Welcome to my Blog!

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, 26 February 2013

Rinks & Racing

I’m a big hockey fan.  Not necessarily a big NHL TV watching fan, although I am running a fantasy team in a league I unintentionally got into.  It’s filling the void left after NFL fantasy season is over…  My point is, I love to play hockey.  I love to skate; I’ve been skating since a young age.  I remember my power skating lessons back when I was too young to play in a league.  Then I spent a few years in a recreational league for younger kids before moving up into the more competitive league.

It was a fun environment.  Being part of a team, meeting new friends, trash talking with my buddies at school who were in the same league but often on different teams.  Mostly though, I loved to skate.  The feeling when you start at one end of the rink with the puck on your stick and make it to the other end slipping the puck past the goaltender was incredible.  Not saying I did it often or anything, but the few times I did were memorable.

Last week those memories resurfaced when the Alberta World Cup Academy men’s team rented one of the local indoor rinks, strapped on our skates and helmets and played a wicked exhibition game.  Habs vs. Oilers.  Habs took the game 11 – 10.  I was on the Habs, just saying haha.  It was an awesome time, I hadn’t been on an indoor rink in 5 years!  I always get out a number of times each winter on the outdoor rinks for some fun games, but an indoor rink is a whole other experience.  It brought back lots of childhood memories.  I’ll definitely be joining a men’s league when I’m done with ski racing!

Ski racing, right, that’s what this blog is about!

This past weekend was the final NorAm circuit event of the season, Western Canadian Championships.  The stakes were high with plenty of NorAm points on the line and lots of guys close in the NorAm standings.  The races kicked off with a skate sprint, followed by a 15km classic individual start before finishing with a 30km skate.  I know I’m capable of throwing down a solid skate sprint and 15km classic, but my bread and butter is skate distance racing.  Since it was a mini-Tour format I knew I needed top 5 performances in the first two races to be within striking distance on the final day if I wanted to contend for the overall mini-Tour victory.

The sprint qualifier didn’t feel so great, but I guess I was moving pretty well because I qualified 4th place.  I felt much better in the heats and won both my quarter-final and semi-final heats.  I still had good feelings in the A-Final, but unfortunately the course was narrow and twisty, making it very difficult to pass.  Off the start I was in third place and despite a good attempt to pass I was still in third coming into the finish stretch.  Instead of waiting to see what lanes the guys in front of me would take I jumped wide early, vying for the outside lane in an attempt to win.  The plan backfired when Brent veered left into the middle lane and Jess jumped around him into the outside lane, cutting me off in the process.  I lost my balance momentarily, jumped into the middle lane and did my best to regain my finishing speed.  While all this was happening, my Lappe teammate, Andy Shields, snuck by in the wide open inside lane and grabbed third place from me in a photo finish.  I was shocked and upset.  As I’m quickly learning, that’s the way sprint racing goes sometimes.

The classic 15km started well.  I skied a strong opening lap, with the 3rd fastest lap time.  Unfortunately I couldn’t hold it together.  I faded on the second time up the climbing section then crashed on the final downhill of my second lap.  I skied the final 5km lap as best I could to finish 5th on the day.  5th wasn’t a bad result, however I lost big time to the winner of the day, Graeme Killick, who crushed the field with a commanding win.

I started in 4th place for the 30km Skate Pursuit, 1 minute and 4 seconds behind the mini-Tour leader, Graeme.  It felt like deja vous from Eastern Canadian Champs when I started in 4th on the final day.  The difference was this time I was much further behind the leader; however, it was my preferred technique, skate.  As the race unfolded I realized I wasn’t going to catch the top two guys anytime soon so I opted for the strategy of pacing.  After blowing up yesterday I didn’t want to do it again, plus I had a teammate, Kevin, to ski with so I kept it in control and bided my time.  I started to push a little more on the 4th lap but decided I couldn’t hold it to the end and backed off again.  By the end of the 5th lap I couldn’t wait any longer.  I had to at least try to pull some time back on the top two guys.  I attacked and emptied the tank in the final 6kms.  I started getting splits that I was reeling them in.  Then I caught a few glimpses of Jesse, the second place skier.  Pretty soon I was right behind, only metres away from catching up.  I was also running out of time, we were only about 1km from the finish line.  I quickly thought through tactics and knowing Jesse’s sprint capabilities I decided my best chance was to blow by him on the final short climb a few hundred metres out from the finish and hope he couldn’t hold on.  I executed and managed to get a small gap, but it wasn’t enough.  He tailed me into the stadium and it was a drag race to the line.  I did my best to turn it over and make my lactated legs move quickly however I was outmatched and lost in my second photo finish of the week.

After the dramatic finish, I was 3rd in the mini-Tour and had the fastest time of the day.  Another good skate distance race in the books.  The NorAm standings are closer than ever.  Jesse and I are actually tied after counting our best 9 races and Graeme is only 5 points behind.  It’s practically a three-way tie.  The good news for me is in a tiebreak I come out on top and am declared the NorAm leader for the period 5 World Cups.  So, I’ll be travelling this Friday to Lahti, Finland to join up with Canada’s World Cup team and race some World Cup events!  I have three weekends of racing ahead of me including World Cups in Finland, Norway and World Cup Finals in Sweden.  The stoke level is HIGH!

Next update will be from Scandinavia!

Signing out,

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Harlem Shake with AWCA Men's Team

If you've heard of the new YouTube sensation, the Harlem Shake, then you know what this is.  If you haven't, then you should check it out.  Here's the Alberta World Cup Academy men's team version of the Harlem Shake filmed at the Canmore Nordic Centre.

Back to the Blogosphere

Back to the blogosphere! Hey old friend, it’s been a while.  Since my last post, two months of ski racing have come and gone.  As always in a competitive athlete’s journey there have been peaks and valleys.  I’ll attempt to give you an overview without turning this into a hundred thousand-word essay.

Canmore NorAm
My season kicked off with the first NorAm circuit races on December 1st & 2nd.  The first race weekend is always nerve wracking, as you never really know how good your shape is until you put it to the real test, a race.  This year the first races were even more high stress because they were selection races for the Canadian World Cups.  My results weren’t anything spectacular, with an 8th place in the 15km classic and a 14th place (9th Canadian) in the skate sprint, but it was enough to get me on the start list for the Canadian World Cups.

I opted to not make the trip to Quebec for the World Cups there as they were only sprint events and my focus is more on distance.  Instead I travelled to Silver Star, BC for the second NorAm circuit races.

Sovereign Lakes NorAm
I had a great time in Silver Star for three reasons: the trails are awesome, the snow was plentiful as it usually is, and I found my distance skiing form.  The 15km classic mass start was one of my better classic performances to date.  I led a good portion of the race and pushed the pace all the way to the line.  Unfortunately I tripped myself up twice (likely because I had so much lactate in my legs) close to the finish and both times lost the advantage of being in front that I had worked hard to get.  I ended up narrowly missing the podium, finishing 4th (3rd Canadian) in a photo finish.

The 15km skate was a solid race and I hit the podium for the first time this season, finishing 2nd place.

15km Classic Mass Start - I'm on the left skiing with team-mates Kevin, Graham & Graeme
(Photo Credit - Angus Cockney)

Photo Finish between Graeme and I.  Just missed out on the podium.
Canmore World Cups
Four short days after racing at Sovereign Lakes, I was on the start line of a 15km classic mass start World Cup surrounded by an International field of the World’s best skiers.  I hit my early season peak in Silver Star.  The race went awful.  Three days ended up not being enough time to recover for me.  Combine that with some equipment/waxing issues and I was struggling out there.

This was the low point of my season.  I wanted so badly to vanish, to just disappear and not deal with my current situation of being in last place.  I remembered I was setting an example for all the young skiers out there cheering us on and I didn’t want to be the guy that gave up, so I rallied back, caught up to a teammate that was having similar struggles and skied it in with him.  The emotions alone in that race zapped all my energy.

The skate sprint was better, I finished 55th in a 71 skier field.  And the 30km Pursuit was an improvement, I finished 41st in a 60 skier field.  Unfortunately none of my World Cup races felt as good as my races from the weekend prior.

Christmas Holidays
After some recovery followed by a few long training days in Canmore, I hopped on a plane and flew home to Thunder Bay.  Despite the limited snow in TBay it was great to be home and enjoy some time with family and friends.  The bonus was I didn’t have to travel anywhere after the holidays.  The NorAm circuit was coming to me!

Thunder Bay NorAm
With World Championship Trials at home I was motivated to perform well.  I led out the 30km Pursuit with confidence.  A large group stayed together and starting the skate portion there were still plenty of skiers in the mix.  I had trouble moving up in the group and was feeling the yo-yo effect big time.  The lead pack thinned out each lap until it was done to 4 of us.  I waited at the back for my chance to move up, but when the time came I didn’t have the energy left to execute.  I wound up finishing in 4th, 2 seconds off the podium.

The classic sprint was really exciting for me.  My qualifier was solid and I managed to win both my quarterfinal heat and my semi-final heat with the fastest times of the day in each.  The semi-final heat felt more like an A-Final, duking it out with 3 other National Team guys right to the line.  I stuck with my tactics in the A-Final, starting fast and leading the heat out, down the hill and into the bottom of the climb.  I gave everything I had, but it wasn’t enough.  My legs couldn’t repeat my semi-final performance and I wound up 6th place on the day.  It was my first classic sprint A-Final on the NorAm circuit, yet I was frustrated I wasn’t able to match my semi-final performance in the A-final.

Above: Fighting over the crest of the big climb in my semi-final heat, I'm bib 105.
Below: Four way photo-finish in the semi-final.  I was able to take the heat win.

I took those frustrations out the next day in the 15km skate race.  I attacked the course right from the start and didn’t let up once.  I crossed the finish line to claim my first NorAm victory.  I would say that moment was the peak of my season so far.  Winning on my home course in front of friends and family was a great feeling.

First NorAm victory!  My room-mates and team-mates
Russell Kennedy and Chris Hamilton finished 2nd and 3rd respectively. 
Duntroon NorAm
I got on a bit of a roll after Thunder Bay.  I made it through the rounds without too much trouble in the classic sprint and found myself in another A-Final.  I really wasn’t feeling completely on my game though and it showed in the Final when the top sprinters took it up a notch.  I finished with a 4th place after the winner was relegated for obstruction of another skier.  The second day of racing was my go to event, the 15km skate.  I had a good outing, finishing 3rd place.  I still felt a little flat, not super energetic like in Thunder Bay, but it’s hard to complain about being on the podium.

Eastern Canadian Championships
I felt great for the first day of competition at Easterns, but my result didn’t show it.  Despite some good feelings, the new sprint course at Nakkertok played more to my technical weaknesses in classic.  The big climb combined with broken down tracks meant lots of fast uphill running, an area I need to improve.  I qualified 12th and finished the day in 16th.  Fortunately for me the next day was another 15km skate and I was feeling on my game.  I took my second victory on the NorAm circuit and put myself back into contention for the mini-Tour podium.  The final day was a 30km Pursuit based off results from the previous two races.  I started the day in 4th place, 12 seconds behind the leader.  We formed a group right away and skied together for the entire race.  Around 10km into the race I crashed on an icy patch and was forced to use extra energy to pull back the 10-second gap that opened.  That extra energy would have been useful for the finishing sprint because I didn’t have the fastest skis in the group or the best finishing kick.  I wound up finishing 4th place in the mini-Tour with the 2nd fastest time of the day.

30km Classic Pursuit Lead Pack, I'm bib 4
(Photo Credit: J. Holden)
It’s been a competitive NorAm season so far and currently I am sitting in 2nd place overall.  The final NorAm circuit race of the season will be held in Grande Prairie, AB on Feb. 22nd – 24th.  It’s another mini-Tour format with 3 races back to back.  I will be striving for more podium results and my first mini-Tour victory.

If you managed to make it this far, you win a purple elephant!  I’m only kidding, I don’t have any purple elephants… And now you’re all up to date on my ski season!  Hooraw!

I promise no more epic posts following lengthy procrastination for the remainder of the winter.