Test Event Pays Dividends
This season, the cross-country World Cup made its racing debut at the 2018 Olympic venue in Pyeongchang, South Korea. These World Cup races, which took place approximately one year out from the Games, are known as Olympic Test Events, and it's a customary International Olympic Committee rule that the host country holds such events in preparation for the Olympics.
The scheduling of these World Cups wasn't perfect for the cross-country athletes because the races fell three weeks out from the World Championships and at a time when many countries have their National Championships or training camps scheduled. Since traveling to Korea isn't the quickest of journeys, it was a little risky to make the trip, but for me it was an easy choice and a big priority of the season.
Seeing pictures and video is one thing, however to be there in person to ski and race the Olympic tracks is not only great practice, but it also allows me to begin to map out the best preparation strategy for what will be the biggest races of my life. Since the test events, I've had many people ask me about my initial impression of Pyeongchang. Here are some takeaways:
It took a long time to get there . . . that's for sure, especially for anyone coming from the North America. Fortunately, the majority of the World Cup skiers were flying from Estonia, so our trip was smooth, catching one flight to Helsinki, Finland, then an eight-and-a-half-hour flight to Seoul. From Seoul, it's about a three-hour bus ride to Pyeongchang.
One thing to remember is that when National teams are traveling around to World Cups, most of our skis and all our wax gear are driven from one country to the other in cargo vans and wax trucks. This is obviously not the case with Korea, which makes it a gear-intensive travel day. Nobody will be driving their wax trucks to the Olympics next year, which is cool because it levels the playing field, but is also
a pain because every ski, pole, bench and crate of wax supplies will need to be flown from Europe.
I have had many people ask me what it's like to adjust to the time change and food. South Korea is a 14-hour time change from the U.S. Athletes have a general guideline we try to follow for racing, which is one day on the ground for every hour of time change. When we arrive in Korea for the Olympics, we will most likely be traveling from Europe, and, to adjust, will arrive eight to nine days before our first event.
Lay of the Land
The majority of the Olympic disciplines such as freestyle, snowboarding, bobsled, luge, cross-country and most of the alpine events will be held very close to one another, which is rare for the Games and also a pretty cool feature of the area. There are mostly very small towns surrounding where the Olympic village will stand, with the exception of Alpensia, a more established resort village. Alpensia is a typical alpine-resort town and tourist destination, with many hotels, condos and restaurants.
The fact that there is a mountain nearby that is large enough to host alpine events gives an idea of the terrain, but, in general, the mountains aren't huge. For the most part, the landscape is similar in size to the tree-covered mountains of New England, but with much more challenging slopes, valleys and topography. When most of the World Cup athletes heard that the Olympic venue was going to be built on a golf course, we were skeptical as to whether the terrain would be up to world-class standards. Not the case with Pyeongchang. All I have to say is that it must be a very hilly golf course.
Not one of the climbs is excruciatingly long for distance racing, but there are many ups, downs and turns on all the courses. Two of the toughest climbs are beside the stadium, which will make for exciting spectating and a super-challenging sprint course. With a Classic sprint scheduled for the Games, it is always a concern that racers might double-pole, but I can tell you that won't be the case with this course. There is a solid one-minute gradual climb right out of the start and a second very steep climb before dropping back into the stadium. By World Cup standards, this course has the most striding I've ever seen for a sprint.
I was really stoked to have the opportunity to race all the way to the final while there for the test events. It not only gave me valuable practice on the Olympic course, but it also ingrained in my mind exactly what I will need to work on physically to perform my best. I know, for example, I will incorporate much more fast striding and steep striding drills into my training for the next year. That, and seriously stepping up my chopstick game.
Canada’s Alex Harvey makes history winning the men’s 50km freestyle race at Lahti 2017 - the biggest win of his career. Nordic Focus
(l-r) Russia's Gleb Retivykh wins the men's sprint CL final over Norway's Sondre Turvoll Fossli at Olympic test event, as Canada's Len Valjas just misses the podium by a toe to Andrey Parfenov (RUS).