Katharine Eustace - Skeleton Racer

 

The Race

Posted by katharine on February 24, 2014

Olympic skeleton
Olympic skeleton

Not everyone can win gold even though we all try.

In the end I placed 11th at the Olympic race in Sochi. This is both good and bad.

I had been focussed on this race since the moment that I had qualified, in all honesty I was probably focussed from about Christmas hoping that I would slide well enough to qualify as really this race was the one that counted.

This was my first Olympic competition but I really tried to make sure that it was like no other World Cup race so that I didnt put too much pressure or get involved in all the distractions that come with the Olympics. Some liken it to a circus. Certainly you could easily be distracted if you wanted to be.

Luckily we had coach Terry Holland back on board who has been to a few Olympics coaching the Aussie team. So I knew that I was going to be guided by someone who knew what was going to be important. He had said 'lets focus on the 4 runs and what we have to do then when they're over you can look up and see where you are placed'. That's exactly what I did. I really paid no attention to who was sitting where and how many seconds or milliseconds there were between us. As it turned out it was very close racing.

I focussed on what I had to do well - push hard, stay relaxed and not let my nerves get the better of me.

I was pleased to say that is pretty much what I was able to do.

Start line in Sochi- concentration
Start line in Sochi- concentration

For the first week in the Olympic village I let all the distractions pass me by intentionally knowing that I would enjoy the experience more if I slid well and then got involved in all the other sports and supported the Kiwis in action.

The start and finish of the skeleton race were more packed than any other race I have competed in - not hard when only about 10 spectators turn up to a regular World Cup race. I didnt really feel like I noticed them much until the end of the last run when I managed to stand on the leader box for a few sleds as the girls in front of my made mistakes. As it turned out just places 9th to 14th was a difference of just 0.25 seconds over the 4 runs and there was 2 ties.

The race was won by Lizzy Yarnold from Great Britain who had been dominant throughout the whole season so it was good to see that her hard work was rewarded with Gold.

 

I was pleased to have stuck to my plan and pushed faster than ever before on the Sochi track. I went nearly 2 seconds faster down the track than before, having placed 17th on the test event 11th was a big step up in performance. Sure I would have liked to have been closer to 1 but am proud to have represented New Zealand and worn the silver fern with pride.


First Olympic Impressions

Posted by katharine on February 07, 2014

Olympic rings by night
Olympic rings by night

So far so good. We managed to depart Germany - having been stopped by the German police, then with an excess baggage charge of 1000Euro - payable in cash which went into a tin box, followed by a half empty flight which meant on arrival to Sochi airport it was a quickly through security and processing so it was not long before I had my sticky little fingers on my accreditation which is basically your passport to everything. The village, the track, the dinner hall. All the important things :)

Our NZ team welcome to our part of the Olympic village.
Our NZ team welcome to our part of the Olympic village.

As we arrived at night and athletes had training the next day we snuck in and I went straight to bed. On waking in the morning I had noticed a bag of goodies at the end of my bed which was to be the NZ Olympic team Uniform - my clothes for the next 3 weeks. Which meant my clothes for the last 6 months could take a well earned break. Cheers Mons Royale for the sweet gears with the NZ Olympic logo on.

It doesn't take long to get into the routine. Although it is a little bit of craziness when trying to get any where. Lots of security checks and time spent trying to work out which bus takes you to which place. Luckily we only have a short walk to the dinner hall, gym and just out of the back door you can walk up to the slopestyle course or up to the gondola which takes you into Rosa Khutor the closest little town, where we had stayed when we were here for the test event.

It is easy to get distracted and I know that I am here to do the best I can in the race so it is important to stay focussed. So pin swapping is the most Olympicky I have been so far.

We've had one day of sliding which was at 7pm and with transport back which involved 3 bus changes carrying my sled and runners it meant dinner was after midnight and quite a hot journey when you are carrying 30kg worth of equipment in Winter sport clothing when it isn't even below 0. Note to self don't always need down jacket.

The corridors of our part of the village adorned with pictures of home.
The corridors of our part of the village adorned with pictures of home.
 
 
 
 
track walk
track walk

It was awesome to see the slopestyle girls from New Zealand Shelley Gotlieb, Steffi Luxton, Possum Torr and Christy Prior all do their thing in qualifiers this morning on the most enormous jumps I have ever seen and would in no way attempt to snowboard down - so respect to them. The Olympic Games is starting to become a reality. Can't wait for the Opening ceremony and then it is down to business.

Watching the kiwi girls on the enormous jumps on the slopestyle course.
Watching the kiwi girls on the enormous jumps on the slopestyle course.

Last stop

Posted by katharine on January 30, 2014

It's Official. I am selected to the New Zealand Team for the Winter Olympics in Sochi. What an honour and something that I have worked so hard towards. I will be able to wear the Silver Fern and Olympic rings with pride.

NZOC official letter
NZOC official letter

This was exciting news and it was a very nervous time waiting. Although in the end I knew I couldn't do anything about it and just keep my fingers crossed and hope they saw my potential, and train like it was going to happen so I could start my focus on the race in Sochi.

We had another World Cup race in Konigssee, Germany to do and I could use that race to try out some other variables that I might want to use in Sochi. So my efforts all went into being the best I could and sliding the best I could for the last World Cup race

 
 

The race in Konigssee, although outside of the qualification period, still earnt us ranking points, which helps decide what our start number would be at the Sochi race.

Training had been going well, I think that I was starting to understand my sled much better and it felt nice to be sliding. I felt that I had a chance to do well.

Race day dawned - with some snow falling. The track in Sochi is covered so will not affect the race - if snow falls that is (1deg there apparently right now). However, here in Konigssee the track has some long straights that are uncovered, this makes for a less than fair race and so it was to be on this day.

I started number 7 so I got pretty lucky. However, I still got caught in a bit of snow and didnt slide as well as I would have liked. However, the girls at the latter end of the race were being seriously affected by the snow. 6 seconds slower - when in training there was only about a 1 sec difference between all competitors. In the end the 1st run stood and they cancelled the 2nd run. Even though I desperately wanted to have another run as I felt that I could clean up my mistakes and improve, the snow had other ideas and fell heavier and heavier.

In the end I placed 7th. 

The end of the World Cup races has seen me finish up 9th overall so this I can be pleased with.

I feel that I am continuing to improve and can now go to Sochi and take all my learnings from this season and put them all in to 1 race and slide as best as I can with New Zealand behind me.

See you in Sochi :)


what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Posted by katharine on January 23, 2014

It’s been a pretty tough couple of weeks. Not tough in a worldly wide sense. After all I do have a roof over my head and food on the table. I know that I am lucky to be able to do what I do.

From a sporting perspective it was tough. With the mounting pressure from Olympic qualification and sliding not going as well as I thought, combined with not quite being where I want to be from a fitness point of view. It felt like a tense and tough, couple of weeks.

Olympic qualification playing on my mind
Olympic qualification playing on my mind

I made it through though and I’m definitely better for it.

I raced in St Moritz – a track that I have normally done well – I was near the back in training and I didn’t know why. I was starting to lose the plot, doubt myself big time. So in the end the 11th I achieved on race day although not the result I wanted was better than the 24th’s I was achieving training, not only that I had the 9th fastest time in the 2nd run. So things were looking promising.

 

 
 

It’s funny I stand at the top of the track all by myself each race and I’m the only one on the sled as I head down but really getting to the start – let alone the bottom of the track in 1 piece, mentally and physically takes support from many people.

Team mate Couttsy getting the Angus Ross treatment. Luckily he was not within stretching distance but still managed some brain stretching.
Team mate Couttsy getting the Angus Ross treatment. Luckily he was not within stretching distance but still managed some brain stretching.

U turn or maybe just a short detour

Posted by katharine on January 07, 2014

So there I was just talking about turning a corner and how pleased I was that I had managed to slide so well in Lake Placid and that it would be onwards and upwards from there. Then, Uturn.

trying to look forward and avoid the Uturn
trying to look forward and avoid the Uturn

2014 started with me training pretty hard. I decided not to visit family for Christmas so that I could focus on my sliding and try and make selection for the Olympics. I spent Christmas in St Moritz doing some sliding on my favourite track but was by myself. I decided that this was the choice I wanted to make so that I could perform at my best.

Well in Winterberg, it seemed like I took a bit of a Uturn. I pushed the slowest relative to the field than I have ever done before. OK so I maybe I was a bit tired but thought that I was feeling good. Last year at this track I pushed 2nd fastest out of all the athletes, earlier in the season, before I sustained an injury I was pushing faster than ever before but this day on the 1st run I pushed 21st fastest. Ooops - where did those fast twitch fibres go. Maybe they took a break because I hadn't given them one.

So I have analysed, been bemused and am making sure things will change for the next race. Hopefully my Uturn was just a short detour, and not of the pleasurable scenic type, more like one of those ones where you should have just stopped and asked for directions before you got totally lost.

St Moritz for next week.
St Moritz for next week.

See you in St Moritz next week.


What is around the corner?

Posted by katharine on December 20, 2013

So somewhere along the way I missed a week. It seems that time went so fast after finishing up in Park City – we met up with some friends who had made the trip from LA and Denver just to come and see the NZ skeleton team. They are clearly our top supporters as I have never known anyone else travel to watch skeleton racing. Add to that my house mate from NZ who now lives in Park City and well we had the biggest support team I have ever known for a World Cup race. It was awesome.

Unfortunately though the race was not to go quite to plan – I finished 20th in the first run which is the cut off for getting a second run, luckily though I picked up 2 spots in the 2nd run to finish 18th.

Now this is not what I had planned, I wallowed in self pity for a moment – only a moment and then told myself. ‘No one ever said this was going to be easy. This is the World Cup circuit Katharine, all these people are trying to qualify for the Olympics. The Olympics. No matter what happens you just have to do your best and keep working towards it. You just never know what’s around the corner.’

And then there it was. The corner – which included a trip from Park City, Utah to Lake Placid, USA.

I arrived in Lake Placid, trained hard all week. Kept focussing on what I had to do and not the result believing that if I kept working and working and working then things may, one day, be better than they were.

Sliding curve 10 Lake Placid. Photo Ken Childs
Sliding curve 10 Lake Placid. Photo Ken Childs

That day was Friday the 13th unluckyfor some but not so much me on this Friday 13th and so followed a career best World Cup result. I placed 4th. I was 5th after the first run. Then I dropped back a spot despite being consistent (both times exactly the same in both runs down to 100th of a second) and then a couple of girls made some mistakes and I climbed up the leader board to 4th. I was stoked to say the least.

We had 2 races this weekend and thought OK consistency is the key. Although, in the 2nd race it turns out it didn’t matter as it ended up being a 1 run race as the groove that we push our sleds in was kind of misbehaving. I didn’t slide quite as well as I could have but it was enough to end up 7th. Just out of the extended podium which goes to 6 in Skeleton and Bobsleigh. So I now have a World Cup medal from Lake Placid.

4th Place medal from Lake Placid
4th Place medal from Lake Placid

With a little extra belief that now hard work does actually pay off I am determined more than ever to keep working towards my Olympic dream. All I can say is make sure you keep keeping chasing that dream because what maybe around the corner, could be ‘O’ for awesome.


Nervous Beginnings

Posted by katharine on December 05, 2013

And so just like that after training for 8 weeks the first race was done and dusted and we were packed up and on our way South.

I thought, and seemed to be, training better than ever. I was excited to race in Calgary and was really wanting to see how much I could push myself and where this would take me, hoping to be at the sharp end of the field.

However, this wasn’t to be the case. I ended up 16th. Not what I had envisaged.

I was pretty nervous in the first run a product of wanting to do so well, it showed on my sled at the top of the run and I lost time where in training I had been gaining. I was lying in 17th. After the first run was done I was more relaxed anyway and managed to slide well for part of the run. Out of Kriesel the 360 degree turn that had been the nemisis corner for me I hit the wall and this bled me of my speed. I was to maintain my position but not gain on anyone.

16th in the World – hoping for much better next week.

And so it was my bags were packed and I was heading to the airport.Thinking that I would be early enough to get there in plenty of time, I forgot in my early morning state, 3.45am, that I had to fill the car with petrol – A Uturn followed by a quick stop at the petrol station. Only to discover that it wouldn’t take foreign credit cards and at that hour of the morning there was no one there to pay. So I headed away from the airport to the next petrol station, wherever that may be, as I was driving along hearing the clanging of the opened petrol cap against the car. Was this a problem? I thought to myself letting air into the petrol tank. I hoped for the best and carried on driving. Found the petrol station and filled up. Remembered to replace the cap and headed back to the airport.

I arrived with all my bags and apparently no visa to get into the USA. Funny I thought as I had been there just 3 weeks before but no, flying into the USA requires different documentation. The lady directed me to the computers disguised as  Christmas trees where I could apply for the visa and back to the counter. Then through immigration, cutting the line guided by the US Airways lady so I didn’t miss my flight, than through security where i got a stern look from the security guard as clearly I was in the ‘this person is unorganised and might miss their flight’ lane and so she took no pity on me.

As I ran towards my plane, shoes untied, laptop under my arm, belt not holding up my trousers  - you the story when you ‘ve unpacked your well packed bag to put through the Xray machine.

Arriving with so much time to spare I could probably have stopped for a Tim Hortens if i’d wanted to really make sure that I was living on the edge.  The long and short of it, I was in time and flying towards Arizona, in business class - not sure where my luck came with  this one. Seeing some sunshine in Pheonix which was my brief glimpse of summer weather in this long winter season.

So next stop Park City, Utah.


The Long Round Trip

Posted by katharine on November 26, 2013

I left NZ about 8 weeks ago and we still haven't started racing yet. However, it wont be long as tomorrow we start official training of the 1st World Cup race of the season.

Team NZ in Lake Placid
Team NZ in Lake Placid

Since being in Calgary 8 weeks ago and now being back here again it has been nose to the grindstone of training training training, testing testing testing, learning learning learning. Being an athlete on the road may seem very glamorous but in reality it is just like a job - only a job that I thoroughly enjoy and am lucky enough to be able to do. Travelling pretty much across the globe and back. From West to East and then back again in the pursuit of excellence.

So where have I been in the last 8 weeks.

I spent 3 weeks in Lake Placid testing my new sled - loosening bits here and there, tightening bits here and there and trying new runners and generally getting a feel for my new sled. And . . . . . I like it. Which is a good because there is no going back now.

 

In Lake Placid we got a good block of training in - keeping up with our speed and strength and with the weather being pretty good this meant that we could get outside and run on the track, thankful that the -20 has appeared yet. In fact with training cancelled due to warm weather it has been quite the opposite.

Through this preseason as many of the nations are having their most difficult races of the season. Selection for their own National teams, our little New Zealand contingent is busy trying to get access to tracks and training and trying to find coaches that will help us on our minimal budget. All athletes have their difficulties to overcome, not one road to the top is likely to be easy.

This year we are 4 athletes Ben Sandford, Michael Coutts, Rhys Thornbury and myself. In our standards this is an enormous team. In many other nations this would be not be the case. Ben and I were lucky to have the company of Michael preseason as we all try and qualify for the Games this up coming season.

 

Long Haul Travel
Long Haul Travel

After Lake Placid - having avoided all contact with Crocodiles - it was off to Sochi, via Frankfurt and Istanbul unfortunately not for a visit, much to be adventure travel personalities disappointment.

Again it was tropical - well in Sochi it was, on the Black Sea where I braved a quick dip with Lucy Chaffer from the Australian team.

 

Black Sea dip with Lucy - albeit quite brief
Black Sea dip with Lucy - albeit quite brief
The start in Sochi
The start in Sochi

In Sochi, this was our chance to have more runs to learn the track and how it works and how we can be as fast as possible come February.

So it was pretty intense and involved lots of concentration and testing of runners and learning lines.

Things were definitely better than when we were there for World Cup which gave me confidence that I am moving in the right direction. Which normally would be up but in a Skeleton Racers eyes down and faster is the right direction.

So with plenty of homework still to do it was then back on the plane to Calgary in preparation for the 1st World Cup race of the season. When leaving Sochi I told myself that I would be back in February.

So now as we start racing which are our Olympic qualifiers I have extra motivation to do as well as I can.

See you in February Sochi :)

Motivation for the season :)
Motivation for the season :)

Down Time

Posted by katharine on October 22, 2013

Despite being super focussed this year. Yep not a minute goes by that I am not thinking of ways to better myself. This way I can be at my absolute best as I try and qualify for Sochi, which in turn makes for a tired brain. When you feel like this it means it is time for some freshening up.

After my first couple of weeks of sliding which has been thrilling, a learning experience, intense and frustrating all at the same time. It was time to have a quick break.

I decided that I would head to the mountains to Canmore – one of the favourite North American cities, along with Park City, Utah. I think it is because they both remind me of Wanaka.

As I was driving out to Canmore along Highway 1 which I’ve discovered is 7821km long – (NZ from top to bottom is 1600km so we’ve got a bit of growing to do.) I was pleased to see my sense of adventure, which is really what got me into skeleton in the first place, has not left me. I saw the sign for a place that I had never been before.  So as I was driving towards the slip road I found myself pulling off and heading in a new direction.

Now I do always find it a bit tricky to find down time activities that don’t involve fitness when some of my favourite past times include mountain biking, trail running, kayaking and hiking. Sometimes, though you just can’t help yourself as I found myself traversing rocky cliffs, trying to balance on fallen trees so I didn’t have to stand in the mud and eventually getting bluffed out, even though I was just out for a Sunday drive.

When you take the risk you get the reward
When you take the risk you get the reward

However, like skeleton at the moment it is important to try new things and see what the consequences are. My new sled I am trying on the track has made these first few weeks slightly challenging and making me question my ability. I realised as I was on my Sunday adventure that sometimes you get bluffed out and sometimes it all falls into place and you end up in a brand new place that is better than before.

So it might have been a downtime day but in the end I could still take out of it something that will make me a better athlete.


First week of the Season

Posted by katharine on October 03, 2013

This is the first time that I have left Wanaka for the season so early. It just seemed that this year I have to make sure that I have left no stone unturned. So before the ice was even on the track it was time to pack the bags and head away as my team mate Michael Coutts and his very knowledgeable skeleton coach Angus Ross were also going to be in town.

So with my bags packed for the season, I had Winter on my mind, no shorts allowed to take up the space. I arrived in Calgary to about 20 deg. Now where were my shorts when I needed them.

The week of training was in the Icehouse, an amazing high performance facility in Calgary. With video analysis, discussion and goals for the season all taking place so that I can be super fast.  

High Performance facility the 'Icehouse' in Calgary
 

This is a huge part of the race where we try and generate speed to propel us down the track as fast as possible. Combine a fast push start with some good driving and you have a winning combination.

pushing in the Icehouse

So it was well worth the $250 per hour that it costs to rent.

Every day since leaving has been a step towards sliding my absolute best this season. Long may it continue, which is why even though it's not the nicest but following the icehouse the icebath was beckoning.

Probably the first of many. Brrrrrr.

First Ice bath of the season.