Heather and I are currently in Toblach, Italy, having traveled here after racing OPA Cups in Arber, Germany last weekend. OPA Cups are like the SuperTour of Central Europe, except much more competitive- instead of just one nation, skiers from many nations come here to compete for their country’s World Cup spots. However, skiers have to qualify just to be at OPA Cups, so the fields are small but incredibly deep. Racing here gives us exposure to the style of European racing found at the World Cups, and prepares us to jump into international competition.
So what was racing in Arber like? I’ll give you the run-down, with my five highlights from the trip so far:
- Entering the stadium as a gladiator. In order to get to the start on race day in Arber, you have to go underneath the race trail in a dark, slightly slippery tunnel. Then you pop out in the start corral and drop your warm-up clothes. Nothing makes you feel more amped up about racing! And it was full-on battle mode, especially on the mass start day with falls, broken poles, surges, and icy downhills.
- Not being “that American”. We’re really lucky on this trip to have Julia Kern as one of the US athletes. Her parents are German and she speaks German fluently. Having someone to communicate helps everything run so much more smoothly. The hotel owner, Georg, took a liking to her which led to many rounds of schnapps during our stay! Several of the more musically talented athletes also wrote a song for Georg and performed it for the whole dining room. It’s great to stay somewhere and feel welcome, and we certainly all left with great memories of the Magdalenenhof (the hotel).
- Watching cross country and biathlon, on TV, during primetime! Germany loves its biathlon, and we got to watch the first few races of biathlon World Champs as well as some of the stages of the Ski Tour Canada, on Eurosport, right in our rooms. Watching our teammates duking it out on the big stage gets us excited to take on the Euros over here.
4. Experiencing a little bit of US skiing history. On our drive from Arber to Toblach we went straight through Innsbruck, Austria, so we decided to take a little detour up the pass to Seefeld, site of the 1976 Olympic cross country venue. That’s also where Bill Koch won his silver medal in the 15k classic, the only American to do so. Of course we had to go to the stadium and take a team photo, and soak up some of the vibes from that day.
5. Being a tourist. Sometimes when we travel as athletes in a foreign country, the most exciting things we see are the race course and the inside of our hotel room. Traveling to Germany a few days before the race, we had the opportunity to walk around Zwiesel a bit and check out the town. Zwiesel is famous for its glassblowing, which used to supply the noble houses of Europe in the Middle Ages. Nowadays, the most prominent feature of the industry in town is a huge pyramid made of wineglasses. We couldn’t tell if they used glue to keep it together or not, either way it was impressive!
To check out results from the OPA races, look at www.FIS-ski.com. We’ll try to update again after our races in Toblach- a freestyle prologue, 10k classic individual, and 10k freestyle pursuit starting on Friday. Auf weidersehen/arrivederci!