Friday 22 March 2013

From Russia with Love.

The final round of the Ice World Cup took place in Kirov, Russia. Where is Kirov? A flipping long way away. The competition organisers had it all sorted, the competitors arrive into Moscow and then hop on the trans-siberian express train overnight and arrive bright eyed and bushy tailed in Kirov to compete that day....which all seemed a bit rushed to myself and Lukasz and Si, so we arranged to go a day earlier.
Arriving in Moscow is like arriving on another planet - we couldn't understand anything, not a signpost, not a word of what people were saying - nothing! By some fluke we managed to negotiate our way to meet up with Pavel - our man in Moscow who took us to the right train, got our tickets and set us off on a  long journey. Now, I had all kinds of romantic ideas about the train journey, no doubt fuelled by old films and James Bond. You can imagine my disappointment when Lukasz and I slid open the door to our sleeping carriage to find two large old russian blokes in their underpants! Illusions well and truly shattered, I then realised I was going to spend a night in a rabbit hutch with 2 fat blokes and Lukasz!

We arrived in Kirov and despite reports of minus 30 degree temperatures it was a positively balmy -8 although the biting siberian wind wasn't helping as the days progressed. We hadn't had chance to see a lot from the train as it had been dark almost the whole journey, but we now had the opportunity to do a bit of sight-seeing - if you can call it that! Russia mostly seems to be made up of power stations, grey buildings, snow and be populated by Lada's. This may be a sweeping generalisation, but around Kirov there didn't seem to be a whole lot else! Kirov itself is dominated by an ENORMOUS ski-jump! We walked around to the landing area - they must be completely bonkers to throw themselves off it. Alongside is a series of smaller and smaller jumps and the stars of the future were already there learning at about 8 years old, they must look up at that big jump and be terrified of what awaits them!

The world cup structure is built underneath the ski jump so it's quite  cool and dramatic setting. The competition was also run on a slightly different format too. This time there were 2 routes for the qualifiers and no isolation. Some poor chap had to come along a demonstrate the routes - which was hilarious on one of them it took him about 15 minutes to climb the route with a rest approximately every clip and the second route he had to lower off half way and go back up half an hour later due to being so pumped!! The routes were long, but the time allowed was only 4 minutes which meant that it became a bit more of a speed climbing experience. Even the big guns like the Tomilovs and Heeyong Park didn't top out.
I did OK in the qualifiers, I climbed much better on the second route I did, and got to the same hold as many of the climbers that went through to the semi-finals - but having not done so well on the first route it meant I ended up in 26th place. Once again a few more holds and I'd have managed to qualify. The qualification went on late into the night, poor old Si was climbing his second route at 11:45pm by which time it was absolutely baltic!!
The other change to the competition was that it didn't cost extra to enter the speed competition - so we all decided we might as well give it a go for a giggle. Hmmmm, well I'm sure it was a giggle for anyone watching my attempt! I'd like to think it was my massive power that ripped the tools out of the ice - but frankly I think my speed climbing technique is a bit shoddy - or it was for the approximately 2 metres of climbing I managed before falling off - ooops!
 The atmosphere at this final round was great - everyone has become a bit of a family and the fact that we then all travelled back on the overnight train together rounded it all off brilliantly. As we were leaving Kirov the organisers appeared in the hotel with boxes of who knows what Russian alcohol - vodka, champagne (or whatever the russian name is), something that looks like the troops were well provisioned for the ride home. I have to say I was a little worried that it might get out of hand and that this grumpy old man wouldn't have anywhere quiet to sleep - luckily everyone is like a proper athlete, so after a couple of hours they'd all gone to bed!! Not exactly hardcore partying!

So that was the end of the World Cup series for 2013 - and I can honestly say that I've enjoyed being involved, I feel like I've learned a massive amount and despite having been ill for all except the final round I don't feel like I've made a complete fool of myself. So, now it's time to get thinking about the next season which rumour has it may well start in December and in a new venue.

Better get training!

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