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Europe 2004/2005

Warped Perspective 3 - Return to Europe, Again
- Andrew Mock

The Mix Master Mock In Action

Installment #2 - January 31

[Please note that some of the descriptions below are crafted by Andrew Mock mainly for humourous purposes, and do not represent the views of the Australian Cross Country Ski Team]

With the dust settled and Circa's bail conditions sorted, now seems like an appropriate time to report on the events of the 2005 World Winter University Games (WUWG). The Tyrolian towns of Innsbruck/Seefeld were the hosts for this biennial celebration of winter sports and youthful promiscuity. This year's Australian XC representatives at the WUWG were Esther Bottomley, KT Calder, Nick Grimmer, Andrew Circosta and Andrew Mock. Paul Circosta, Andrew's significantly better looking younger brother, was appointed as wax technician/man-about-town while Finn Marsland's job description was limited to the former of these duties. The majority of the team arrived in Seefeld on the 11th of Jan from Livigno/Tarvisio while Grimmer and the Circostas and arrived a day earlier from the US of A. It was soon apparent to all present that Seefeld was a seriously good choice of venue for the WUWG alpine and XC ski events. To start with, the town is prettier than P.Circosta and a lot more sophisticated. It's kinda like Mt. Beauty, but with a truck-load more hotels and an absence of widespread haemophilia.

Team Australia was bunked down in the Ferien-Hotel Kaltschmid - a spunky 4-star joint with more saunas than most of the Slovakian team have teeth. These saunas had quite a shock in store for the male team members later in the week. Blissfully unaware that 'Damen-Uhr' translates to 'Ladies-hour', a number of unnamed team members wandered naively into the sauna room to be confronted by an unimaginably horrible sight. Think Amanda Vanstone wearing nothing but a cheeky grin and you're almost half-way there.

Unlike the 2003 WUWG in Tarvisio (Italy) where you had to drive 100km just to have a shower, the Seefeld WUWG were refreshingly centralised. Not only were the race tracks located a mere 10 mins walk from our hotel, the organisers also had the forethought to place us within crawling distance of three bars, two discos and a bratwurst van. Why Australia has still not embraced the 1/2m bratwurst, I will never understand.

The opening ceremony was held at the Olympic Stadium in Innsbruck. The Australian contingent were easily the shabbiest looking outfit in attendance, thanks mainly to the fine work that Frankfurt airport did in losing all of our uniforms. Dressed to kill, we were marshalled at the entrance of the stadium in readiness for the march of nations.

Possibly appalled by our dishevelled appearance, we were then denied entrance to the stadium for the next hour while a minor local celebrity wearing a mini-skirt proceeded to say stuff we didn't understand. Thankfully, team management had accounted for such an eventuality by smuggling in a number of bottles of elicit €4 schnapps. It turns out that it's probably worth spending more than €4 on schnapps. Eventually security stepped aside and we found ourselves marching through the stadium surrounded by thousands of screaming school kids as DJ Dorfmeister did his finest work on the decks. I've always marvelled at the way people seem to lose all dignity and self-respect when surrounded by screaming crowds and TV cameras. After witnessing my over-exuberant display of dancing/waving on the live television coverage of the opening ceremony from his apartment in Dobbiaco, Tim Retchford assures me that I have very little in the way of dignity or self-respect left. Regardless, a seriously good time was had by all - especially the Circosta boys who spent most of the evening harassing any Belarussian unwise enough to stray too close to our camp. The less said about the post-ceremony food hall riot (and Australia's involvement in it), the better.

The first event on the XC program was a 1km freestyle sprint on the night of Jan 14th. The course was relatively quick with only one significant hill - definitely one for the speedsters. Luckily for Team Australia, we had that speedster in Esther B. Esther flew around the course finishing a heartbreaking 17th - missing the finals by 0.02secs! KT also skied well, coming in a couple of seconds further back. The Aussie men produced a slightly more underwhelming performance, finishing far too close to the Turkish team for comfort. This underperformance can probably be attributed to Mock and Grimmer's obsessive preoccupation with crushing each other like bugs. Or maybe the fact that neither of them are particularly fast…

Event number two on the program was the 5/10km freestyle. With Esther on the way to the Czech Republic for a World Cup sprint race, our women's team was reduced to just KT Calder. Luckily, KT was more than up to the job - having an impressive race and finishing well up in the field (see Finn's official report for detailed results). The boys - Mock, Circosta and Grimmer - turned in a better performance than in the sprint race, gaining some good FIS points and a small measure of redemption. In a major shock for all present (please note sarcasm), Eastern-European skiers occupied most of the top-30 placings. How Eastern-Europe can produce such crap cars and yet, such good skiers, I'll never know. I'm not even going to mention architecture or fashion…

A five day break between the 5/10km and the final event (the 15/30km classic) allowed plenty of time for the Circostas to cause trouble. One of my personal highlights from that period was witnessing Paul C. get stood up at the base of the K90 by a shit-scared Finnish ski jumping coach who had, in a moment of drunken weakness the night before, offered to let Paul 'have a go'. It later turned out that none of his athletes had been willing to lend Paul their skis. I subsequently have renewed respect for the intellect of the average Finnish ski jumper. Another perverse highlight from the week was watching a clearly intellectually challenged young man attempt to set a world record for the longest duration endured by a human while packed in ice in a Perspex box. The funniest aspect of this young man's record attempt was not his eventual success, but his assistant's inability to remove him from the Perspex box at the end of the sorry spectacle. Don't try that one at home, kids…

People tend to use the term 'diplomatic incident' very loosely these days. True diplomatic incidents are really quite difficult to manufacture. I never believed that I'd actually find myself in the middle of one before WUWG was over. That such an incident would also involve Circa was not quite as hard to believe. Some advice: when you receive visitors to your wax cabin, resist the urge to greet them 'creatively'.

The 15/30km classic mass-start was a dog of a race. Not a nice Labrador or well-groomed Spaniel, but a snarling, rabid, three-legged mutt of a race. Esther, KT and Nick had the foresight to leave before this unfortunate event, Circa and myself did not. We did, however, have the foresight to pull out before the 10km mark. The less said about the details of the race, the better. If asked to describe the race using no more than six words, I would probably choose 'heavy rain', 'fresh snow' and 'mystery virus'. If asked to describe the race in one word, I would probably choose 'shit'.

In summary, with the exception of the last event, WUWG 2005 gets three thumbs up. Seefeld was a great location, Australian team management did a top job, the officials and participants were unfailingly friendly (I'll refrain from a description of exactly how friendly) and the Bratwurst was top-shelf. Torino is the host of WUWG 2007, If only I was still at uni. WAIT! I've just had idea - don't tell my folks, but I think I've just worked out what degree I'm going to do next…

The Australian athletes at the 2005 WUWG in Seefeld, Austria

Installment #1 - January 6

See below for the transcript of a conversation that you'd prefer not to be part of on arrival in Europe:

Pissed-off traveller: 'Hi - you may remember me - you lost all my skis yesterday'
Lost Baggage Desk: 'Oh yes. How can I assist?'
Pissed-off traveller: 'You told me that you would deliver my skis to Zernez by 9am. It's now 10am and I can't help noticing that my skis aren't here'
Lost Baggage Desk: 'Let me just check…sir…I'm afraid I've got some bad news…we've made a mistake - your skis aren't going to Zernez…
Pissed-off traveller: 'Where exactly are my skis going?'
Lost Baggage Desk: 'A long way away…'

I'm no beginner when it comes to railing against the airline industry - in fact, I vaguely recall devoting the best part of 1000 words to the defamation of these merchants of misery the last time Finn Marsland unwisely invited me to contribute to the XC website. The crusade continues. It's the false advertising that galls me the most. 'Zurich return: $2500' - shouldn't that be '30hrs of sleep deprivation, C-grade movies and Malaysian pop-music: $2500. Upgrade to DVT and loss of baggage for no extra charge'?. The ACCC are going to be hearing from my lawyers promptly.

I digress (a bad habit of mine). That's right folks - after spending last summer working on my melanomas, I've returned to Europe in an attempt to take underachievement to the next level. Not satisfied with my crowning 300 FIS-point achievement of season 2003/04, I'm back and aiming at the big 500. In a stroke of luck, FIS have been kind enough to change the points-equation in an effort to turn my dream into reality.

Livigno, Italy is destination numero uno (I'm already down with the local lingo…) for campaign '04/05. Having come straight to Europe from a block of training in Adelaide - don't ask - I can safely say that shocks don't come much bigger than the one my body is currently experiencing. Obvious time-zone discrepancies aside, the 60 C and 2000m differences I have experienced in temperature and altitude respectively, have conspired to leave me in perpetually crumpled heap for much of the past week. After attempting an interval session on my third morning in Livigno, my desperate wheezes were detected by seismologists stationed in the Pacific Ocean. Luckily, due to its tax free status (a product of Livigno's historical inaccessibility by mule) booze and cigarettes are appallingly cheap here. Nothing soothes a tender set of lungs like a couple of menthol ciggies before bedtime. Lest you become alarmed, rest assured that I only ever smoke 'light' cigarettes while I'm training.

Having flown into Zurich before catching a train from Switzerland into Italy, I had the privilege of observing the cultural differences between these two countries first hand. I generally endeavour to avoid the use of threadbare clichés - unfortunately, I can't resist on this occasion. Switzerland is a clean, law-abiding and well-oiled machine. Italy is a debacle. Upon arrival in Livigno I was greeted by the sight (and sound) of a cavalcade of

sorry looking vehicles crawling down the main street, each one containing no less than nine horn-honking, national-flag waving adolescent Italian males - evidently celebrating the arrival of their first moustaches. Traffic police looked on approvingly. The town of Livigno appears to be the product of a society that places more importance on creativity than town-planning. From what I have observed, it contains 79 tobacco shops, 34 Gelato bars and no schools. The skiing in Livigno is reasonably extensive, if a little unspectacular. For the last week we have been sharing the trails with multiple World-Cup winner Andreus Veerpalu and a host of local XC enthusiasts. Veerpalu resembles a lumberjack with exceptional classical technique. The local XC enthusiasts resemble refugees from a 1982 Warren Miller film. Never before have so many fluorescent, one-piece satin ski suits (with belts) been sighted in one place. What truly frightens me however, is that a number of shops in Livigno are still selling these crimes against ski attire.

In an attempt to gain some relief from these eye-watering outfits, a number of day-trips have been undertaken from our base in Livigno.

Val di Dentro, site of the 2003 OPA U23 Champs, was the destination for the first of these trips. My 2003 memories of Val di Dentro were so traumatic that with the help of my therapist, I had almost totally suppressed them. If Baghdad had reliable snow, it would definitely have been further up my list of dream ski destinations. Turns out that Val di Dentro is quite a nice place. I guess living for a week in the roof cavity of a smoky hotel while fighting off the Ebola virus may have adversely coloured my impressions of the place. The ski trails at Val di Dentro are everything that Livigno's are not - tight, sketchy and about 600m closer to sea-level. Although some good interval sessions were completed at Val di Dentro, it was the anchovy pizza purchased at the local snackeria that really established Val di Dentro as a top-shelf training venue. The other distinguishing feature of Val di Dentro is its proximity to a host of nearby attractions. Among the sites visited during breaks between training sessions were some amazing roman fortifications, natural hot-springs, underground grottos and the nearby town of Bormio - host of the 2005 World Alpine Ski Champs. Bormio is the kind of place that renews your faith in Italian towns. Ancient, picturesque, friendly and with character in spades, it also boasts more coffee-bars per square metre than Lygon St.

The town of Pontresina (Switzerland) was the destination of another poorly planned and crudely executed day-trip from Livigno. After a nervous wait at the Italian/Swiss border where the customs officers fortunately neglected to run a background check on our driver, Tim Retchford, we were greeted in Pontresina by bright sunshine and drastically improved ski apparel. Tim and myself immediately departed on the 20km round trip to the striking Roseg glacier while KT set about cutting laps down in the town and generally intimidating the locals. The glacier expedition was progressing smoothly until, in the space of five disastrous minutes, both the grooming and our chocolate supplies ran out. Forced to trek through knee-deep snow while listening to Tim's tedious and bawdy anecdotes, I started to fear for both my physical and mental health. Fortunately, just as my life spirit was draining away I discovered a half-eaten muesli bar and some ear-plugs in my back-pocket. Upon arriving back in town, our car was immediately commandeered by Tim who, in the midst of some of the worst caffeine withdrawal I've ever witnessed, could no longer talk coherently, let alone operate a vehicle safely. Thankfully, Tim's coffee compass was sound and ten minutes later we were sitting down to cappuccinos bigger than our heads. We returned to Livigno via the Bernina pass. Although this route-choice added a number of hours onto our journey home, the scenery encountered made this trade-off more than worthwhile - truly one of the world's more spectacular drives.

We come now to the present. As of this morning (Jan 6), 50% of the team appear to have contracted some kind of horrible tropical disease. Ben Derrick has not emerged from his room for over 24hrs and Darlo is hard at work coughing up a lung. Where this leaves the races scheduled this weekend in Tarvisio, Italy (site of the 2003 World University Games) - who knows? Pray for us.


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