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Athletic Anecdote : One turn short

By Denebola
Published: October 2007
By Olga Golovkina“Numbers 140 through 160 to the starting line!”

I quickly snapped off the ski bindings of my warm-up skis and hopped right on to my shiny “Atomics.” Walking on my skis, I strapped on the handles of my poles.

This was it. The fourth Junior Olympic Qualifier in Pineland Farms, Maine 7.5k classic. I shook out my arms. This was my last real chance to make the J2 Junior Olympic Team.

I had trained all summer, thinking how great it would be if I could actually make it. I did push-ups, roller-skied in the grueling 90 degree heat, and bounded up a mountain in the fall just to be in the best shape for the winter. Perhaps this was my year.

If I could just improve a bit more and ski my very, very best, I could have a chance at going to Utah and racing against some of the best skiers in the country. From the beginning of the season, I faced many obstacles.

Right before the first two qualifiers I got sick, turning my most important weekend of racing turned into a painful disappointment. Yet I remained optimistic up through my next few races. I was sure I could push my ranking up a few places and finally reach my goal. Now, if only I could just do well in this race, maybe I would have a chance..

I drew a long breath and stretched my arms. This was my course, my ski technique, my race. I am going to do well.

Soon the girl in front of me was on the line. The timer was already counting down…5…4…3…2…1…the girl ripped off the start and disappeared into the forest. The crowd cheered after her, and someone rang a cowbell. I shook out my arms again. The timer smiled at me, “Are you ready?”

“Yep,” I said. I checked my pole straps again and pulled my hat lower. Come on. This is your race… Junior Olympics…Junior Olympics…

“Okay,” the timer said, “5….4…” I crunched down. “…3…2…”

“Come on Olga,” someone yelled.

“…1…”

I pushed off as hard as I could and launched forward with my poles. Soon I was in the woods, gliding down the ski track. There was a dead silence; I clearly heard my poles digging into the snow and my quick breaths.

All of a sudden it hit me that I was all alone. If something happened to me right now, no one would notice. I tried to remember the technique my coach taught me, but all I could think about was the girl that started before me. I have to catch her.

The ski trail curved to the left, and I quickened my tempo; I was not going to lose precious seconds on turns. Then there was a gradual downhill slope. I made a few powerful pushes and soon I was approaching a small uphill.

With a light, quick tempo I was over it and gliding down a hill. I am having a good race. The girl in front of me can be around any turn… I kept on pushing faster and faster…Junior Olympics…Junior Olympics…

After skiing up a big hill I snaked around a few sharp turns, then down, down, down.

I made sure I stepped around the turns the right way. This is my race; I am not going to fall now. Finally, after a long downhill I came to another flat section. Perfect. Now that I am rested, I could go even harder. My first few pushes felt very strong, but the next ones got significantly weaker. Junior Olympics. I kept on pushing.

Up ahead was a hard right turn. I gazed ahead: a small downhill turning right. I was sure I could easily make this one. There was already a large pile of snow from the previous skiers who snow plowed on this hill. But not me.

Without losing any of my previous speed I went around the outside edge. I stepped toward the inside of the turn, just like the way I had always done them. Step right around this turn.

All of a sudden, however, my skis did not turn. Instead I headed fast for the tree line. I tried to snowplow, but my skis had no intention of stopping.

In the next instant I suddenly realized that there was orange-netted fence around the turn and a small cutoff beyond it. I was heading straight for it. Like in some Imax movie gone wrong, I face planted at full speed right into the ground.

I tried to sit up, but the net would not let me.

I desperately tried to wiggle myself out, but my skis and poles somehow got tangled. The more I tried to get out, the more I got stuck.

Just then, the girl that started behind me made the turn perfectly and disappeared behind the turn. I had already wasted 15 seconds! I almost wanted to cry. My dream of going to the Junior Olympics was slowly sailing away. I did not know what else to do, so I just mumbled, “Help…help…”

An official was standing on top of the hill. Now, gazing at me, he started coming down. My body was boiling with adrenaline. I am going to finish the race with or without his help. With a few more attempts I crawled from under the net. The official was still coming down the hill. Now, though, my skis were completely twisted. It took me a few more seconds before I was back on my skis. I am going to finish.

My ponytail flopped behind as I tried to catch up with the girl in front. My breathing was off, I was panting, and I already knew that my race was over, but I kept going. The course got steeper until the main hills began.

By this time, I was completely spent. Only the thought of the girl kept me going. Catch her. My hair gradually spilled out of my ponytail until I could only see through occasional gaps. I can still do well. I kept on pushing and pushing through the anger, trying to put the fall behind me.

Finally, I emerged from the woods into the last clearing. The cheerers started screaming again and the cowbells rang through the field. In front of me, I saw a girl in a ski suit and a brown ponytail. The rage took over once again and I plummeted down the trail after her. Catch her.

My strength was leaving me rapidly now…1000 meters left….500…200. I gradually caught up to the girl. Just a little more. Up ahead was a small uphill. Now, though, it felt like a mountain.

Panting and exhausted I put in my last effort. The girl increased her tempo and crossed the finish line. Finally, looking like a lion, and with no strength left, I crawled over the finish line and collapsed.

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