Over a year has passed since one of the greatest experiences of my life; being a part of Team GB at the 2011 Winter Universiade in Erzurum Turkey. I had meant to write about the event during my time in Turkey or at least during the week after but one thing led to another and I never got round to it.
As ski cross was one of the last events of the games, we were the last of Team GB to arrive. This meant we missed the opening ceremony and some of our teammates had already left the village and headed back to the UK. Despite this we still spent a whole week in the village so managed to soak up the atmosphere and spirit of the event.
Our transport out to Erzurum is worth a mention! The journey consisted of 3 flights, a 7am Heathrow departure, a 5 hour layover in Istanbul, a quick hop to Ankara followed by 2 hours up to Erzurum. We had the pleasure of circling above Erzurum whilst snow was cleared from the runway and to this day I’m sure I felt the plane slide sideways for a second only for the pilot to apply some opposite lock and steer us to safety. Oh, this happened at 2am so all in all a long day!
A bit about village life
The accreditation is your lifeline! Without it there was no access to anything and more importantly there was no food. Thankfully we remained “with accreditation for the whole time” and therefore remained well fed. Food is a good place to start! It can be best described as a school dining hall and the pupils are for every country in the world (not quite but 58 nations were represented, 1880 athletes and 849 officials) so it was quite busy! Food was on hand 18 hours a day and it was quite a random affair. Everyone was happy to share table space and it was great to meet so many people from different countries and competing and coaching in different sports.
I found being in the village quite relaxing. I was able to do my job easier than normal as I knew we had waxing facilities, storage facilities, everything was safe, transfers were taken care of and we had food whenever we wanted! I was able to coach and I think being in this environment allowed me to really focus on my job on the hill.
We were racing on Palandoken Mountain, about a 30 minute bus ride away from the athlete’s village. The shuttle buses were a bit of a lottery but generally if you stood in the one place someone would pick you up and you’d end up at the hill. Palandoken was a strange experience, it was ruddy cold and there was snow but it had ALL fallen in the previous week so the only skiing was on the race course and one warm-up piste. This meant we were finding stones everywhere, including on the track!
I ended up as connection coach which meant I had to set the course! (I think I was voted in by the Netherlands) This was quite a challenge, especially as we had to slow the racers down, re-set a whole section after what I found on day 1 on the hill and avoid all the stones. We got there though thanks to the input of some more experienced athletes.
Being up on the hill took us back to our ski cross environment. At the village there are so many athletes from different sports around and because everyone is dressed in team clothing you forget what it is you do! But back on the hill it was all ski cross and that was what we were there to do.
We benefitted from an extra training day and because of the small field our skiers were able to get ample runs on course. In the end both GB athletes qualified for finals and got to race heats; number 1 objective achieved.
Heats took place the next day but sadly for GB both guys didn’t progress. That’s ski cross at times, you give it your all, fly to the edge of Europe, train hard, race hard but it can be over in a split second. It’s what makes ski cross so awesome, it’s what makes many sports so awesome.
For me it was great to be able to talk and share experiences with other coaches and athletes. You realise we are all in the same boat and we can learn much from each other in sport. I particularly enjoyed my trips to the Curling venue and watching a few ends with the Scottish Team coach has opened my eyes to what I already thought was a quality sport.
Another highlight was the ice hockey! We scored some tickets for Canada v Russia (split loyalties for me) and it was a great experience. I loved being surrounded by different sports, it was a huge motivator for me and again, a massive learning experience.
The whole ethos of the event is about friendship and sharing. If you buy into that then you will look back on it with fond memories. It was a great experience for me, eased in to the multi-sport environment which will help me should I ever be fortunate to go to another but if it wasn’t for the two athletes I had out with me I wouldn’t have had the experience. Martin and Max represented their country with pride and they were both a pleasure to work with in Erzurum.
Not 24 hours after landing back at Heathrow I’d driven through France to VT with two new athletes for a Europa Cup and crammed ourselves into a tiny apartment before ending up sitting eating a pizza miles away from Turkey, with a familiar Dutchman looking forward to a new race. The only question was who was paying for the pizza?