The USA ski group arrived in Moscow Sheremetevo Airport on February 17 in small groups from around the United States for the Twenty-Fifth Masters World Championships. The late afternoon weather was cold and cloudy with snow flurries. We were met at immigration by young ladies bearing MWC2005 signs. They led us to our bus that would take us to Le Meridien, our Russian five-star resort hotel. The five from Michigan were Milan and Vojin Baic, Jean Murray, Beth Caldwell and Jim Woodburne. We waited for Maggie and Alec Davis from New York to arrive and join us for the trip to the hotel. The rest of the US team arriving later were: Barbara Lewis from Connecticut, Dan Karig from New York, Joann Schmitz from Washington, Carolyn Tiernen from California, Ron Caple from Minnesota, Abett Icks from Wisconsin, J.D. Downing and Dick Hunt from Oregon and the Linton family, Skip, Mary Ellen, Mark and Kate from Vermont.
All of us were very tired as we had lost 8 hours or more without much sleep. Still our eyes were glued to the bus windows as the Russian landscape unfolded. Many high rise apartment complexes, some six story apartment compounds built in the sixties and dachas, small cottages used as retreats from the inner city of Moscow filled the countryside. These dachas were trimmed with very ornate window moldings and painted in bright colors. Gardens and orchards enclosed by fences surrounded the dachas. Some were occupied and others were for warm weather use only. A billboard welcomed the Masters World Championships to Kragnogorsk.
Finally the bus turned into a long wooded road leading to our resort hotel. A large compound with many buildings and our bus driver couldn't find the main entrance for the "Check in " desk. When he stopped for a cigarette and to call for help some of us got off and headed for the nearest entrance. With our non-existent Russian and the clerks limited English we found our way to the main lobby and checked in to our very fancy rooms. We had time to freshen up and relax before the dinner buffet opened. There were at least six choices of entrees and many salads and desserts. Tea and coffee were included, if you wanted water or any other beverage, you were billed. Most of us opted to bring our own water bottles to dinner. It was early to bed and then early to wake up, not intended.
The next morning after a fancy breakfast with omelets made to order, we joined other USA skiers on the bus to head for the ski venue. Upon check in, the lady said she had to keep our passports. Well, we were very concerned but luckily Abett spoke fluent Russian and it was explained that the Police had to stamp our immigration paper and we would get our passports back on Wednesday. Luckily we all had copies of our passports so carried them until we got our passports back. Off to try out the course after locating our USA team room with toilet and showers.
What a course!
The first 3 kilometers were very hilly along the Moscow River moraine, the next 10 kilometers were flat on the B course and hilly for the A course. The last 2 kilometers were hilly again into the finish line. Jet lag didn't help any of us to ski record times but the snow was great and the course well groomed.
Saturday evening was the opening ceremony on the steps of the Krasnogorsk City Hall. There were flags and signs for each participating country. Bands played and we proceeded to the steps for speeches of welcome in French, Russian, German and English. The English speeches were always the shortest because the translator had to remember what was said through the other translations. After fireworks, we were invited inside through one door into the hall for drinks, folk dancing and singing, native Russian craft sales and more speeches and local entertainment. Krasnogorsk is a cultural center dating back into the 15th century and they were sharing their culture with us.
The races began on Sunday, February 20, with the 15 kilometer freestyle. A team meeting for last minute instructions and wax discussions preceded each race. Some of the USA group had a tour of Moscow while the freestylers were skiing. All had lots to share that evening at dinner. Milan had a great race but was blocked out by the Russians and came in sixth, not bad in a world competition.
The week continued in the same routine, waxing skis, racing, sightseeing, trips to the saunas, eating and the award ceremony each evening. A bug hit several of our skiers and they had to skip racing the rest of the week.
One sightseeing trip went into Moscow. In Moscow we saw Red Square with St. Basil's Russian Orthodox Church, Lenin's Tomb and the Kremlin Walls. Inside the Kremlin we visited the Museum with jeweled dishes, Bible stands, coronation dresses and many old carriages dating back into the 14th century.
Walking around inside the Kremlin we saw the the many towers and buildings in honor of tsars and rulers. If you stepped off the sidewalk a whistle blew and you were told to get back on the sidewalk. The only traffic were police vehicles but rules are rules. The Krushev building was the most modern and not appreciated by our guide. We also visited the rebuilt Church of Christ the Savior to replace the destroyed earlier church on the same site. Some of us had a chance to ride the circle subway and see the tile mosaics and other featured art work at the stations.
Our other tour was to the monastery at Sergiev Posad, a two hour bus ride from our hotel. It is a working monastery and had many churches. It was begun by St. Sergius in 1337. We visited several of the chapels and walked around the walled compound. The icons were beautiful depicting various Bible stories. Behind the altar were 5 tiers of icons according to the Russian orthodox tradition. Some of the icons were being restored. Lines of people were visiting, lighting candles and paying respect to the relics.
The countryside was filled with large high rise apartment complexes, heating plants with many chimneys spewing out smoke for the central heating piped to the buildings. People trudged through the snow on beaten paths to their homes. Along the highways were paths used by walkers or cross country skiers. People pulled their parcels and children on sleds along the paths. The women all wore long dark overcoats, lots of them fur, and warm high boots. The "freeways" had bus stops where people got on or off and walked home. Gardens were grouped together around the open countryside with each plot neatly fenced an a garden shed in the corner. People from the city grow their own fresh produce to eat and sell. Russian police and military were prevalent along the roads and at the ski venue.
Back to skiing.
Thursday was relay day. We had a women's team in the 60-69 category and a men's team in the 30 and up category. Both teams won medals!
The women's team of Abett Icks, Jean Murray, Beth Caldwell and Mary Ellen Linton received a silver medal by finishing! The men's team of Milan Baic, Mark Linton, Skip Linton and J.D. Downing won a bronze by 8 seconds. The medals are huge and came with a large Russian made cut glass vase bearing the Masters World Championship logo.
Kate Linton was our other medalist. She won a bronze medal in the 30 kilometer classic race. Congratulations to the Vermont Lintons.
The Russians concluded the Masters with a wonderful banquet at the new Crocus Center in Krasnogorsk. Live music, vodka, wine and dancing accompanied the dinner. Barbara Lewis received a Masters World Championship vase and a Krasnogorsk herald plaque for her great performance in her three races. Barbara has been blind since birth and this year only was able to use one arm, her other arm in a cast. She skis with Ron Caple as her guide and is very good.
A wonderful time was had by all. We hope to see more USA skiers in Italy next winter.