Olympic Congress Centre, Olympia Hall. It boasts three outdoor ice rinks, a Kino, numerous other theatres and an indoor and outdoor pool at armpit-plus temperatures. These pools are for lying about in or around, not for swimming in. Try a stroke of freestyle and the 'Splash and Noise Police' are on to you in a flash.
Debbie and I had come directly across the Brenner Pass in a blizzard from the Marcialonga and like most of the Aussie skiers arrived the week before the races. Some had been in Seefeld for a couple of weeks training and waiting for the superb snowfalls that greeted us on our arrival. They were so superb in fact that our car remained in the apartment parking spot until we dug it out just in time to leave. Somehow, you manage to find the other Aussies amongst a couple of thousand skiers fairly easily. A half a dozen were staying at Sigi Draxl's apartments. Sigi, of Perisher Centre fame, runs the Alpine Skischule in Seefeld. This made contact easy, and Janette Hamilton had done a great team communication job before Christmas so we all had each other's accommodation details. As well as a flash race bib, the competitor's package consisted of the usual advertising, lollies and the race program. I don't think there was one item in the bag that didn't have Björn Daehlie's signature on it. If you didn't have enough 'Björn in the bag', you could purchase a WMC Beanie (BD's Signature model) for 60 bucks. Björn is after all the Honorary WMC President. The Aussies were alphabetically lucky and we could embarrass ourselves with recognition as we had scored the race numbers with all the zeros; e.g. my age group 5-my number 5000, Stan McDonald - 6000 etc, etc.
Training was not fun to start. It had rained then frozen and the downhill switchbacks and hairpins on Wildmoos hill were lethal to both bodies and equipment. Jindabyne Sports special wet base structure had nothing on the rilling job some people were doing to their skis on the gravel filled ice. Brand new skis were reduced to firewood and worse things were happening to peoples 'asses and elbows'.
In a day or so, the tiny Pistenbully groomers had come on line and the snow had really piled up. A couple of nights of nice low temperatures and the tracks were just great. Grooming was good but like many European resort areas, there are areas where skating is 'verboten'. Until the day of the official course inspection, many skiers found themselves double-poling two or three kilometres of track to get between skating allowable areas. No problem, except some of these kilometres were uphill.
The Opening Ceremony was a parade of nations through Seefeld - Aussies leading - to the ice rinks where there were speeches, flags and best of all, gluehwein and ginger cookies. It was very colourful but I'll remember to take a carpet square to stand on next time.
The Aussie Masters Seefeld 2003
The first race for everybody was the mid distance freestyle, two differing courses of 15km, one 'hard', one 'more difficult'. For the technicians, on the more difficult course, the Height Difference was 104m, the Maximum Climb 48m and the Total Climb 407m. Ladies, and under 60 men did one loop, or 15km, of 'hard', the rest two loops, or 30 km of 'more difficult". Age group mass starts were civilized, 20 or so rows across and about 4 skiers deep, a furious double pole for the first 100m then a screeching downhill. There was generally 10 minutes between age group starts. Glide wax for the skate was fairly easy with the interesting revelation that despite very dry snow, HF blue glider worked better than LF. It was not necessarily faster but more durable. Overlays did not improve the glide with the possible exception of Toko's new liquid stuff called "Helix". The only comment I will make about the skiing standard is that both Debbie, Ken and I found the uphill technique of skiers around our own ability, the bottom third of the field, was not their best point and we were all held up a little on the hills.
Next, the majority of the team was up for the short distance freestyle. 10 km for everyone. Again, 'hard' and 'more difficult' courses. Cheer squads were out and everybody reported an enjoyable race. For Debbie, Ken and I it was the 10km classical, same sort of 'hard' and 'more difficult' course arrangement. It is such a pleasure when the wax is right but it was a tough race by my reckoning. My age group took off and I could not figure out where they went. I battled it out with a couple of French and German skiers down the rear of the pack and finished feeling fairly depleted. Never wanted to see a 'bone' again, wishbone, backbone or knee bone, but particularly flying-bloody-herring-bone. Debbie and Ken had good races but were both voicing threats, like me, to take the up-hills to the judiciary after giving them a red card.
Meanwhile it was snowing. I mean it didn't stop. If the Eskimos had a name for the type of snow, it came down. From the aesthetic point of view, I preferred the 'diamond dust' but most of it was like super dry Lux Flakes. It was piling up everywhere. In the middle of it, some froot-loop was on one of the outdoor ice rinks practicing 'Torville and Dean' stuff for hours on end in cotton slacks and a t-shirt. It was the merkin and gold chains that gave him away as a Corsican.
We had planned to have two relay teams next, but bureaucratic regulations concerning mixed age groups, genders, hat sizes, closeness of the eyebrows and the number of buttons on your race suit fly resulted in us not even having one. We are assured things will be different next time. They will probably dispense with the fly button count!! These are not good rules for the smaller countries that don't pose a threat for medals but who just want to have a ski.
Each evening there was a medal presentation marathon in the Congress Centre. Our mate Björn did some of the presentations, not only of medals but also of his ODLO signature clothing range. There were other presentations by Fischer, Atomic, Toko, Power Bar etc. On a couple of the evenings, the upcoming locations for WMC, Lillehammer in 2004, Moscow 2005 and Brusson, Italy in 2006 had presentations by their organizing committees. The 2006 championships look particularly enticing; they are currently expanding the skiable trails and putting in massive linear snowmaking facilities as a hedge against global warming. These presentations were at the Seefeld Casino and included free wine and food, but only if you originated East of the Danube and didn't understand the words 'polite' and 'queue'. Having been to Lillehammer and skied the proposed trails, it will certainly be less difficult terrain than Seefeld and generally promises good snow, climate change notwithstanding.
The 'Banquet' was next. Held the evening before the rest day in the huge tennis centre, it was nations-by-table, bands, dancing, table service, as much beer as you wanted and a huge pork knuckle. I certainly enjoyed the festivities ending up as an honorary Luxembourger or German, can't quite remember which.
It was still snowing!! I skied and wax tested with the Toko technicians next day, as all the Aussies were skiing the long skate tomorrow, 20, 30, or 45 km. I had the same answer as everyone else, HF red and jetstream-new snow. WRONG, Wrong, wrong. That night, minus 20's, crystal clear, resulting in snow resembling 400 grade wet and dry sandpaper in the morning. Clear blue sky, still cold air and very cold snow. Everybody was SUCKED-IN big time. As I had decided not to ski due to recent surgery acting up, I was able to do an emergency HF blue wax job on Debbie's skis 20 minutes before race start. They were at least gliding. The wax technicians were working like navvies. Out on the course there was real trouble, skiers were walking uphills and offsetting down. Lots of DNF's and Jack Solar had broken a ski. I watched Debbie do the best race of her life and cheered the rest on with the two Janettes. Tom Crebbin had a great race as did Karen and the other Aussie finishers.
Debbie Feakes leads Olga Yakimova (Rus) & Beatrice Pourcelot-Jeanmonot (Fra) in the 30km Freestyle
The next day was the long classical but with no Aussies competing we went out to cheer on some new and old friends. Surprise, surprise, it was snowing again. Bucketing down!! Another 'suckers' wax day. Balling-up was rampant. Spectators were laying out pine branches at the tops of the rises for the skiers to de-ball or offering the top edges of their skis as a scraper. There were some pretty tired people out there. All Björned out so to speak!!
Most of us departed the next day; the trips home through a snowbound Southern Germany will remain sagas to be sung in the Nordic Shelter this season. All in all it was a top experience. Not at all daunting once the first race is over and you realize you aren't as bad as you thought you might be. Great, because there are always other skiers out on the course with you and no matter who you are you always get an encouraging cheer from the crowd. Camaraderie is ever present and Janette Hamilton does a grand job as Team Captain. You get to ski with the champions as well as the Poms, make new friends and renew old ones. Oh yeah, you could get Björn's autograph as well.
I can only recommend Lillehammer World Masters 2004 to any skier who likes a good ski and doesn't mind a bit of a workout. This one should be good, after all it is Björn's back yard. You can mix and match techniques or stick to freestyle; do four races, and still get a balanced race program for the week. Never mind your standard - everybody I have spoken to improves at least a little and emerges from the experience a better racer. Don't think this is only for the Ancients and Tribal Elders. What's needed for Lillehammer is more of the 30 to 50 year olds. If you can live with the enchantment of buying a $60 beanie, come along, have a go, enjoy the show, live the World Masters!! Heja!! Heja!! Hup! Hup!! Hup!!
- Warren Feakes
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