Back to 2008/2009 Team Reports
International Program 2008/2009

A Warped Perspective 8 - Fear and Loathing on the Ski Trail: Confessions of a Wombat

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII

Following repeated death-threats from various minority groups, I have been forced to
conceal my identity. Do not try and track me down - I am a master of disguise.

Fear and Loathing on the Ski Trail - Part VII - Flogging a Dead Horse

I realise that it's been a while between reports. I put the delay down to a number of factors. High on the list would be the piercing migraines that I have started developing whenever people start discussing ski racing in my presence. These migraines can last for days should anyone even mention the F-word (FIS points). Please don't misinterpret what I'm saying - I'm still loving skiing. I'm even ok with the racing thing. I just don't want to talk about it at the breakfast table. Early surrealist sculpture, regional Turkish politics, string theory - all are topics that I would rather discuss than ski racing. Does this aversion make me unsuited to a career in skiing? Maybe. But to be frank, I think my meagre VO2 max and puny triceps may be more influential. But you don't care about that - you're just reading this in the hope of some cheap laughs or salacious gossip. So here you go.

So our training block in Seefeld finished up with probably the worst race of the season. Sorry, I meant definitely. The Koasalauf, an Austrian loppet race held somewhere near Kitzbuhl, was meant to be fun. It wasn't. The only good thing I can say about the race is that we were intelligent enough to sign up for the shorter classic race (20km). Things started bad and got worse. Sketchy would be an apt description of both the course and my classic form. We will not speak of the Koasalauf again.

From Seefeld the team split up - again. Half of the team headed to Zweisel, Germany for a pair of Continental Cup races, while I headed to Val di Dentro (Italy) with Finn, Aimee, Esther, Paul and Simbo for the final pre-Liberec World Cup races. My history with Val di Dentro goes back a long way and is patchy to say the least. My first experience was horrible. The year was 2003 and the event was the OPA U23 World Cup/Champs (the inaugural event). Unfortunately, I managed to pick up a particularly virulent strain of the Ebola virus upon my arrival and spent the best part of the week slowly dying in the roof cavity of a cramped apartment. I think I raced one event. Very badly. It was my birthday too. I swore that I'd never return, and that if I did, it would be with a jerry-can of petrol and a box of matches. But two years later, I did go back. And it was very different. They had snow for a start. And the skiing was quite lovely, as was the coffee and gelato. To be fair - I was staying in Livigno at the time (kind of like Chadstone, but much colder, and full of Italians), so the comparison probably flattered Val di Dentro somewhat. The bottom line is that I was in two minds about the place when we finally pulled up in the team van after a finicky 5-hr drive from Seefeld - but I shouldn't have been. Turns out the place really is very nice. We were staying just down the road in the town of Bormio - former host of the Alpine Skiing World Champs, and a positively charming northern Italian town/city. Think good coffee, endless cobble-stones and streets so narrow that Tobias Frederickson would have to walk sideways. Did I mention the coffee? Hallelujah and praise the lord.

The first event was a bloody long/tough freestyle sprint held on the Friday. Paul, Esther and myself gave it a shot. Simbo and Aimee opted not to, and perhaps we should have followed their lead. Basically, we all got spanked. Not really sure what went, actually I do know what went wrong. We skied too slow. Sorry Finn.

The following day was a 10/15km classic. Unfortunately Aimee was unable to start due to a sore tail-bone - courtesy of a nasty fall earlier in the week. Very frustrating after travelling so far. Simbo and myself put our hands up for the 15km classic, held on a tough course with very little rest and countless undulations. Waxing was tricky, with Simbo opting for klister while I went with stick wax. I'm not sure who made the right decision. Simbo was moderately disappointed with his race while I was reasonably pleased. I skied under 15% to the winner, yet still managed to sign the list in what was my first distance World Cup start. Sorry Finn...again. It's tough out there. We then packed up the cabin, changed our underpants (or at least I the front seat of the van, much to the horror of oncoming traffic) and headed for Zweisel.

We didn't make it to Zweisel that night, but by 10am the next day we arrived at the race course just in time to see Callum and Esther racing the quarterfinals of the OPA cup freestyle sprint held there. While they didn't make it though to the semis, they still walked away with some good FIS points and a damn good würstl mit brot (actually, that was me). We arrived in Liberec, CZE (pronounced Liberets) that evening - tired and grumpy (actually, that was me).

Host of the 2009 FIS Nordic World Champs, Liberec was to be our home for the next two weeks. And what a cloudy, grey home it would be. Liberec's claim to fame is the manufacture of automotive components for the nearby Skoda factory. Are you getting a picture? That's a little bit harsh, to be fair. The nearby Jizerska mountains are really quite lovely - or would be if you could see them through the cloud. Regrettably, they didn't hold the races on the established Jizerska ski trails. They held them in a paddock beside the freeway on the outskirts of town. While they were in reasonably good nick, the race tracks were about as exciting as a Young Liberal's fondue party. While there were no endless, ball-busting climbs a la Oberstdorf, there were certainly enough hills to test even the fittest of skiers and precious little rest. Watchbed Creek track it was not. Conditions over the first week were exactly the opposite of what our service team could have hoped for - alternating either side of 0?C, snowing and with more glazing than your average fruit cake. Fortunately, we had assembled the best service team that Australia has ever known. Head wax tech, as always, was Finn 'Finicky' Marsland. You don't want to scrape your skis the wrong way in front of this man - he knows what he likes, and he doesn't like the way you're holding that scaper. Wax man #2 was Robert 'Chuckles' Bergmann of Sweden. This man makes most Rastafarians I know look uptight. He knows his stuff too - having worked for Ski-Go (a Swedish wax-brand, for those not familiar) and as Daniel Tynell's (multiple Vasaloppet winner) personal wax-man. Please come back next year Robert. Wax man #3 was Jeff Ellis of Canada, husband of Kikaan Randall (top American female sprinter and winner of the sprint silver medal in Liberec) and a damn fine skier himself. In fact - Jeff should have been on our ski team, not our waxing team. Not to worry - we'll get the papers sorted out next year. Jeff just also happened to be a talented and tireless waxer/tester and in possession of a sense of humour that just doesn't exist in middle-Europe. The good news is that Jeff will be a semi-permanent fixture with the team for the remainder of the 2009 season - and hopefully, next year too. Wax man #4 was Robert Fischer, a familiar face to many Aussie skiers, and easily the least law-abiding member of our waxing team. Which is all the more amazing, considering that he's a member of the German Polizei. I don't know about other members of the team, but I certainly felt a lot safer with Robert's service revolver hanging up in our waxing cabin. Finally, our wax team was rounded out by Cameron Dickenson. This guy is 5ft 4in of pure waxing machine. He's scraped more pairs of skis than most Russians have had cold dinners. He's also a graduate of the Finn Marsland school of waxing hard knocks (you get a hard knock every time you scrape a pair of skis the wrong way) - and was, as usual, invaluable to our waxing effort at the Champs. Although not a member of the service team as such (he's got more brains than that), Team Manager Brian Keeble was back for his umpteenth World Champs providing the vital logistical and race-day assistance that he's become famed for.

'What have I told you about coming in here Mocky?!'

And if you thought our service team was big - you should have seen the size of our ski team! In probably a first for any Australian ski team, we were accommodated in two wax cabins, and even then we were bursting at the seams. No less than nine Australian men and two women were competing in Liberec, smashing the previous record from Falun in the early 90's. You can imagine how excited the service team were when we entered the full quota of four men in every possible event, including the dreaded 50km. Thanks guys - we owe you quite a number of beers.

Personally, I competed in five events in Liberec; 10km classic qualification race, 15km classic race, freestyle sprint, 4x10km relay and 50km freestyle. Apart from the 15km (which was more traumatic than my childhood in Myrtleford), all of the other events went pretty well. Don't be mistaken - the 50km was one of the hardest and most painful endeavours that I have ever undertaken, but I was as happy with the end result as it is possible to be when you are seeing double and can no longer feel your limbs.

So, who's up for another 50km?

The 4x10km (I did the 3rd, and as it turned out, final leg) was probably the highlight - both for the historical significance (first Australian relay team since Falun) and the ear-drum shattering crowd. While it was a shame that we didn't make it to the finish, the 3.3km laps made that an almost impossible task. Sorry Vandy. The sprint was probably one of my better attempts at that distance for the season and the 10km qualification race was solid, although narrowly missing my first (and probably only chance) to be part of a World Champs flower ceremony was a bummer. The 15km classic was, unfortunately, one of those races that you have every now-and-again in skiing (and, in particular, classic skiing) and although it was disappointing for it to happen at such a big event, I have consoled myself with the knowledge that I did everything I could in the circumstances and fought it out all the way to the finish. I've put a tick in the box next to 'character-building experience'.

I might have been having a bad race, but I was buggered if I was going to let Lukas Bauer past.

The team overall acquitted themselves very well. In particular, Simbo put in some very impressive performances in the 15km and the Pursuit. The 50km also saw some courageous skiing, with Darlo, Callum Watson (in his first race over 30km!) and Mark Raymond skiing themselves into the ground. Raymond, in particular, pushed deep into hurt territory...and then a little bit further. A few of us were a bit worried about whether he was going to pull through for a while, but following some quality post-race care from Keebs, I'm pleased to say that Mark regained consciousness and his heart started beating again.

Although Raymes did recover, I'm still not convinced that ski racing is good for your health

And then on the last night we all got very drunk. The end.

And with that - I farewell ski racing for the season (which is lucky, because I couldn't make it up a wheelchair ramp right now) and head to Kashmir for a post-season adventure before finally returning home in late March.

So there it is - my longest ever European campaign - and a good one it's been too. Highlights have been numerous and the lowlights never had me reaching for the scissors (ok...only a couple of times). A huge thanks to Finn - coach, waxer, travel agent, translator, driver, manager, PR rep and occasional rabble-rouser. Seriously - when he steps aside (which we will never, ever allow him to do), we're going to have to replace him with a team of people. Many thanks also to Brian Keeble for his tireless work in support of the team. I value Keebs highly as a manager, but even more as a wine drinking companion and fountain of knowledge on all things historical. I do wish he'd stop buying such cheap red, though. To the service team - thanks for some great skis guys - and some good chuckles. I hope you'll all be back next time, wherever that is. And finally, to the rest of the team - thanks for putting up with me for so long. You only need to take a look around at other endurance sports (cycling, anyone?) to realise we've got a pretty amazing bunch of people in the sport at the moment. It really is a pleasure to be a skier right now. Except when it rains - but that's where Keebs and his $3 bottle of Merlot fits in...

Till next time.

Mocky. March 2009.

Why does it always end this way?


In case anyone cares, I did grow a moustache. Disappointingly, Wyndy succumbed to spousal pressure long before we made it to the Czech Republic. Against my better judgement, I keep going till the bitter end. Does that make me a winner, or a loser?

I call it Edwin. Most other people call it a disgrace to my country

Fear and Loathing on the Ski Trail - Part VI - Tschüs Switzerland

I guess I feel the same way about Seefeld as I do about Portsea. Lovely place, but chock full of the kind of people that would have more to offer society if they were packed inside tins labelled 'Chum'. Nothing sets me off quite like the sight of a sour-faced German woman dressed head-to-toe in fur. If you've ever wondered what happened to Middle-Europe's native mammals, I think Seefeld may offer a clue. And then there's the hundreds of Nordic walkers. Now, I don't have anything against this curious sport, long as it doesn't take place where I can see it. Ok, I lie. I think it is a monumentally stupid activity rivalled only by quilting and rugby league for sheer pointlessness. For those of you not familiar with the concept, Nordic walking involves dressing up in brightly coloured polyester garments and very slowly picking your way along narrow, icy walking trails while occasionally planting ski poles between your legs or on your walking companion's foot. Think of it as power-walking gone senile. Most Norwegians, contrary to what the name might suggest, seem to view it as insanely pointless. Elderly Germans apparently love it. But then, these are probably the same elderly Germans who thought that invading Russia was a swell idea. But I fear that you may be getting the wrong impression about Seefeld. It is, without exaggeration, close to the best cross-country skiing destination in the world. Its trail network is immense, varied and amazingly picturesque. There are schnapps bars sprinkled liberally around the trails. The snow is reliable and the grooming superb. Needless to say, training in Seefeld is a pleasure, not a chore. Just don't ski backwards on the trails...

You'd be smiling too, if you'd just mowed down a group of Nordic walkers

We spent our first couple of days in Seefeld simply appreciating that we were no longer in Trun. I bear no ill will towards Trun - indeed it would make a lovely repository for the world's nuclear waste - I just don't ever want to go back there. As we were scheduled to be based in Seefeld for two-and-a-half weeks, the completion of a solid block of training was high on most people's agenda. I was also keen to kiss Switzerland's lousy beer goodbye (I have drunk out of puddles that taste better than Feldschlossen) and take full advantage of Austria's gloriously low alcohol excise. We had managed to slim down the team somewhat for our stay in Seefeld, with the younger team members packed into a van and shipped off to France for the World Junior/U23 Championships. Poor kids - I didn't have the heart to tell them the truth about French hospitality. Even with the youngsters gone, we were still left with a more than respectable party of nine, ten if you count my blue thermal top, which by this stage of the trip had assumed a life all of its own. I finally knew things had gone too far when I got up to go to the toilet one night and caught it standing by the fridge drinking milk straight out of the carton. The other great thing about Seefeld is its proximity to Innsbruck and a host of surrounding attractions. Indeed, as soon as our first rest day arrived, we packed the car and headed to the nearby Rangger Kopfl rodelbahn for 1000 vertical metres of full-contact sledding. Turns out that I may have got a bit carried away. To be fair though, while I may have partially contributed to Grimmer's foray off the side of the mountain, I refuse to accept that I was solely to blame.

10 minutes later, I wiped that grin squarely off Grimmer's face. He never even saw it coming

Our first weekend in Seefeld coincided with the German Worldloppet event - the Konig Ludwig Lauf held in Oberammergau (oddly, this race is named in honour of a mentally ill, closet homosexual former member of the German royalty famed for his appalling taste in furnishings). The 23km/50km skate event was held on the Saturday and there were enough Aussie entrants to populate a small hamlet. Darlo, VDP, Linky and myself made the questionable decision to step up to the 50km distance while Wyndy, Esther, Felice and Simbo settled for the more sensible 23km option. Both distances started at the same time and the race went out at an uncomfortably fast pace. This probably had a lot to do with Simbo getting on the front of the pack and smashing it like it was a 23km race. Which, for him, it was. Unfortunately for Darlo, VDP, Linky and myself, when Simbo and his short-course buddies turned for home, we still had another 30-odd km's to race. Needless to say, I didn't enjoy the second 25km lap very much, on account of spending most of it dangling 20m off the back of the lead pack wondering when my heart was going to explode. I somehow made it to the finish without hitting the wall of pain - thanks mainly to some invaluable feeds on the second lap courtesy of Nick Grimmer Esquire. Darlo and Linky both had a good hit-out as well, but VDP was not so fortunate. An ill-timed broken pole saw him relegated to somewhere around 7,000th place at the 500m mark - the rest of his race was subsequently spent passing a procession of elderly competitors in woollen pants. Meanwhile the 23km crew had a good day out - with Esther and Simbo placing 2nd and 4th respectively. After heading back to Seefeld for a shower and a quick nap, Grimmer, VDP and myself were back in Oberammergau by 7pm for the KLL invitational night sprint. Having somehow talked our way onto the star-studded start list, we were understandably pumped for some fast and furious racing on the circular 500m course. Distressingly, my race was over in the space of 4secs, courtesy of a nasty tangle with German/South African skier, Oli Krauss. Although I was certifiably pissed off to find myself lying face down in the snow a mere 30m from the start line, the sight of Oli's broken pole lying next to me did ease my disappointment somewhat. Grimmer and VDP both atoned for my poor showing, skiing strongly to earn themselves a place in the semi-final, where they narrowly missed out on advancing to the four-man final. Somewhat predictably, my disappointment was further eased on the way home by 15g of sodium, 30g of saturated fat and whatever else they put in a double quarter-pounder with cheese.

Grimmer was the only team member crazy enough to take on the 50km classic the following day. I think he went ok, but I'm not really sure because I spent the morning at home in Seefeld sitting on the couch in my Y-fronts drinking coffee and reading the Economist online...ok, I was actually on YouTube looking up clips of dogs that look like people. That night, to celebrate a successful weekend of racing, we all went to the pizzeria for a boozy night out - but then we remembered we were cross-country skiers, so we all ordered tap water to drink and went home to bed at 8:30pm. We're always so naughty when the coach goes away.

[Insert Sun deck_1.jpg]

Typically, athletes require very little provocation to remove their clothes

The only other news worthy of reporting is that Wyndy and I have embarked on a project to grow moustaches. Mine is called 'Edwin'. I have so far resisted giving Wyndy's a name, as I fear such an action would lend it a degree of respectability that it does not deserve. People's differing reactions to our respective facial growths is highly illustrative. For example, when Wyndy walks down the street, it is not unusual to see mothers desperately grab their young children and shield their sensitive eyes. Normally laidback policemen suddenly become tense and place their hands nervously upon their holsters. In contrast, Finn burst into uncontrollable laughter and refused to believe me when I informed him that I had been growing a moustache for the last two weeks. I appear to be paying a heavy price for my lack of Mediterranean heritage...

And that's a wrap folks. It's currently puking snow in Seefeld and the coffee pot has just boiled. Guess who's not going skiing this morning...

Fear and Loathing on the Ski Trail - Part V

Anyone remember Rambo V? I didn't think so. I think it was the one where Rambo worked in a takeaway chicken restaurant while undertaking a night-school diploma in dental hygiene...but I could be getting mixed up. My point being, that by this stage of the movie franchise, the scriptwriters had run out of steam somewhat. And that's kind of how I feel. I've now been in Europe for close to two months and I am beginning to lose my frame of reference for what is normal. My definition of 'productive day' has changed materially. Cramming a ski, breakfast and a hair shampoo into a day has now become the benchmark for highly efficient time usage. I am increasingly having to jettison frivolous activities such as grooming, stretching and training from my jam-packed days. If things get any more hectic, I am going to have to start going to bed with my ski boots on.

But I digress... I'm sure that you are dying to hear how Darlo, VDP and myself got on at the Dolomitenlauf, so I'll cut the philosophising and concentrate on the facts (or at least my dubious version of them). We spent most of the week following the Pustertaler in Dobbiaco - mainly lying around and complaining about how old we felt. By Friday we finally summoned up the energy to pack up our sad little gypsy caravan and make the short trek across South-Tirol to Lienz, Austria, arriving shortly after lunch. We were all very excited about the Dolomitensprint to be held that night. Unfortunately, the event organisers didn't share our excitement regarding our participation and informed us upon our arrival that we were no longer required for the event. While they stopped short of punching us in the face, they left us in little doubt as to their true feelings concerning our skiing abilities. We took the snub as best could be expected. In other words, we went straight to the McDonald's drive through and drowned our hurt in partially-hydrogenated non-dairy gum-based desserts. Then we cried ourselves to sleep.

A large crowd had gathered at the Dolomitensprint in Lienz hoping to witness elite cross-country skiers seriously injure themselves

Mark had chosen to participate in the 20km classic event the following day in Obertilliach. The organisers were again kind, placing Mark towards the back of the start-grid, somewhere near the portaloos. By the time he worked his way through the riff-raff, the leaders had already left town and Mark was in a futile battle for the final podium place. Which he narrowly lost. On the bright side, the food tent at the finish put on a particularly impressive spread, with the wurstl goulash being, in my opinion, the pick of the options.

The main event, a 60km freestyle, was held the following day. This was the designated World-Loppet race and had attracted a hot field including the likes of Hoffman, Arhlin, Rezac, Cattaneo, Hasler and Tynell. Thankfully the race-course was predominantly flat and the first 20km proceeded at a brisk but manageable pace. The downside of this was that by this point the leading pack was still 40-strong and getting mighty antsy. At the 30km mark I discovered why. Suddenly the track turned upwards and the race got a little bit crazy. It didn't help matters that the organisers had placed five intermediate sprints around the course and that the third one was located at the top of the aforementioned hill. So all hell broke loose, the field strung out into one long, thin, pain-filled line and for a few brief minutes I wished I was dead. And then the course turned downwards and the chase began. There are few things more heart-breaking in ski racing than being able to see the lead pack 100m ahead and being woefully unable to bridge such a pitiful gap. And that's how I was certain things would remain until the pace slowed momentarily and I was able to bridge across together with a pair of Swiss skiers and Vasaloppet legend Daniel Tynell (at 90-odd kg, I'm not sure he particularly enjoys skating up steep hills). And for a while, life was looking up. All I had to do was hang onto the pack for the flat 25km run to the finish and sprint it out for the win - and that's exactly how things went until the 50km mark. I then spent the next 5km yo-yoing agonisingly on and off the back of the pack, waiting for the final surge to come. At 55km the surge surely did come, and it was almost a relief to let go - my legs at this stage being nigh-on paralysed and my glycogen supplies completely exhausted. The final 5km passed in a bit of a blur - a painful blur. When I finally did arrive at the finish straight, I cried tears of joy - or at least I would have, if I wasn't already far too dehydrated. Darlo crossed the line shortly after - upset that he'd been forced to ski the last 30km with a guy sporting the dirtiest moustache this side of Krakow. The win went to a Finn, followed by Hoffman of Austria and Freimuth of Germany. They may have won this battle, but at least we won The War.

With the race over there was just the small matter of a five hour drive to Trun, Switzerland - an ideal way to wind down after a gruelling marathon. By the time we pulled the Renault into our Trun apartment I felt about supple as Nicole Kidman's face. We were in Trun for the annual ritual of Swiss National Champs - a fixture on the Australian team's calendar for many a season. The team had outdone themselves this year, assembling one of the largest Aussie contingents ever seen at a Swiss ski race. No less than 15 Australian athletes had assembled for the week's racing, spread over three apartments and two towns. Ably assisting was Finn and Keebs, both just arrived in Europe from the Canadian World Cup races along with Simbo, Esther and Aimee.

The first race of the week was scheduled for Wednesday (a classic sprint), giving us a whopping two days to freshen up from our Dolomitenlauf misadventure. In the end, it was a hurdle too far for Darlo and myself, but Mark managed to pull a large can of patented Van der Ploeg go-fast juice out of his satchel and spanked his way into 6th place in the time-trial - good enough to scare a good many Swiss and grab himself a spot in the upcoming World Champs team. The following day was a 10/15km skate on a predictably nasty course; lots of up, lots of down and no detectable flat. I won't go into details (after all, that's what Finn's reports are for), but let's just say that Remo Fischer gave us all a free skate lesson. Former Aussie, KT Calder, smoked the women's race, missing the win by a matter of seconds.

After a much needed day off (mostly spent on the couch in my underpants, sucking mayonnaise straight out of the tube), and against our better judgement, Mark, Grimmer, Linky and myself jumped in the car and drove two hours to Rothenthurm for a rumoured night sprint. Seconds after stepping out of the car in downtown Rothenthurm, something felt wrong. Maybe it was the lack of spectators, or maybe it was the lack of race organisers...whatever it was, we felt deeply underwhelmed. In the end, the organisers managed to pull 3 locals out of the pub (all looking mighty pissed-off) to race against the four of us and Pascal Grab on a 1km unmarked and unlit course through an adjacent field. From what I could make out through the darkness, there were 5 spectators - 4 if you don't count their dog. I can safely say that as far as big time skiing is concerned, this was not it. In the end I picked up 20 Swiss francs for my trouble, but only after waiting around in the local school hall till 10pm for the by-now drunk race organisers to kick the Neil Young tribute band off the microphone and conduct the prize-giving. The prize money actually appeared to be an after-thought, handed to us by the barman out of the cash box as we were on our way out the door. Which was only fair, as I had already spent 17 francs on bratwursts while I waited...

As a general rule, it is unwise to allow athletes to warm up in children's play areas

After getting back to Trun around midnight, we were understandably excited to be racing the Swiss Champs relay the next morning. Put simply, I felt like a cross between Michael Jackson's face and a salami sandwich left out in the sun. The only thing that got me out there in the end was the knowledge that Coach Finn was doing the relay, leading me to the conclusion that as a designated athlete it would be inexcusably pathetic if I failed to show. In the end, Simbo put in a cracking lead-out leg before tagging off to Grimmer, who also skied strongly. My anchor leg was unpleasant in the extreme, but I must have done something right as we found ourselves in a battle for the podium. Which I narrowly lost. But somehow I didn't care too much - because it was over. And an easy week in Seefeld beckoned. And that's where I sign off - freshly arrived in Austria and looking like a stray dog with mange. I can feel some beer and Pringles coming on...

- Andrew Mock

Fear and Loathing on the Ski Trail - Part IV

I pick up the Wombat Chronicle on New Years Eve. We had much to celebrate - Linky Fackerell and Georgia Merritt had just arrived from Oz, Mark and Nick had recently returned from a successful weekend of racing in Campra, Finn was finally recovering from the unpleasant effects of a bad pork fondue and I was the proud new owner of a packet of 'Hot 'n' Spicy' Pringles and a cheap bottle of Bulgarian wiper-fluid. How could things turn bad from such a promising starting point? Pretty easily, actually. Don't fool yourself kids, Bulgarian wiper-fluid and 12ft half-pipes don't mix. Not even with a cardboard beer-box for protection. I won't go into the details, but needless to say, for the second time in six months I woke up with red-raw gluteals and a profound sense of regret.

Hey guys, I think we've lost Finn

The new year greeted us with sunny skies and 20cm of fresh pow. Finn needed very little convincing to take the team out for a impromptu off-piste telemarking session. It would be fair to say that abilities were mixed, covering the entire spectrum from 'drunk punter' to 'free-heel god'. Finn and Mark VDP were definitely towards the god-like end of the spectrum. But don't take my word for it, for video proof of Mark's rare mastery of this fickle art, do yourself a favour and check out the clip on Facebook (I'm told it's there somewhere - not being a member of this baffling online community, I couldn't say exactly where...) [youtube version]

Frustrated by my inability to coax my skinny skis into what could credibly be called a telemark turn, I upped the firepower in the afternoon and hired some heavy gear before hitting the tows with KT 'Kiwi' Calder. I'm ashamed to say that despite spending many months of my life in Europe hacking around the XC trails, I have spent a grand total of three days telemarking. And on this afternoon, it showed. Despite this, I had a blast and the views were postcard-stuff. Thanks to KT, we also avoided getting lost and freezing to death in a remote pine forest.

If you can't enjoy this, you're clinically dead

Soon after the start of January, things turned cold. To those not familiar with the experience of skiing in temperatures pushing -20?C, it's probably hard to comprehend just how miserable it can be (residents of Alaska, Quebec and co., please indulge my whingeing - you are much harder than I'll ever be). To start with, the snow ceases to be slippery. Imagine skiing on carpet, but squeakier. Then imagine your fingers, feet, eyeballs and nether-regions being gradually and painfully frozen. Finally, imagine the allure of a hot shower at the end of your ski...and then imagine your surprise as the hot water hitting your frozen extremities causes such extreme levels of pain that suicide becomes a legitimate option, if only your fingers weren't too cold to load a hand-gun. So instead, you rock back and forth on the floor of the bathroom sobbing quietly and wondering if you will ever be able to have children. Ski trip to Siberia, anyone?

Thoroughly sick of Switzerland's artic conditions, one morning Mark VDP and myself cracked. Without a word, we stole the keys to the car and drove off before the rest of the team had awoken. I was keen to drive to Cyprus as it sounded like it might be warm. I was pretty certain it was just next to Austria. Unfortunately, Mark scuttled my plans before they had even taken shape. Cyprus being an island nation, Mark regrettably informed me, combined with our Renault's obvious lack of seaworthiness posed somewhat of a crushing blow to my plans. And anyway, Mark had heard that Italy was nice - so that was where we ended up. In a place called Dobbiaco, as it happens. Well that's if you're Italian. Austrians call it Toblach. For the next fortnight we just called it 'home'. Dobbiaco/Toblach would have to be one of the more picturesque towns in middle-Europe. Located in the South-Tirol region in the heart of the Dolomites, the area boasts topography unlike few places you will ever visit. The mountains surrounding the township are spectacularly large, ragged and abrupt - much like Amanda Vandstone, yet more enticing. The other major difference from the rest of middle-Europe is the culture. The place we were staying at just out of town was run, as far as I could tell, by no less than four generations of the same family, all quite lovely. My favourite was the grandfather, Oswald. He spent most of his day in the basement of the apartment building (which he built himself), indulging his passion for wood and metal-work. We also spent many an hour in the same basement waxing our skis. This Oswald found most fascinating. He spoke not a word of English, and we spoke no Italian. So we were at pains to describe to him what we were doing in his basement and why it took so bloody long. Yet, he didn't seem to mind in the least. He just stood in his slippers and cardigan and watched, and watched, and smiled. Occasionally he would bring his grandkids in for a look, or light up a cigarette (I had no way of telling him that his cigarette combined with my unventilated fluorocarbons posed a risk to his wellbeing that he may not be entirely comfortable with...), but mostly he just watched. I grew to enjoy our odd yet relaxed interactions, and I think they're a nice metaphor for my feelings about Italy more generally - it's a bit daggy, frequently bewildering, but very real and very human. It's a feeling that I just don't get in the Germanic nations. Another feeling that I don't get to the same extent in the Germanic nations is that of sheer terror on the roads. I witnessed more suicidal overtaking manoeuvres and near-misses during my two weeks in Dobbiaco than most Australian's would typically witness in a lifetime. Luckily the car is in Grimmer's name.

Darlo is generally regarded as a doyen when it comes to the finer points of the classic technique

At the end of our first week in Dobbiaco we competed in the Pustertaler - a 42km skate marathon starting in Dobbiaco and taking in a number of neighbouring towns. We were expecting a flat, fast and generally cruisy race. In hindsight, I have no idea why we were expecting this. Our preparation consisted of a series of sprint races followed by a solitary 15km distance race two weeks previously. To top off my preparations, I spent the majority of the lead-up week holed up in the apartment trying to shake off a virus. I guess it will come as no surprise to anyone but myself that the race was highly traumatic. Despite the -15?C conditions, the race went out hard driven by a pack containing what seemed like half of the Italian national team. The cold must have affected my brain function as I bizarrely decided that I belonged in this same pack. So for the next 22km I proceeded to flog myself senseless in order to make this delusion reality. And then my world went dark. As I watched the pack ski away shortly after the half-way mark, I started to feel the first hints of hypoglycaemia. A couple of energy gels later and things were looking up. Sure, I was now alone - but I still had a decent gap on the chase pack, if I just skied sensibly I should be able to hold them off. And that's how things progressed until the 38km mark. I'm not sure what I experienced first, the flashing lights or the jelly legs - all I know is it happened suddenly and violently. Within the space of 500m I went from fighting for positions to fighting for survival. By the 40km mark my vision had long ceased being stereo, and was replaced by a number of disparate images - all blurry. My legs appeared to be operating independently of my body and my arms were now for decorative effect only. The chasers caught and passed me in the same way that a Ferrari passes a Fiat Panda on an autobahn. For the last kilometre I was a mere spectator witnessing my own slow and painful humiliation. I crossed the finish line and did not stop until I reached the food table. And that was where Mark found me - my hands buried up to my elbows in a 20kg box of cooking chocolate, my dead eyes staring at nothing in particular. Skiing has a particular way of keeping one's ego in check.

Chris Darlington arrived the following day, somewhat bemused by our wretched condition. Let's see if he's still laughing after this weekend's 60km Dolomitenlauf...

And that's enough therapy for today. My psychotherapist says that I'm doing really well and that I just need to get this stuff off my chest. Thanks for listening.

- Andrew Mock

Fear and Loathing on the Ski Trail - Part III - From Davos To Davos

A lot has gone on since we last spoke. If my memory serves me correct (which it rarely does), I was in Davos at the time of my last posting. Somewhat anti-climactically, I am still in Davos. Importantly, however, the intervening two-weeks have produced countless tons of CO2, courtesy of innumerable mind-numbing hours on middle-European autobahns.

Our first stop following the Davos World-Cup was the classy west-German city of Düsseldorf. This city hosts not one, but two pre-Christmas World-Cups (a freestyle sprint and a freestyle team sprint). The one fly in this otherwise hunky-dory ointment is the complete and utter absence of natural snow in this region of Germany. Which would be ok if it ever got cold and stopped raining for JUST ONE DAY. I've now spent over a week of my life in Düsseldorf and I'm yet to see the sun. Thankfully, the dire weather was partially compensated for by the incredible Christmas markets surrounding the race-course in the city centre next to the Rhine. I'm sure I don't have to remind regular readers of this 'column' about my passion for Christmas sausages. We arrived in town on Thursday night after a bruising 7.5hr drive (without Finn Schumacher at the wheel, it may well have taken 10). Friday was spent checking out the course - a 700m circuit constructed entirely from imported snow. I'll resist a cheap gag about where it was imported from, but needless to say it was filthier than Leon Spiller's thermals after a particularly heavy week of training.

The individual sprint was an entirely predictable affair. It was raining. And warm. And there were drunk German spectators by the container load. There was also a troupe of fat, middle-aged men in leather pants that appeared to have stolen the bells from surrounding cathedrals and were using them in a particularly irresponsible and aurally damaging manner. You can't buy that kind of atmosphere. Fortunately, by the time I was let loose on the course, most spectators were too drunk to stand, let alone critically appraise my skating technique. In summary, although not disastrous, I certainly didn't walk away from the race feeling like a rock-star. More a washed-up Armenian lounge-singer. Esther put in a far more valiant effort - before celebrating like a VIP at the World Cup party held at the local indoor ski-hall. Ever the professional athletes, Mark VDP and myself were, however, tucked up in bed, resting up for our long-awaited grudge match with Team Great Britain in the next day's team sprint. We had raced a practice team sprint against them in Davos the previous week, and frankly, they had beaten us like naughty colonial scum. We didn't respect them much either on account of their pitifully pale skin and the fact that one of them claims to be a vegetarian but still eats bacon and chicken. To give you some idea of how pumped up we were by the time the race got underway, Mark actually punched a Labrador puppy in the face on the way to the start, simply because it looked at him funny. We were never going to lose with a mindset like that. And we didn't. In fact, not only did we pull the Brits' pants down, we did it in front of thousands of bemused German spectators (who to be honest, probably didn't even notice). May it be the start of an enduring and noxious rivalry.

I don't want to complain, but the track was a little rough

Unfortunately, with the races over, we now found ourselves still in Düsseldorf, but needing to be in Leutasche, Austria. Nothing another bruising 9hr commute couldn't fix. Leutasche, 30 mins from Innsbruck and adjacent to Seefeld, would be our base over the week leading up to Christmas. Not too much to report from this period. The skiing was extensive, the wheat beer good and the girls were...actually, there were no girls. In fact, it has been my observation that small towns in Austria and Switzerland have been systematically cleansed of people under the age of 70. The closest thing I saw to a young woman over that week (with the noble exception of Esther) was Callum with his new Bon Jovi inspired coiffure.

Just when I thought my luck was about to turn, I realised that the woman I had been buying drinks for all night wasn't all she seemed

Post Christmas saw an inevitable team schism. Esther and Finn headed to Zurich, the Watsons made their way back to Davos for training and Mark VDP, Grimmer and I headed to Italian-speaking Campra. In a way, it was a relief that we didn't have to pretend to like each other any more. We were in Campra for a pair of Swiss-Cup races - a classic sprint followed by a 15km freestyle. Ski racing is the only reason anyone goes to Campra. If the local road-clearing contractor got a bit carried away one night, Campra could cease to exist. I've seen American high school students that are bigger than Campra. It does, however, have very nice ski trails. The classic sprint was a mixed experience. Grimmer and Mark skied well and made the finals. I skied like a drunk house-wife and did not. The following day's 15km skate was more satisfying from a personal standpoint - ensuring that I didn't depart Campra as the only bitter member of our trio.

I'm not sure what's more disturbing; that someone shot this animal, or that they appear to be proud of it

With the Campra races completed, we hauled our tired carcasses back to Davos, and thus the cycle was completed. As I write this, we are freshly reconciled with our team-mates and staying in an enormous ski-lodge populated by three-hundred 16 year olds and one large shower room. New Year's Eve beckons. Life is good. Adios for now.

- Andrew Mock


One thing has become alarmingly clear to me this season - I am no longer a young man. It hurts when I get out of bed. I can no longer abide MTV. My jokes are becoming difficult to distinguish from Keebs'. I am slowly but surely becoming mean-spirited, xenophobic and disturbingly obsessed with law and order. I'm worried that I might be turning into a National Party voter. I offer, below, ten compelling reasons why I'm too old for this skiing malarkey:

1. I'm old enough to be the father of many of our up-and-coming juniors*

2. To pump myself up before races, I listen to The Monkeys...on my gramophone

3. I still remember my first trip to Europe with the national team - in a Zeppelin

4. Not only do I know what 'marathon skate' is, it's my best technique

5. I continue to refer to the German Ski Team as 'Krauts'

6. The last time I remember stretching in front of the TV, the Watergate hearings were on

7. I'm the only member of the team that still considers gators to be an essential piece of race-day clothing

8. Until very recently, I dismissed glide-wax as 'a fad'

9. I once raced against Finn Marsland

10. I'm yet to be convinced that smoking a pipe is detrimental to athletic performance

* I refuse to submit to any paternity test that may confirm this to be true


Fear and Loathing on the Ski Trail - Part II - The Goss' From Davos

If a week is a long time in politics, it's an age in the life of a cross-country skier. Just seven days ago I was lying on the couch, exhausted and eating margarine straight from the tub. Yet today, I find myself...lying on the couch...fantasising about the margarine. I'm certain that skiing makes me a less interesting person. To give you some kind of perspective, today's undisputed highlight was the purchase of a new variety of sandwich meat.

Life has not been completely uneventful, however. Following a highly successful weekend of racing (not by me - see the team race report for details of Callum Watson's spanking effort in Saturday's classic race), we departed the Goms Valley and headed to Davos - a spectacular journey that I would recommend to anyone not suffering from a phobia of tunnels. After arriving to find that our accommodation booking no longer existed, some fancy footwork was required by coach Finn to ensure that Team Oz didn't spend the night under a railway overpass. This was fortunate, as one of my New Year's resolutions was to give up sleeping rough. The good thing about Davos is, just like Family First politicians, you always know what you're going to get. In Davos' case; overpriced ski jackets, $7 coffees, outrageously rude make-up splattered fraulines and damn good skiing. And Hoffmanner - the only ski shop in the world that treats the Australian Ski Team like minor royalty. Although not familiar with the intricacies of Swiss taxation law, I suspect our team may classify as a charity, making their generous discounts to us tax deductible.

With my stomach bug now beating a hasty retreat, Davos was my first opportunity to clock up some solid training miles since my arrival in Europe. Which was just as well, as I was due to race the World Cup sprint event in six day's time. Feeling about as fast as a tinea infection, I needed to find some speed, promptly. Unfortunately, my regular dealer was back home in Oz, so I had to resort to plan B - desperate last-minute training.

With an extra starting place available in the men's event, a two-man ski-off was held between Mark Van der Ploeg and Nick Grimmer on the Thursday prior to the race to determine who would join Esther and I for Sunday's ritual humiliation. Inevitably, this time-trial took on a seriousness to rival that of the main race. Many stories of skulduggery continue to emerge, the most disturbing involving a funny-tasting hot chocolate and a large packet of 'turbo-lax'. Amazingly, both protagonists made it to the start line intact, with Grimmer eventually emerging victorious by a mere 2 secs. At this point I think it is worth making mention of the utter ridiculousness of the 'sprint' course dreamed up by the sickos on the Davos organising committee. At 1.7km long and containing three hills each capable of crippling a citizen racer (the last being an alpine piste), this was not a sprint course as such, it was an attempt to make us look like tourists. In this context, Grimmer's 2 sec winning margin appears all the more narrow.

A 10/15km classic World Cup event was held in Davos on the Saturday preceding the sprint, with Callum Watson making his World Cup debut. In a dire breach of protocol for Australian World Cup debutantes, Callum failed to sign the list, and in a blatant slap in the face to many of our more senior athletes, he had the temerity to ski exceptionally well. Such behaviour would not have been tolerated in my day.

Sprint day dawned bright and clear, immediately shattering my hope that half of the field would get disoriented in a blizzard and perish before they had reached the finish-line. Esther kicked things off in the women's event (a paltry 1.4km). Unfortunately a rampaging Slovenian decimated the field in the qualification, blowing out the time gaps and placing herself high on Esther's 'hate list' (and what a crowded list it is too). The men's race was much closer at the top of the qualification rankings, with local Swiss skiers narrowly taking out the top two positions. Grimmer and myself were in a somewhat different race - a race to avoid the bottom of the list. We did what we could, but ultimately we were neither fit enough nor strong enough (as somewhat of a consolation, we were comfortably among the best-looking). To commiserate/celebrate this achievement, I took the only course of action available to me - I purchased a shopping bag full of cheap beer and spent the evening removing screws from the wall of the wax cabin. I'll say it again, kids - don't mess around with cross-country skiing or you could end up like me.

"Damn it, Mock. I can't believe we're going through this again. You can NOT enter the
women's race - not even if you wear that dress. Are you wearing Esther's bra?!"

And here I am - it's the Monday after the World Cup and I have just returned from an incredibly ill-advised gym session that should see me safely incapacitated till at least Thursday. In other news, I'm running late for a hot date with a big, fat bratwurst cooking away on the stove. More news as events warrant. Auf wiedersen.

- Andrew Mock

In keeping with the Addendum theme from Part I, the following is far too stupid to go in the main body of the report (hard to believe, I know). Read on at extreme risk of boredom and annoyance:

Anyone who has travelled overseas with Paul Murray would be familiar with an MTV show by the name of 'Cribs'. Anyone not familiar with this show is fortunate. Ostensibly, Cribs is Better Homes and Gardens for the Y generation. Realistically, it's a cringeworthy half-hour where largely talentless yet obscenely wealthy 'celebrities' shamelessly parade around their oversized and utterly charmless abodes while voyeuristic half-wits watch on... "and this is my oversized gold-plated Jacuzzi. And over there, you'll notice the stuffed Sumatran tiger head. I had my named embroidered on its face. Isn't it cute?". Anyway - word has just reached me that Chandra Crawford, the Canadian sprint champion from Torino 2006, is scheduled to appear on Cribs sometime in the new year. And this got me thinking - what if the producers of Cribs were to turn their attention to the Australian XC ski team? I imagine it would go something like this:

MTV: What-UP homeboys and girls! Welcome to Cribs - Mt. Beauty! We've got a PIMPIN' show for you this week - comin' AT YA from the home of XC. Today, we're going to pay a visit to the BITCHIN' pad of man-of-the-moment, MC Mark [Raymond]! [young girls scream]

Mark: Er...hi.

MTV: Yo Boss - good to be here man! Would you mind showin' us around?

Mark: Um...ok. Watch your head. This is my cave...I mean apartment.

MTV: Whoa dawg - that's CRAZY! When you told me that you came from da ghetto, I never realised you were serious... Tell me - what do you keep in that draw?

Mark: My spoon. It looks like it's silver. But it's not. It's still a good spoon, though.

MTV: Nice... So what's in the next draw - your knife and fork?

Mark: I day. It's not too bad though. Look - I've sharpened the edge of my spoon - so it's kind of a knife too [demonstrates by whittling a piece of wood]. And if you turn it over - you can kind of poke stuff with the handle - just like a fork.

MTV: Ok... [looks nervously at producer] Mind if we have a look at what's behind this door?

Mark: You probably don't want to do that.

MTV: Aw - come one! What's the matter you big pimp - don't want us taking a peak at your boudoir? [winking]

Mark: Not exactly. That's my dunny. I wouldn't mind - but some of the boys came round last night and we cracked open some beans...

Not classic television by any stretch, but not without a certain appeal. You can expect the pilot episode to hit your screens...never.


Fear and Loathing on the Ski Trail - Part I

Greeting all. I trust you enjoyed my temporary absence from the world-wide web. All good things must come to an end, however, and anyway - I'm bored. A lot's been going on since my last communiqué. The election of Barack Obama has shown the world that, either; the majority of American's are not mental invalids afterall, or, the majority of Americans believed that putting a cross next to Obama's name on the ballot paper was an expression of disapproval. Meanwhile, General Motors appears to be powering it's factories by burning $100 notes and a Queensland MP has announced that the financial crisis is an act of god and a precursor to the End Times (I knew I shouldn't have told that joke about the Irishman, the Englishman and Jesus).

Back in Wombat World, life has been moving at a slightly more relaxed pace. I finished up a two month block of work at the start of November and headed up to North-East Victoria in a desperate bid to find some form and finally get healthy after a two month battle with persistent sinusitis (if there exists an anti-biotic that I don't know about - it's not worth taking...). Some progress was made. I got a couple of good volume weeks in and slept more than many people would consider healthy. My sun tan also progressed quite promisingly, only a couple of times crossing the threshold from 'golden-brown' to 'English-tourist red'.

But now it's crunch-time and Europe beckons. This will be my longest European trip to-date - three months - and an ambitious program it is. Departing Australia on December 1, my travels will take in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy and finally, the Czech Republic for the World Championships in late February. But more on this as events unfold. The present finds me just arrived in Oberwald, Switzerland (in the lovely Goms valley) and things are not going to plan...

What do you get when you cross jet-lag with a gastric virus? A sorry excuse for an athlete. Just to rub salt in my wounds, Finn won't let me eat any yoghurt either. Which is tough - because yoghurt is the main reason that I come to Switzerland. On the bright side, it has given me ample time to become acquainted with the writings of Hunter S. Thompson. He has achieved a level of vitriol that I can only dream of emulating. Take this excerpt from his obituary of Nixon:

"the record will show that I kicked him repeatedly long before he went down. I beat him like a mad dog with mange every time I got a chance, and I'm proud of it. He was scum"

Sorry Mr. Thompson, I'm confused - are you trying to say that you disliked him? I have decided that I would like to write more like this man. Initial research indicates that this will require me to consume large amounts of illegal drugs and develop a worrying obsession with guns and personal liberty. So be it.

And on that note, having nothing more of interest to report, I shall sign out. And continue sitting alone in my Oberwald apartment, watching people ski past on pristine ski trails while silent tears slide slowly down my puffy cheeks...

- Andrew Mock


Rollerskiing is stupid. We all know this. The development of coping mechanisms is essential. I like to imagine the actions that I would undertake when I become Ruler. I'd start by ordering the carpet-bombing of Jindabyne and surrounds (a 100km radius should be sufficient) before overseeing the mass sterilisation, by force, of all real-estate agents and young-liberals. When I'm not devising 'public policy', I like to come up with lame jokes. Below are a selection that I devised on a long and particularly gruelling rollerski up Mt. Buffalo last month. I tested the first two on Finn and Esther and they were highly derogatory - so I guess they're ready. No feedback please - my self-esteem is fragile.

Q: What did the stadium announcer say when Lukas Bauer outsprinted Martin Koukal to win a World Cup?
A: Czech one, two

Q: What do you call Justina Kowalczyk talking on her mobile?
A: A telephone Pole

Q: What the difference between a unicorn and a Swiss comedian?
A: Some people actually think that unicorns exist

Q: Why did Walter Mayer cross the road?
A: Because he lost control of his car while under the influence of alcohol and attempting to outrun the Italian police

Q: Why did Sochi, a town with no snow or infrastructure, win the 2014 Winter Olympics?
A: See above

Visitor: "Knock-knock?"
Kaisa Varis: "Who's there?"
Visitor: "WADA"
Visitor: "Kaisa?"
Visitor: "Kaisa...are you there?"

[Note - here you can find the earlier Mock reports from 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, Sapporo 2006, Sapporo 2007, 2008, and Australia 2008 ]

Back to 2008/2009 Team Reports