This article was originally published on John Fennell's website.
In the last 2 months, I’ve had the chance to reflect. Despite some unexpected twists and turns in my athletic trajectory, I was blessed to close off some racing on the junior level in Europe this winter. I left January 2nd for Norway. After 5 different tracks, 4 races, and more schnitzel than I’d like to admit, I’ve found some time (and bandwidth) to compose my thoughts.
As you can read here, my time in Norway wasn’t ideal. My sliding started to unravel right around race day and it left me frustrated. After that disappointment, we started our comically long trek to Eastern Germany to the wintery town of Oberhof. The landscape is flat. The weather is foggy. And It’s cold- very cold. The track is a super short, technical, bumpy, difficult track. I hadn’t been there since 2012 and this time I had to go from the very top. The track has one of the smallest vertical drops of all tracks. It makes walking up it nice, but it makes finding the speed difficult. Any small mistake will cost you big. The corners are ENORMOUS and it feels like you can climb super high in them- such a unique feeling. I trained okay, but had some difficulties with the tight corkscrew section (8,9,10). The race left more to be desired. I had a few skids in the transitions and hit in the final straightaway at the end of the track. It was frustrating, but I wound up 9th. This is one of those tracks that you just need a solid volume of runs to get better. I took this as water under the bridge. I hadn’t been from the top and I had 7 training runs to nail it. Overall, I felt frustrated with the result but I am happy to take the experience as a whole.
As logic would suggest, it would make sense to have the next race 8 hours away versus just 3, right? We packed up and made a mad dash for Austria. Igls has always had a special place in my heart. It was the first European track I slid on. I the raced the World Cup there in November, which you can read about here. The biggest difference this time was that, this trip was about 10 degrees cooler and there were mounds of snow everywhere. It’s a beautiful spot. It’s probably my favorite location that we travel to. It’s got big sweeping, pressure-free curves that make for an easy ride. They key is to do a little as possible to make it down. Otherwise (hint, foreshadowing), you’ll wind up on your face. Training went well and I was FAST. In the seeding race, I went sideways through the last 3 corners and still had a quick time. The fun part about luge is that your split times don’t matter if you can’t make it down the hill. The race proved that to me. In the first run, I hit out of the first 3 corners and had no speed in the bottom. “well, no pressure now” I thought to myself. I settled into my second run with a good start and I was on my way. In the 10th curve, I had my first in competition crash. Simply too much height in the corner and the next one tipped me over. Calked it up to an experience and nothing more.
From beautiful Austria, we furiously drove back up the autobahn to northern Germany. This week, we called Winterberg home. Again, another track I had little experience on. Last year I tried to qualify for the World Cup there and I had came third as a Youth A in 2012. As the name would suggest, it’s wintery. The weather flips between snow-rain with a hint of wind to wind-rain with a hint of snow ~5 times a day. The track is a long and FAST track. It’s got a massive start ramp and a long, winding section in the top where it’s important to build speed. The bottom is a super fast section where you have to let the sled run. You’re already three corners down if you try to think. My training went so much better than the World Cup week did last year. I was making it down solidly and I see that as an improvement. As fortune would have it, race day cleared up and the temperature dropped- perfect racing conditions. This was evident because one of the juniors shattered the track record. Unfortunately for me, I had some troubles in the mid section of the track and didn’t have the speed. I wound up 12 in my final Jr World Cup and I wasn’t exactly happy about it. I had some time to decompress and reevaluate the week as a whole. Looking back, I can now see positives from it even though the result wasn’t there. Sometimes it’s important to look at the experience as whole rather than the end results.
As logic would have it, our final week in Europe was in Koenigssee, Germany (essentially back in Austria). This is an area rich in culture in tradition. With cobblestone streets, picturesque rivers, and castles (legit), the region looks like it’s straight out of a storybook. The track is just like that too. It’s the orginal luge track and it’s uniqueness sets it apart from all the others. It has elements unlike any other track. Curved/ banked straightaways, corners that transition directly into each other, and a 360+ degree corner, make this THE luge track. Men’s start is set looking directly into a mountain range. In the background, you can hear a waterfall babbling. It’s kind of a breath of calm before the madness of the track sets in. You build speed quick and it’s important to move with the sled to find the rhythm. This track has been home base for me in Europe. Aside from Canadian tracks, I’ve had the bulk of my runs here. The double session week flew by and I was sliding well. I had figured out the nuances of the ice and found a clean path down the track. My starts left more to be desired but that’s fuel for the fire this summer. World Champs are there next year and I’m aiming to be there.
This season has taken some unexpected turns. But, I’ve learned so much about myself as an athlete. I am grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given this winter. Not many people get this chance. I have a realistic approach heading into the summer and I am ready to work. This time I’m going to prove what I can do. Feeling motivated and nostalgic, I am happily closing the chapter of my JR sliding career. Onwards and upwards.