On Monday morning, about 300 athletes, staff, and IBU officials began the final leg of the 2008-2009 Biathlon World Tour at the Trondheim airport.
The charter flights from Trondheim to Khanty Mansiysk, Russia represented the beginning of the end of the season as well as a long year of travel. Four more days of competition and this season will be history.
As always, the charter flights were on the reliable Tupolov 154 aircraft. Because of the huge volume of baggage: ski bags, wax boxes, rifles, massage tables, and personal luggage, the normal “first-class” front cabin was filled with ski bags, secured tightly by a large canvas cover. In the back passenger cabin, it was fairly comfortable as only about 85 people were on each flight, leaving an empty seat in each row to stretch out. Stretching out was the order of the day! After the meal, virtually every athlete was asleep. During the Trondheim World Cup, the constant theme echoed in every interview with the best athletes from Olga Zaitseva to Simon Eder was fatigue. After three podium appearances in Trondheim, Eder admitted, “I am very happy to have three days of rest now; one would not be enough.”
After a fast trip through Russian customs and the police-escorted drive through the constantly changing mini-city of Khanty Mansiysk to the Seven Hills Hotel, most people had a late dinner and were off to bed. Lowell Bailey of the US said this morning, “I am not sure how I feel, but I slept 10 hours.” Bailey and the other athletes in the Palace Restaurant at breakfast were pretty relaxed, chatting and enjoying an unpressured meal, as these final competitions approach. The focus over the coming days is on rest and a bit of training while trying to gather up adequate energy for a few more quality efforts in the biathlon stadium.
It has been a long season, with the most extensive travel schedule probably in the history of the IBU Biathlon World Cup. The season started the end of November in Ostersund. Sweden then shifted to Hochfilzen, Austria. The January competitions stayed as normal in Oberhof, Ruhpolding and Antholz. Then the fun began, with World Youth and Junior Championships in Canmore, Alberta Canada, followed closely by almost three weeks in Pyeongchang, Korea for the World Championships. Some competitors went from Pyeongchang to Ufa, Russia for the IBU Open European U26 Championships, then directly to Whistler for World Cup 7. Leaving immediately after the Sunday relay in Whistler, many took a long route back to Trondheim, Norway and now on the Khanty Mansiysk.
It has been a long season of travel, interspersed with many brilliant competitions.When the season began, few would have expected the World Championship of Dominik Landertinger of Austria, the dramatic rise of Helena Jonsson of Sweden or the amazing consistency of Olga Zaitseva in a season that spanned the globe.
The last leg of the journey has started, but the season is not over. This week in Khanty Mansiysk could hold more surprises and on Monday, the absolute final airplane trip to an unfamiliar place, home.