World Juniors: A Saga

It has been over a week in coming, but now it is finally here. The account of Nordic World Juniors as seen through the eyes of Yours Truly has finally been put to paper (or computer?)!!! So grab some Nutella, sit back and enjoy!

First off, I’d like to sincerely thank XCChelseaMasters, who, for no reason other than their immense kindness and their equally immense support of our sport, went to the trouble of putting on a fundraiser to help me pay for the trip! Thank you so much guys!! Thanks also to Fresh Air Experience, Greg Christie’s Ski and Cycle Works, and Shelley Harrison/Studio Dove Heart who helped sponsor the fundraiser.
I’d like to thank Ski de Fond Quebec too, for their continued support of me and many other quebec skiers.
Last but not least, thanks to the McClures and the Pollexes for their support of my skiing endeavor!

World Champs 2013

I got out of bed on the morning of Sunday the 27th feeling horrible. Missed sleep from my travels in and out of Austria and the accumulative fatigue of my first three international races (as well as the fact that we’d all been breathing cigarette smoke in the halls of the beautiful Hotel Babylon for the past 10 days) was finally taking its toll on me. As I ate breakfast in the hotel Caf, there was a battle of reason accompanying the pounding in my head. “Today is the only chance I’ll have in my life to compete in the World Junior team relay!!” “That’s right! It’s a TEAM relay!! If I’m not feeling up to it I should back out and ask Scott (NDC Thunder Bay/Team Hardwood) to race! Gotta do what’s best for the team!” And so the voices in my head switched back and forth.
At the race site I didn’t feel any better, and, after going for a quick 5 min jog to test the waters, I was still undecided. Thankfully, Godefroy (CNEPH and Canadian Junior Team Coach) came over to talk to me. “Zeke, it’s almost the end of the competition! Everyone is tired. Go out there and race like you always do!”
And so, after my 30 minute warm up on the little 400m long warm up loop they’d set up for us skiers behind the wax huts, I found myself back amongst the crowd of foreign race suits, waiting to get tagged off by Alexis (CNEPH/Skinouk) and start my leg of the relay!

Backtrack 7 days to the individual sprint:

Having warmed up from the “training camp feel” of Austria to the “racing atmosphere of Liberec” (mentioned in my blog post Goodbye Austria), on Monday the 21st I felt like I was ready to race! . . .and then I didn’t qualify for the sprint heats. At the time I was really discouraged, but as it would turn out, my 46th place finish in the sprint qualifier would be my best of the week.
Monday evening was the opening ceremony, and Team Canada came out in all their highlighter yellow glory to participate! I must say, the opening ceremony was more impressive than I had expected–from the fullbody-silver-suit Cheerleaders at the start, to the parade of countries and the review of the Czech Ski association’s history. The only part that got a bit old was when a line of FIS/Czech Governing officials decided go beyond the call of duty and do a multi-lingual speech for an extended period of time. But that was all forgotten when the organizers put on what must’ve been close to a 15 min fireworks display behind the majestic Liberec Town hall! I like fireworks.
After the opening ceremony we had a rest day while the U23s raced and we prepared for a 10km skate individual start on Wednesday. I was really excited for the skate 10k, as I’ve had solid results in this form of race in the past.
Turns out that excitement wouldn’t cut it though, ‘cause I posted an even worse result than the classic sprint.
Another rest day with another U23 race followed the skate 10k before we moved On To The Next One: the 20km pursuit. Fatigue was starting to play into things at this point and I had another decent, but less than perfect race. Thing is, decent does not cut it at Worlds.
As I mentioned in my blog post Europe Part 3, this point in the week was kinda a low for me. Thankfully, I managed to step back a bit and put things in perspective. I may not have had personal bests in the individual races at Worlds, but, as my friend Greg (athlete rep at CCC) said: “you are in Liberec!” And being in Liberec entails quite a few cool things. Things that included, but were not limited to:

  1. 1) Amazing Pizzerias!  We went out to the same place on two different nights, after we realized it was possible to order a large, wood-oven-baked pizza and a super-nice desert for the equivalent of about 12$ Canadian. Wow. Considering that they were serving us cardboard carbs at the Hotel Babylon, this was definitely enough incentive for more than one trip out.
  2. 2) Although the Hotel Babylon allowed smoking pretty much everywhere, and although they seemed very enamored with serving us the same stuff in the cafeteria E V E R Y S I N G L E DAY  (potatoes, rice, and plain pasta do actually get boring when eaten at each meal), the hotel was still quite an experience! We made sure to ride the indoor bumper cars and check out the bowling ally, but we stayed away from the “casino” (read, slot machines), the disco and the “aqua park”.
  3. 3) Cool architecture  (this was downtown, and NOT featured in the Hotel Babylon. The hotel opted for the more avant-garde use of confusing corridors and gaudy statues).
  4. 4) Senior World Champs Nordic Site:  Yep!! They hosted the ’09 senior world champs at the same place where we raced!
  5. 5) Shoe stores:  There were lots of them.

But all good things must come to an end (or as I like to think of it, the ending of good things is required for the beginning of better things)!! On Saturday the 26th, in the evening, I packed my gear, took a shower, and went to bed. Only to wake up on Sunday the 27th feeling horrible. . .

About 2 hrs later I stood in the stadium watching Alexis (CNEPH) finish his second of two 2.5km laps for the first leg of the relay. Unfortunately he had crashed on his first time down the big hill on the course, and team Canada was in second last place! With nowhere to go but up, I started my part of the relay. In stark contrast to my feelings of exhaustion in the morning, I actually felt pretty solid during the relay! I managed to fall into the smooth flow of classic striding on the uphills (the first two relay legs were classic and the second two skate), and happily, I caught up to the Romanian, Austrian, Polish and Czech Teams! Exciting! After my best performance of the week, I tagged off to Dave (BC Ski Team/BlackJack) and ran back out on course to watch him and Raph (CNEPH) throw down on their respective skate legs.
In the end we didn’t pull off a Canadian best result in the relay, but, ultimately I think it was a fun experience for everyone and it was nice to end the competition on a high note!
After the races we packed up, drove to Prague (or Praha to those in the know), and stayed there a night. I got a bunch of pictures in Praha, so I’ll let those do the talking for that part of the trip!
The next day we experienced the awesomeness that is the autobahn on our drive to Munich (or München), stayed a night there and then flew home after acquiring way too much chocolate at the Munich airport duty free.
17 days after we had left we were back in O-town’s familiar airport. Although we brought plenty of sweet memories and a stupid amount of fatigue back with us, we thankfully didn’t have to declare either at customs in Toronto.

Now just over a week later, and after racing my way through Eastern Canadian Champs last weekend with a tad more fatigue than usual, the whole experience seems like a life time ago. Just as I went into it not believing the whole thing was real, so I’ve come out of it in the same state of mind.


Until next time: Dream Big, People!!
P.S.  I’ve included a bunch of the pictures that I took on the trip below! I’m sorry about the quality of most of them–I only have a phone to take pictures with! 

You can check out the event website for other pictures and the results!
Thanks for Reading!

View of Liberec from Vesec (the race site)

View of the Stadium from the top of the first hill on the race course

A ridiculous, huge, wall mural that they had in reception at the Hotel Babylon (apologies about the bad lighting)

Gaudy statues in the Hotel

The beautiful Liberec town Square. The set up a big stage in front of the church-looking building (the town hall) for the opening ceremony (apologies about the picture quality)

A statue in the town square

The pizzeria! If you’re ever in Liberec, hit this place up

I only realized I should take a picture of my desert, at the pizzeria, when I was almost done

Patty S-J chasing down a swedish racer in the U23 skiathlon

The two Russians who dominated the U23 skiathlon

Cool interior decor in the place we ate super in Prague. There was an accordion player who serenaded us the entire meal!! To cool.
Fred Vézina chillin’ on some stairs
More Prague!

The Team on the move in Prague

Most of the statues you’ll see here were on this really cool bridge. We checked it out in the day, and the night so I got some similar shots with different lighting

There were a whole bunch of swans under the bridge!

The bridge in the day.

Raph feeling contemplative

I had empty seats beside me both on the way to Europe and back! Made good use of it!

Land ho!! Labrador looks so inviting from the air

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