Playing with the Big Guns – Casey Wright

Re-posted from Casey & Kat’s blog (without some of the photo captions).
When I last wrote to you I was en route to Sweden to meet up with the Australian XC Ski team for a training camp in preparation for the 2015 World Championships. For 2 weeks we were based in Gronklitt, a small ski resort about 1.5hrs from Falun (the city where the World Championships would be held). My previous visits to Sweden during last northern winter were less than ideal. Due to a weather phenomenon referred to as the Polar Vortex, they experience an incredibly warm winter and very minimal snow fall. When I arrived in Sweden this year, it was anything but what I had experienced last time. The temperatures remained below 0 and there was plenty of fresh snow fall, allowing the environment to match my ideas of what Sweden should look like.

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My first race of the Championships was the 5km qualification race. Since I had not obtained a result under 120 FIS points, I needed to finish in the top 10 in order to qualify for the rest of the distance races. Click HERE for a great article that gives a bit more depth to what the qualification race means to aspiring athletes.
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Leading into this race, I was anything but calm and relaxed. There was a lot riding on my race, and I knew that I needed to bring my A game to the start line. The race was a 5km individual start, which took us up the infamous ‘Murder Backen’ (more on that later). Despite trying to change things up a little bit and ski horizontally, backwards and on my stomach/face (in other words I fell over) my race could not have gone better. I stuck to my race plan and relaxed on the steep climbs while working hard on the downhills and transitions (where I am strongest), and managed to snag 3rd place (0.3sec in front of my Aussie Teammate Anna Trnka).

We didn’t get medals or flowers, instead we got a miniature version of the Mascot, Bubo the Owl.

 Following the race, I was ushered around from the prize ceremony, to reporters and interviews. Been an Aussie skier, I do not have much experiece with the media/ the media does not have a lot of experience with Aussies. Here are some of the highlights from the interviews:
Reporter: ‘Do you get much media coverage at home in Australia?’
Me: ‘No not really. To be honest, this is the first interview that I have done…’
Reporter: (Looking quite shocked) ‘Well, you’re doing really well..’
Reporter: ‘Do you actually get snow in Australia?’
(One of the most common question we get asked, especially when overseas)
Reporter: ‘Do they show Cross Country Skiing on TV in Australia?’
Me: ‘It is not shown of free to air TV, but if you can afford Foxtel you can watch it on Eurosport.’
Reporter: ‘Ok, let me ask you a question. What does the name Marit Bjorgen mean to you?’
(Background info: Marit Bjorgen is a Norwegian skier. She has won 90 World Cups and have 14 world championship Victories. She also won 4 gold medal at the Sochi Olympics. In the skiing world she is a superstar!)
Me: ‘Of course I know who she is! Just because I am unable to watch skiing on TV, it doesn’t mean I don’t follow it on other platforms!’
Unfortunately a number of members of the Australian Team fell ill with Gastro during the championships. As such, a spot became available in the Team Sprint and I was selected to race, along with Jess Yeaton. For those of you who are not familiar with a team sprint, it goes something like this: Each country has 1 team, made up of 2 athletes. Each skier takes it in turns to race around the sprint loop 3 times, tagging off to their partner in-between each. This race is basically a 3x3min L4 interval session with approximately 3minutes rest. It was an absolutely incredible experience skiing in front of some 40,000 screaming fans and against the best sprinters in the World. Jess and I managed to place in 18th position after battling it out with the Britts. Unfortunately they managed to hold onto the ashes this time!

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This year, Australia equaled its largest number of athletes competing at the World Championships. Since we had over 4 qualified women, Australia started its first women relay since 1993 (coincidentally these world champs were also held in Falun). I was lucky enough to be selected for the team, although it race its self didn’t go exactly to plan. In elite level racing, the lapping rule is enforced. This means that if you are over taken by the leader (i.e. lapped), we are pulled from the race and cannot finish. As a result, we calculate that we could not be more than 2min behind the leader after each leg. Thanks to some super fast skiing by the Norwegians, Swedes and Finns, we got passed at the end of the second leg. Although we were all disappointed that we could not finish the race, we were glad to see how far XC skiing in Aus has come. I am looking forward to another women relay  at the 2017 Lahti World Championships.

Aussie Women’s relay relay team: Xanthea Dewez (reserve), Aimee Watson (2nd leg), Jess Yeaton (1st leg), me (4th leg), Esther Bottomely (3rd leg)

Remember from the start of the post when I mentioned the hill Murder Backen. Well let me shed some light onto this lovely little climb.  At around 1.5 km long, this hill take us from just above the stadium to the base of the ski jumping hill and is in actual fact anything but lovely or little. The hill has 2 steep pinches with a semi flat section in the middle and takes approximately 4 minutes (for the top skiers) to reach the top. By the time you reach the summit your legs are burning due to the build up of Lactate acid making the some what easy corners that follow in the downhill difficult! The course for the 30km took us up both Murder Backen and Little Murder Backen 3 times each, and I can honestly say now, that I will be very happy if I never have to ski up those hills again! The 30km was the most memorable experience of my life to date. Around almost all of the course the crowd would go absolutely ballistic screaming, waving flags (mainly Swedish and Norwegian), ringing cow bells and bashing on the fences every time I skied past. It was almost deafening and despite my absolutely exhausted body, gave me a huge energy boost. On my final climb on the sprint course, 2 guys actually jumped a fence and proceed to run beside me until they were tackled down by the security guards.

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I could not have asked for a better experience for my first World Championships. I absolutely loved every second of it and I am looking forward to Lahti 2017! Before I finish up, I need to thank our team of coaches, managers and wax techs for ensuring that we not only had the fastest skis for our races, but ensuring that the past 2 weeks ran so smoothly. So; JC, Bernie, Mattias, Johan, August, Finn and Keebs: Thank – you! Also, thank – you to all of the Aussie athletes. I feel very privileged have been part of such an amazing team!

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