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Welcome! My name is Michael Somppi and I'm a competitive cross-country skier. I developed this blog so sponsors, family, friends and fans can keep up to date with my life as a full-time athlete. You can expect regular blog posts about racing, training, and life in general. Check out other sections of my blog by clicking on the tabs above.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Canmore and more

NorAm #4 (Western Canadian Championships) was an exciting one that took place at the Canmore Nordic Centre. What made it so exciting was the race format, a 3-stage mini-Tour. Friday was a 10km classic individual start, Saturday was a skate sprint and Sunday we wrapped it up with a 15km skate pursuit. 3 days of racing back to back on the hilly Canmore Olympic courses is no easy task however I enjoy the mini-Tour format and made it a goal to finish the Tour in the top 6 overall.

Friday’s 10km classic went well. I skied a strong first lap, faded somewhat in the 2nd lap, and then held it together to post a decent 3rd lap time and finish the day in 10th place. The course was really challenging and made for a gritty race. Pushing myself to keep the pace up on the final lap left me completely depleted post race. I walked straight inside, albeit slowly, and sat down to nurse my throbbing head.

Only a few strides into my morning jog on Saturday I knew my body hadn’t entirely recovered from the effort the day before. My legs were heavy. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. Nevertheless, there was a race to compete in! My qualifier was sub-par for me, as my legs still felt sluggish. I had difficulty coaxing them to push with their full power. Still, I skied well enough to get into the heats and fight for bonus seconds.

My quarterfinal was a fast one and after finishing 3rd place I squeaked into the semi-finals as a lucky loser. After a slow start in my semi I decided to conserve some energy for the B-Final rather than go for broke and attempt to get back into contention for a spot in the A-Final. With so many bonus seconds on the line for the mini-Tour I knew it was important to grab as many as possible. Sitting in 5th place shortly into the start of the B-Final heat we came around an uphill corner and I made my move. Any energy I saved I used now, skiing by everyone into 1st place. My teammate Harry Seaton finished strong to win the heat and I held on for 2nd place and 8th place on the day, picking up 38 bonus seconds.

The final day of the mini-Tour is the most exciting one. Each athlete’s time from the two previous races is added up and any bonus seconds earned from the sprint day are subtracted to give the athlete their current ranking. After two days of racing I sat in 9th place, only 17 seconds out of 6th place. I was fortunate to start Sunday’s 15km Pursuit at the same time as Jess Cockney and only 3 seconds behind Brian McKeever. The three of us formed a group and worked together to pull back time on skiers ahead of us. I should give special mention to Jess who took charge and led a fast pace for much of the first half of the race. I felt great on my skis today and nearing the finish our group of three had already moved past two skiers making a top six within reach. In the final km it came down to Brian and I. My effort on the final climb wasn’t enough to shake him and he blew by me at the bottom of the fast downhill into the stadium to claim 5th place, while I crossed the line just behind in… 6th! Top six overall in the mini-Tour! I was stoked!

Sixth place in the Western Championships mini-Tour

Soon after I found out I also had the 3rd fastest time on the day! Only 8.8 seconds behind the fastest time and 3.8 seconds behind World Cup skier Ivan Babikov. I’m still surprised at that result! It was an awesome way to cap off January’s races.

My first podium of the year! 3rd place in the 15km Skate.

So, what’s on the docket for February you ask? Europe I answer! I qualified for CCC’s February convergence trip and will have the opportunity to race OPA and Scandinavian Cup races in Switzerland, Latvia and Estonia. It’s a quick turnaround since I arrived home yesterday and will be departing for Switzerland this Sunday. I’ll do my best to put up a post or two while I’m across the pond.

On to the next racing adventure!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Early Winter Recap

I’ve forgotten about my blog for long enough! The ski season is well under way now so I’ll do a “brief” recap to get you up to speed.

NorAm #1 – Sovereign Lake, BC

On December 1st I did my first skate ski of the season in Silver Star, BC. I was pumped to be out there with great skiing conditions. My motivation was high and I put in some solid training hours over the next 4 days then followed it up with a good showing in a 15km classic TT on the 5th. The 6th was a rest day and on the 7th our team geared up for the first race weekend of the season.

The weekend’s racing was not what I had hoped for, but there were some good signs. I had a great qualifier in the classic sprint on Saturday, finishing 12th (5th Canadian). Unfortunately my energy ran out fast my quarterfinal and I finished the day in a disappointing 21st place. Sunday’s 15km classic individual start didn’t go as planned either. I actually skied a little slower than I did in our team’s TT on Monday. Still, I pushed myself to the limit and finished 12th (6th Canadian), so it wasn’t a terrible result.

Opening day of my season (Photo Credit - Jesse Winter)

NorAm #2 – Rossland, BC

After a long drive in sketchy conditions our team arrived in Rossland on December 12th and I was happy to be off the mountain (Silver Star) and back to a lower altitude. I’ve always enjoyed visiting Rossland. The ski trails are fun and the town itself is everything you’d imagine a small ski town to be: charming, cozy and colourful. It’s my definition of a winter wonderland.

This year we went for an adventure ski at Paulsen Ski Club and we were all blown away with the trail system there. It’s mostly classic skiing and many trails are single-track through forests of thick tall trees covered in an abundance of snow. If I find myself back in Rossland during the winter months I will most certainly be skiing there again.

After coming down from altitude my body was feeling really good which is why I was so shocked and confused by my result in Saturday’s skate sprint qualifier. I finished 20th. Yikes. Time to regroup. I got out to a slow start in my quarterfinal, then was boxed out and pushed into 6th place. Enough of this I thought and I started making more aggressive moves. A few minutes later I skied in to the line alone in 1st place leaving the other 5 guys behind on the ground after narrowly avoiding a big crash. This was the break I needed.

Narrowly escaping crashzilla! (Photo credit - David Greer)

Skiing to the finish alone in my quarterfinal.

I felt relaxed in my semifinal and got off to a quick start, leading for the majority of the race. After finishing 2nd in the heat I was on to the A-Final. What a turn around! Again I had a good start and was right in the mix. I faded a little over the first climb and almost lost contact, but managed to fight hard and stay in contention for the podium. Coming down the home stretch I saw the finish line staring at me with the 2nd and 3rd placed skiers just ahead of me on my left. Podium I thought as I gave everything I had left. I stretched out my leg at the line, looked left and saw Brent and Kevin with their legs stretched out too. No podium. It was a wooden medal for me. It was a tough pill to swallow, finishing 4th when it was so close, but on the positive side this was my best sprint result EVER in Senior Men.

Pushing it to the line. I'm #19 on the left.

4th place finish in the Sprint with teammate Harry Seaton in 5th

Sunday’s 15km Skate Mass Start went well too. I pushed myself to the limit again and finished 7th place. To be honest, I was expecting to be able to stay with the lead pack longer, however I did all I could on the given day and that’s all I can ask of myself.

Christmas Break

So, there you have it. My pre-Christmas races were a mixed-bag and I’m determined to improve in January. The Christmas break was good as always; spending time with family, friends and my girlfriend. With a longer than usual break from the racing circuit this year I was able to do a bigger training load and a couple races. I competed in the annual Boxing Day Classic at Lappe to burn off all those Christmas day treats. The race went pretty terribly for me, but it was still a good effort. On January 6th myself along with some teammates raced a classic prologue as part of the first Ontario Cup race of the season. I paced the race well and was happy to notch a win before heading back to the NorAm circuit.

It always feels good to win a race at your home club. On the podium with teammates Andy Shields and Chris Hamilton. (Photo Credit - Paul Inkila)

NorAm #3 – Callaghan Valley (Whistler), BC

After all the build up, the race series started up again in Whistler Olympic Park. My training had gone according to plan and I was feeling ready to go. Somehow, in the final few days leading up to the races I started to feel off. My body felt heavy and fatigued, not the way peaking should work… My race prep intensity on Tuesday still went well enough so I figured it was nothing. 4km into the 30km Pursuit on Thursday I realized it wasn’t nothing. My body wasn’t functioning normally. My arms had no power, then my legs got heavy fast and I was left struggling to hang on to a charging lead pack. At 8km I blew up. I stopped skiing and started shuffling unable to do anything. Fortunately Chris Hamilton caught me and I found some energy to follow the tails of his skis. I pulled it together and felt ok for the final 3.75km lap of the classic leg, then fell apart again as I started the skate leg. It took all my willpower to follow Chris and Andy around the course for 3 of 4 laps. On the bell lap they both gave a little extra and I was left on my own to ski it in to the finish. Despite feeling sub-par I managed to finish 12th. Not at all the result I had been working so hard for, but I suppose it could have been worse.

I have a few theories about what may have gone wrong and trust me, I’ve thought about it a lot. Either way, I had to get my body feeling better. I did all I could to rest and recover before the sprint on Saturday, yet when I woke up in the morning before the sprints I felt rough. I considered not starting, but after my surprise 4th place in the sprints in Rossland, I couldn’t bring myself to skip out.

I stood on the line thinking, “whatever happens, happens. Give it your best.” I still felt exhausted climbing out of the stadium on the sprint course and crossed the line expecting a bad result. To my surprise, I qualified 8th! Racing sure can be confusing sometimes. By the afternoon I felt better and skied well through the heats making it into the A-Final. I tried an early move in the Final swinging wide up the first climb to pass a few guys. It worked out well until I tried to move back into the faster, more skied in lane, got tangled up with another skier and crashed onto my side in the snow. I did my best to catch back up but the deficit was too much. I was only able to pass one skier who was the victim of another crash before crossing the finish line in 5th place. Of course I’m a little disappointed I didn’t have the opportunity to challenge for a medal. Nevertheless, after my bad showing in the pursuit, a 5th place in the sprint was what I needed to bounce back.

Mixing it up in the heats. (Photo Credit - Jesse Winter)

Sunday morning I felt great warming up. Although I wasn’t skiing super fast out there, I had a solid day and felt the best I have so far this season in a distance race. I finished the 15km Classic Individual Start in 7th place.

Finding some good feelings in 15km Classic. (Photo Credit - Jesse Winter)

To date, this season has gone differently than I would have thought. My distance racing has been sort of blah; some decent performances but nothing remarkable yet. On the other hand, my sprinting has improved plenty. My qualifier in Silver Star was solid and my heat skiing in Rossland and Whistler was way better than previous years. I wouldn’t have guessed my top results would be in sprints, that’s for sure.

Next on the docket is NorAm #4 in Canmore, AB. I’m hanging out in a condo in Canmore as I write this and avoiding the -27 degree weather outside. I’ve managed to contract my first cold of the 2011-12 season so I’m laying low at the moment. Hopefully I’ll be over it shortly and ready for more racing action this weekend. And yes, I will keep this blog updated more frequently throughout the rest of the season.