Friday, February 28, 2014

Olympics: 17 days of Dreams

When we arrived in Sochi, 3 weeks sounded like a ton of time. I enjoyed every second of it and it is hard to believe it over.  Upon landing in Germany my body proceeded to force some rest on me with a quick illness that I am just now coming back from.  
Racing in the 15km Classic Individual Start
What was your favorite part of the Olympics?
Racing, I competed in three different events and the races themselves were my favorite part of the entire games.  Going in to the Olympics I was only guaranteed two starts and I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to race the 15 km Classic.  The courses were challenging which suits me well, my skis were great and I feel that I am in perhaps the best shape of my life. 

Team Gregg: Jim (Dad), Tara (Sis), Jan (Mom), Chad (Bro), Manuela (cousin in law), Bill (family) and Alieta (sister in law) 
Outfitting Team Gregg in Olympic Gear
Was there a special moment that stood out in the Games?
When I broke through the starting want at the start of the 15km classic I swear I could hear my family cheering.  They were scheduled to arrive at 6 am that morning in Sochi but didn't have tickets to the race.  Sure enough when I climbed up the big climb the first time I could hear their unmistakable voices.  The same voices that have cheered me on from races and relays from the very beginning.  I didn't look over, I stayed focused on my race but I know I was smiling.  My family, Team Gregg, has done so much to make this Olympic Dream come true.  I had so much fun sharing the Olympic experience with my mom, dad, brother, sister, and sister in law in Sochi. My wife, Caitlin and brother in law, Simon weren't able to make the trip but we were able to connect with them on the phone often.

Caitlin and the Boys and Girls Club crew cheering from back home.
What was the support like back home?
I have the best supporters and fans ever.  I loved waking up each morning and downloading nearly a hundred well wishing emails and photos from all around the US.  So many people have directly been a part of my athletic career and it is just fantastic to share it with them.  I feel like I have several hometowns from Winthrop, WA to my adopted hometowns of Minneapolis, Hayward, and Hawarden. My favorite emails were the ones with pictures where you could just see the excitement of everyone.
Who is that?
Boots fit, suit fits, bib fits, face matches id... let the man ski
Anything special about being at the Olympics with your Twin?
Security was real tight at the Olympics.  Many areas required accreditation to enter.  The nice thing is that most accreditation is verified by a photo id.  I was able to surprise my brother after watching the Women's 4 x 5 km relay with a ski on the race course.  I had my Skiathalon boots and an extra suit.  We helped test skis for the men's 4 x 10 km race the next day and enjoyed the afternoon on the trails together.  Chad also may have enjoyed a few snacks in the dining hall.  My brother hooks me up so many times it was nice to return the favor.
Pig towel...awesome
What were the volunteers like?
The volunteers all wore these colorful uniforms and a big smile.  I have never been somewhere with so many friendly and helpful people.  I really enjoyed getting to know their stories of the Games.  Many of them worked over 12 hour shifts, but they were loving it.  My favorite quote from a bus ride was "you couldn't pay me to work this hard, but to be a part of this Olympics is just incredible."  Thank you to all the volunteers for making the games so wonderful.  I only wish I had more USA pins to give away as thanks.

The view from the Endurance Athlete Village
Did you go to the other villages and venues?
The Endurance Athlete Village was one of three athlete villages and home to all the cross country and biathlon athletes.  The village is at 4,500 feet and requires a 15 minute gondola ride to reach. Originally I thought I would explore a bit more buy my focus on the races left me with only one day 'off of the rock' between the opening and closing ceremonies.  I met the family at the train station and we went down to the Olympic Park.
Enjoying lunch at the Team USA house. Each athlete receives just 4 single day guest passes to the house so it is quite VIP.
The Flame.  A bit of a contrast from the Endurance village.
How awesome is the P&G Family Home?
I am now a lifetime fan of P&G.  To kick things off they offer each athlete a Thank-You-Mom gift of a $1000 visa gift card for the Mom.  Plus the whole family can come to the house for three meals a day.  I don't know that the family ate much while in Sochi until they figured out they could take the train down to the P&G house.  The house includes a Salon and the Team Gregg guys got set up with shaves and hair cuts and the Team Gregg girls had their nails done.  A sweet thing got even sweeter when P&G set the family up with event tickets for ski jumping, ski half pipe, biathlon and the bronze medal hockey game.  They also set my dad up with a Samsung Galaxy smart phone so that we could communicate with each other.  

Thank you P&G
Rockstar grand stand seats at the Women's Biathalon Relay
What other events did you see?
Our suites included televisions with the live feed off all of the Olympic events.  My athlete credential granted me access to pretty much any event at the Games, but my focus of the games was my races.  I did watch the Women's Biathlon Relay race with the family.  It was awesome.  We all got to watch from the athlete section at the top steps of the grand stands. The event started at 6:30 pm which meant it was under the lights.  I think Biathlon is my favorite Olympic sport to watch.  It is fun to watch on television, but even sweeter in real life.

Everyone wanted to get a photo of the Americans.  Me included.  Alieta, Tara and Dad.

The Best Wife and Teammate Ever.  Winning her 3rd American Birkebeiner Title
Where was the other Team Gregg Olympian?
Caitlin was so close to making the 2014 Olympic Team and we were disapointed she was not named to the team.  Still, we find satisfaction in that when we started the year we knew that she was pursuing a very challenging goal.  We laid out a plan of what she would need to do to even have a chance and honestly she did that, including her commanding win at US Nationals.  We had to make the tough call on whether she would come to Sochi as a spectator or return to the USA to race.  We decided that she should show where her fitness and training is at and that as nice as it would be to have her in Russia it would mean missing too much of the racing season and be too expensive.  Her goal was to peak for February 22nd which was the Olympic 30 km but also the American Birkebeiner.  She broke away from the women's pack and won by over a minute.  She also continues to lead the Super Tour which gives her start rights and partial funding for the rest of the World Cups this season.  Congratulations Caitlin!

The 50km crew with Joey, Head of USSA Nordic

Team Gregg taking on Sochi, Russia
What is next?
After the 50km we had a few hours to pack up our bags and check them in remotely for our flight.  We then headed to the Closing Ceremonies and then to the airport.  This departure plan was a bit agressive and I got sick shortly after arriving in Munich.  The national team flew up to Finland for this weekend's World Cup races (Caitlin will be racing the World Cups this weekend with the USST).  I met up with my former Coach Bryan Fish and another group of Americans for three weeks of racing in Central Europe.  I have decided not to race tomorrow to give myself one more day to recover from my illness but plan on racing the 15km Freestyle Swiss Cup on Sunday.

Team USA climbing aboard the 3 am charter to Munich, Germany

Monday, February 10, 2014

First Olympic Race

That was awesome!  First Olympic race in the books today with the 30 km Skiathalon.  The Skiathalon is an event where you classic ski for the first half of the race and then make a 'pit stop' and switch to skating skis.   This has been a World Championship and Olympic event since 2002, but is seldom contested in North America.  The last Skiathalon race I competed in was in March of 2009.  Although I don't have a lot of experience racing it, I have practiced for it by doing time trials and intervals starting classic and switching to skate.

Practicing my exchanges in the pit before the race
Overall I had a good race.  My goal was to start quickly and hang with the main pack for the first lap and then find my own pace.  I lost a fair amount of time in the classic portion of the race but felt that I skied well.  My skis were awesome and I felt that I skied technically well.  I switched to my skate skis in 57th position which is pretty far back.  After a few kilometers skating my legs adjusted to the different technique and I was able to move up in the pack.  I caught many of the skiers in front of me and moved as far us as 45th place.  I finished the day in 47th, but with the 37th fastest skate time and just about one minute out of a top 20 skate time.  This is a good sign for me to earn a start in the relay and for a possible top 30 in the 50 km Freestyle.

Noah, Erik and I all had our first Olympic start in the Skiathalon.  About 10 minutes before our start I think this photo captures our nervous excitement.
Conditions are ideal. We have had sun nearly every day, the tracks are groomed perfectly and the views from our mountain top venue are gorgeous.
Zach Caldwell is my Wax Technician for the Olympics and has made me great skis.  He has several pairs of skis freshly waxed up and ready for me to test each day.  This is a luxury I am not used to and is really nice.  Zach works with Kris Freeman and myself and works long hard days.  My skis have been great, thanks Zach.

Watching the Opening Ceremonies live was simply amazing.  I believe these animals were programmed robots and they looks almost real skiing, skating, snowboarding and waving at the crowd.
The opening ceremonies is a long process for the athletes.  We were told we would leave the Endurance Athlete Village at 4 pm and not return until 1:30 am.  Thankfully we ended up leaving at about 5:30 pm and returned at 12:45 pm.  Still it was a lengthy process.  Some athletes chose to walk in the ceremony but not stay for the show.  I was actually the only American athlete from the village to stay for the show.   Our competitions do not begin until 2 pm so I decided I could afford to stay up late.

Me and Todd Lodwick.  Todd is and nordic combined athlete and carried the Flag for Team USA in the opening ceremonies.  He is the first American to compete in 6 winter Olympics.  

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Team USA representatives from the Endurance Athlete Village (Cross Country and Biathlon) preparing to head to the Opening Ceremonies.
I am eating lots of vegetables.  The dining hall has plenty of options and variety.  Plus it is open 24 hours a day.  I want to try a little of everything, but I control myself to keep my diet normal.
My home for the next 3 weeks.  My teammate Erik said yesterday that he could just stay here forever.  I would have to agree, it is very nice.