Slalom skier O'Connor on preparations for his event

February 23, 2010

“This morning I woke up to a feeling I know all to well – the knots in my stomach were palpable and I could feel a slight sense of anxiety.

What the hell was I dreaming of before I woke up?

I seriously can’t remember but I know I’ve started down the road of mentally preparing for Saturday’s race and I’m not going to lie – this is the part I don’t find to be much fun.

A quick word of warning is only fair – I can get fairly well on edge and consequently pretty  touchy as I work my way through the pre-race nerves.

I’ve never had to deal with ”the nerves” this early on but then I guess I’ve never raced on a stage so big before and if truth be told life here in the village can have its downsides (as well as the obvious upsides) and this can sometimes make things a little bit more difficult to work through.

I guess this is where the blog becomes a very useful tool for me personally as it’s a little similar to standing on a roof top screaming at the top of your voice – in a way I can exercise my demons so that I’m no longer carrying the baggage alone.

I think I might feel better already 

For the past couple of days I’ve trained slalom – Saturday and Sunday I trained with Kirsty and today I trained alone as Kirsty had a rest day in preparation for her first race on Wednesday. 

The training on Saturday was really good – we got on a rock solid piste with some decent (short) steeps.

The training piste wasn’t groomed the previous night so it was bumpy as hell when we set which meant the course had to be a little straight in places (to work around some of the bigger bumps) which (when combined with the bumps themselves) made things really tough so the skiing was far from pretty.

It is good to train the tough pistes as I’m sure the race is going to be as tough a piste as I’ve ever skied but over the couse of Saturday I didn’t feel like I was skiing very well and I wasn’t particularly happy with what I saw on video that evening.

I frequently struggled to get off the edge of the ski quickly enough for each subsequent gate which meant being late into the next turn – the consequence of this was not being able to keep my body on the centre line between gates and move my feet outside for each turn. 

In a nutshell my body was following my feet too much so my turns were longer and slower than they need to be – it’s mentally very tough when you know what you should be doing, you know you can do it on smoother tracks but once the line cuts up and you have to fight the rut lines the struggle begins”

Shane O’Connor posted 23rd February 2010

Dublin skiier, Shane O’Connor is representing Ireland in the Winter Olympics in the Slalom and has agreed to blog for us, training and competing permitted

He holds down a full-time job in IT but has been training for this moment for years – his parents instilled a love of skiiing in him when he was a child and he quickly became a fixture out in Kilternan and then on the international competition circuit.

He is now in Whistler, Canada, acclimatising in the Olympic Village ahead of his first race on February 27

About the Sport

Alpine skiing has been practiced in the European Alps for at least 150 years. In addition to adapting cross-country techniques to suit their steeper slopes, alpine skiers also found they needed slightly wider skis to go downhill safely, and developed different ways to use their poles and new turning techniques to match the more vertical terrain of the high mountains.

The sport became increasingly popular through the early 20th century with the development of T-bars, tows and ski lifts, as alpine skiers no longer had to climb up a slope before skiing down.

Alpine skiing for both men and women debuted as an Olympic sport in 1936 at Garmisch-Partenkirchen. In 1948, separate downhill and slalom races were added. From that time, super combined was not contested at an Olympic Winter Games until 1988, in Calgary. The giant slalom was added in 1952, and the super-G in 1988.

How It Works

In alpine skiing, racers can reach speeds of more than 130 kilometres an hour, travelling down a vertical drop that ranges from 180 metres (slalom) to 1,100 metres (downhill) for men and 140 metres (slalom) to 800 metres (downhill) for women. The vertical drop is made even more difficult because of a series of gates the skiers must pass through. Skiers who miss a gate must then climb back up and go through the missed gate or be disqualified.

Downhill

The downhill event features the longest course and the highest speeds in alpine skiing. Each skier makes a single run down a single course. The fastest time determines the winner.

Super-G

Super-G, for super giant slalom, combines the speed of downhill with the more precise turns of giant slalom. The course is shorter than downhill but longer than the giant slalom course. Each skier makes one run down a single course. The fastest time determines the winner.

Giant Slalom

Giant slalom is similar to the slalom, with fewer, wider and smoother turns. Each skier makes two runs down two different courses on the same slope. Both runs take place on the same day. Usually the first run is held in the morning and the second in the afternoon. The times for both runs are then combined with the fastest total time determining the winner.

Slalom

Slalom features the shortest course and the quickest turns. As in the giant slalom, each skier makes two runs down two different courses on the same slope. Both runs take place on the same day. The times are added together and the fastest total time determines the winner.

Super Combined

The combined event consists of one downhill run followed by one slalom run using a shorter course. The times are added together. The fastest total time determines the winner.

Sport Terms

Bindings
A mechanical safety device that locks a racer’s boot to their ski.

Downhill
An alpine skiing discipline that involves the fewest turns and the highest speeds. Racers on the World Cup circuit can exceed speeds of 130 kilometers per hour.

Downhill Suit
A full-body skin-tight racing suit worn by racers to make themselves as aerodynamic as possible.

Edge
A metal strip along on the sides of skis. Athletes must know when to shift their weight to use more or less of their edges to get the fastest time.

Equipment Controller
A designated person who checks the athlete’s equipment to make sure they are abiding by the rules.

Gates
Poles on a ski course that racers turn around and navigate through as fast as possible.

Giant Slalom
An alpine skiing discipline involving slower speeds, technical turns and a quicker tempo. Each racer has two runs down two different courses. The times are added together and the fastest total time determines the winner. The number of gates in this event ranges from 56 to 70 for men and from 46 to 58 for women.

Groomed Slope
Ski slope terrain that has been smoothed by grooming equipment.

Gatekeeper
A person who watches a ski race to ensure that every racer passes through each gate properly.

Helmet
A vital piece of protective equipment worn by racers. Its aerodynamic shape allows skiers to race as fast as possible.

Intermediate Time
The time recorded at specific sections of the race course.

Poles
Alpine racers use two ski poles to help them push out of the start gate, allowing them to gain as much momentum as possible before hitting the timing start wand. Poles are straight for technical events and aerodynamically curved for speed events.

Sidecut
The hourglass shape of the sides of the ski, where the waist is narrower than the tip and tail.

Skis
Skis are the most important piece of racing equipment. Ski length varies depending on the alpine event — slalom skis are the shortest and downhill skis are longest. Most World Cup racers travel with as many as 20 pairs of skis per discipline.

Slalom
An alpine skiing discipline involving the shortest course and the quickest turns. As in giant slalom, each skier makes two runs down two different courses on the same slope. The times are added together and the fastest total time determines the winner.

Start
In alpine skiing, the athlete may start five seconds before and five seconds after the official start signal. The start referee will give the start notice and then there will be 10 beeps, 1 per second, to indicate the start time window.

Super Combined
An alpine skiing discipline consisting of one downhill run and one slalom run. The times of the two runs are combined and the fastest time wins.

Super-G
Also know as super giant slalom, super-G is an alpine skiing discipline that combines the speed of downhill with the more precise turns of giant slalom. It involves skiing between widely spaced gates as in giant slalom, but with fewer turns over a longer course and with higher speeds — similar to those achieved in downhill. The minimum number of gates is 35 for men and 30 for women.

Snowcat
A grooming machine used to produce the best terrain for alpine racers.

Wax
A soft substance applied to the base of a ski for protection and to improve its gliding properties. A racer’s wax choice can determine whether they come first or tenth.

White Out or Mid-Mountain Fog
Poor visibility caused by a combination of fog and snow, usually at high altitudes. In Whistler, this condition is termed mid-mountain fog.

Wind-Chill Factor
Taking wind speed into account when determining the outside air temperature.

Training

A high-performance alpine skier can never get enough time on the snow. The competitive season is essential for sharpening skiing techniques and for training at various altitudes and in a wide range of snow conditions. Some alpine skiers may also choose to specialize in one discipline over another.

Peak condition

Come race time, alpine skiers rely on the long hours of summer training they devoted to building strong legs and abdominal muscles to help them hold and maintain a fast aggressive line. Like many winter sports, the alpine skiing off-season is spent doing large volumes of strength work and conditioning such as biking, hiking, weights and glacier skiing. And while some national alpine ski teams travel to snowy destinations, other teams might be fortunate enough to have a glacier only a short distance from home.

In the weight room

Nothing beats training on the slopes but alpine skiers also need to hit the weight room to build the muscles essential to helping hold their form. As a result, 75 per cent of training is focused on lower body; alpine skiers work mostly the legs doing squat lifts, power cleans and jumping exercises. They also have a regimen of flexibility exercises to prevent knee and hip injuries. Upper body work such as chin-ups and push-ups help for a good push out of the gate, but those arm muscles are also an added psychological advantage.

The total amount of training time varies from team to team and athlete to athlete, but generally, a high-performance alpine skier practices up to twice a day with each session lasting between two to four hours. Immediately following any type of intense training session, cool downs are equally essential. Some teams travel with stationary bikes which provide a convenient cool down with little strain on the joints.

Mental fitness

Alpine skiing requires a strong body and a good line. But most of all, a strong competitive appetite is needed for success. It’s the fearless mentality and confidence to be aggressive that makes a technically good skier into a champion skier. When they’re not working their bodies and their form, alpine skiers are sharpening their confidence and constantly looking to improve their mental game.

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